Two Ways to Gender-Flip Songs

When I was a kid, I loved the beginning of Adventures In Babysitting where Elisabeth Shue dances to the Crystals’ song “Then He Kissed Me”:

I also loved The Beach Boys and was excited to find they’d covered the song “Then He Kissed Me”… but bewildered by the way they changed the lyrics in gender-flipping it to “Then I Kissed Her.”

Why? Wouldn’t “Then She Kissed Me” have been more natural?

Of course, the passage of time and prolonged exposure to the background radiation sexism of society means I now understand why The Beach Boys felt the need to maintain the active role in the song “Then He Kissed Me.”

It’s toxic masculinity from back in the 60s. Of course.

I still feel disappointed by this. Why couldn’t The Beach Boys let her ask him to dance? Let her kiss him?  Let her be the active character?

It was worth making the lyrics clunkier and more awkward to them to make sure it was understood that The Man was the Active Character.

A lot of songs are improved by gender-flipping the singer while making minimal changes to the lyrics, because suddenly they don’t passively parrot the same ol’ gender stereotypes we see all the time. They get more interesting. More real.

Because real people are more complicated than gender stereotypes.

But those stereotypes are in our heads, and when writing gets hard (which it does) writers’ brains get lazy and pull out the closest idea they can grab that sounds plausible. So, stereotypes.

This is why playing around with gender-flipping the characters in your own stories after writing them can be a useful and enlightening exercise.

I’ve improved a number of my own stories this way, and with practice you can learn to do it in your head while still planning.

Today I was listening to the Beatles’ “Ticket to Ride.”  I’ve always loved the first few notes and line of that song:

“I think I’m gonna be sad; I think it’s today.”

I don’t know why, but that gets me every time. But then I listened to the rest of the lyrics… sigh.

A lot of the music I love most — Beatles, Beach Boys, Monkees — is filled with sexism.

I mean, god, the Monkees’ song about my name, “Mary, Mary,” is a horrifyingly upsetting stalker song masquerading as a love song. Soooo damned creepy.

Anyway, “Ticket to Ride”…

I started gender-flipping the lyrics in my head, but not in the minimalist way I’d usually go for (“He’s got a ticket to ride”). No, I went for the Beach Boys’ style where it preserves the gender dynamics:

“I’ve got a ticket to ride”

“That boy’s been driving me mad
I’m going away
I’ve got a ticket to ride

I said that living with him
Was bringing me down
I could never be free
When he was around

I’ve got a ticket to ride
And he don’t care”

And suddenly the song got soooo much more interesting.

I guess I’ll be re-listening to a lot of Beatles’ and seeing how many of their songs could be improved by this more aggressive form of gender-flipping.

I’m guessing it’ll be a lot of them.

If only I could get someone (like Reina del Cid hint hint) to record them that way.

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