In 3 minutes and 20 seconds, Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe" video accomplished more for the gay community than some gay-rights organizations have been able to do in years.
"Call Me Maybe" has been the number-one song in America for two weeks and counting, with the video fast approaching 150 million views on YouTube. Jepsen's song has not only clinched the song-of-the-summer mantle but surpassed its viral-pop-video predecessors, including Rebecca Black's "Friday" (which has racked up a paltry 34 million views in comparison). While Rebecca Black's song quickly inspired scorn and ridicule, Ms. Jepsen has inspired massive radio airplay, iTunes sales, and a record deal from none other than Mr. Justin Bieber. The song is a universal hit across cultures, countries, and demographics. Case in point: My mom loves the song as much as my 30-something gay friends as much as the 12-year-old girls who call me up incessantly to request it on the radio.
As a result of her whirlwind success, Jepsen has also become the (accidental?) poster child for the post-gay pop generation. In the video Jepsen's object of desire is a hunky, tattooed, ab-tastic, masculine jock who appears to be shooting her flirtatious looks. But (SPOILER ALERT) at the 3-minute mark, it becomes clear that he's actually interested in Jepsen's guitar-playing, hipster, male bandmate. The video fades to black just as we see her reaction, which could be described as a combination of disappointment and amusement, if anything.
Although the video is lighthearted, its message that being gay is OK has undoubtedly shaken up the right-wing, conservative segment of the population. Right? Wrong. "Call Me Maybe" inspired no One Million Moms protest. No boycotts. No marches. In fact, the video did quite the opposite. It spread a "what's the big deal?" attitude across America and the world, and in the 10-second twist ending normalized the concept of "gay" to an entire generation of young people, who are the purveyors of pop culture in this digital age. Gone are the days of outrage over Jill Sobule's (or even Katy Perry's) "I Kissed a Girl" or the Britney-Madonna VMA kiss. Jepsen is the new kid in town who doesn't care what your parents think, and she brought her gays along for the ride.
The video's "by the way, he's gay" ending has spawned hundreds of YouTube remakes that have continued to shape culture and defy stereotypes. Soon after the song's release, Justin Bieber made a tribute YouTube video (along with his pals Selena Gomez and Ashley Tisdale), which has itself racked up almost 50 million hits. Through this video, Justin and co. put a stamp of approval on the idea that being gay is no big deal and that we don't all look like the TV stereotypes of yesterday. (The fact that Justin's sexuality is often called into question, not to mention the success of the "Lesbians Who Look Like Justin Bieber" Tumblr blog, makes his endorsement that much more impressive.)
Some of the most popular remakes on YouTube are from seemingly straight guys who've latched on to the idea that mistaken sexual identity is actually kinda cool. In video after video (see this one and this one and this one) these men display their affinity for the song by acting out their homoerotic affinity for one another, playing off the final plot point of the original "Call Me Maybe" video. In one of the most viral of these videos, "Call Me Gaybe," five high-school-age guys are seen dancing shirtless around a suburban cul-de-sac, lip syncing to the song. It's unclear whether these guys are actually gay or just maybe gay. But does it matter? Just as Jepsen shrugs it off, so do we. It's a bunch of guys having silly, summer fun. And that's the point of the Carly Rae Jepsen phenomenon. Just years ago YouTube parodies like these would have included homophobic epithets or disclaimers like "no homo" at the end. Today, thanks to Jepsen's video, guys feel permission to toy with sexuality-bending situations, and in the process they've indirectly expressed support and acceptance of their gay peers.
It's unclear whether the 26-year-old Carly Rae Jepsen has the chops to gain Madonna/Britney/Gaga status or whether she'll be nothing more than a summer one-hit wonder. It's also unclear as to how manufactured her image is; most likely she didn't come up with the idea for the video herself. But however it happened, the "Call Me Maybe" video created a significant cultural moment for gays all across the world. When President Obama publicly announced his support for gay marriage, he told Robin Roberts on ABC that his daughters' attitudes about gay people were part of his decision. He said, "Malia and Sasha, they've got friends whose parents are same-sex couples. It wouldn't dawn on them that somehow their friends' parents would be treated differently."
As Carly Rae Jepsen has shown us, the kids have already accepted the existence of gay people. It's the adults who have yet to catch up.