Pop Culture Intervention

One 'American Idol' Kiss Brings An Intriguing Angle To The Discussion About Consent

It's about power, not gender.

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With one "good luck kiss," American Idol has added a new layer to the debate about consent.

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It all started with season 16's first episode this past Sunday night, when 19-year-old contestant Benjamin Glaze from Oklahoma (who self-identified as "socially awkward" in the pre-interview) walked in with a guitar in the hopes of wowing judges Lionel Richie, Katy Perry, and Luke Bryan. Prior to performing, though, he got the surprise of a lifetime: a peck from the "Firework" singer herself.

"Have you kissed a girl and liked it?" Luke Bryan asked, alluding to Perry's semi-controversial hit, "I Kissed A Girl," from 2008.

"No, I've never been in a relationship," Glaze says to the bewilderment of the judges, having explained that he took a job as a cashier at an electronics store in the hopes of meeting women. "I can't kiss a girl without being in a relationship."

"Come here, buddy. Come here right now," Perry says, beckoning Glaze over. He came over, asked if he should kiss her on the cheek, and sheepishly proceeded to do so. Perry noted how he didn't even make the "smooch sound," and they decided to start over. That's when, during the redo kiss, Perry turned just in time to kiss Glaze on the lips in a blink-and-you'll-miss-it moment.

In the aftermath, Glaze fell to the ground before backing up to the spot where he'd later perform. He was all smiles and clearly in some state of shock while Richie and Bryan cheered on what had just taken place. "You didn't," he says. "Well, that's a first."

"How was it?" Glaze asked Perry, who responded to his question by playfully telling him, "Don't try to get cocky now."

After that whirlwind moment, it was time for Glaze to perform. Before doing so, Perry joked that what had happened could have been "the kiss of death" and he asked for a glass of water. "Why, what happened? You get nervous?" Perry asked, with Richie pointing out that he is still recovering from the kiss. Glaze seemed to agree, saying he wasn't expecting that. Bryan jokes to give Glaze "Scope … breath mints." Glaze gets a hug from Richie, who reminded him that this was his first kiss, and said, "That's going up on the fridge."

As for the performance itself, Glaze performed "Levels" by Nick Jonas. After a little over 30 seconds later, Perry ended Glaze's performance and the judges got to judging.

Bryan told Glaze to "hone his craft a little more" and "get a little better at singing." Perry said it was a pleasure meeting him but that there are just better people who auditioned and to slow it down next time (acknowledging that he likely had been flustered over the kiss). Richie told Glaze to practice and come back when he is 21, after he has "kissed a couple girls." In the end, it's three noes.

You can watch the whole interaction here:

In the post-interview, Glaze called the whole "eye-opening" experience "crazy," got a high-five from his mom, and said he learned he is a terrible kisser.

Putting aside the performance itself, it's an interesting thought to consider what would have happened if Glaze had actually vehemently opposed this kiss. Should he have outwardly let the judges know that during the audition? That would have certainly made what the show is passing off as a cute gag super awkward. After all, these people are deciding whether or not he has a shot at stardom. Perhaps this is a less dangerous way of seeing what women potentially go through when they're early in their career and, when faced with higher-ups (usually men) exercising their power over them, are too afraid to speak up. That said, Glaze is playing the situation as not necessarily that big of a deal. 

This segment was filmed months ago — in October 2017, to be exact, and Glaze is now 20 — and is just now airing on television. The New York Times caught up with Glaze this week to chat about the big moment, which he called "a tad bit uncomfortable," and explained how a first kiss was a rite of passage for him and he was saving it for his first relationship.

"Would I have done it if she said, 'Would you kiss me?' No, I would have said no," he said. "I know a lot of guys would be like, 'Heck yeah!' But for me, I was raised in a conservative family and I was uncomfortable immediately. I wanted my first kiss to be special."

Glaze now views the kiss as a "great opportunity" for his music career and said his friends helped convince him that the kiss "didn't really count." They helped him view it as just lip contact versus romance, something he notes is what "a real first kiss is." In the end, Glaze said he does not feel as though he was sexually harassed by Perry.

The NYT notes that not everyone agrees with Glaze, though. It mentions how one viewer saw it as a "forced sexual act" and asked how it would have been seen coming from a male judge to a female contestant, asking if Perry has learned nothing from the #MeToo movement. Another user noted how Glaze's religious and conservative upbringing had been disrespected as a result of the kiss.

In response to all the attention he is getting, Glaze took to Instagram to clear a few things up.

"I am not complaining about the kiss from Katy Perry at all, doing a few news reports and being interviewed by many different reporters has caused some major questions. The way certain articles are worded is not done by me, and my true intentions are not accurately represented in every article you read about the situation," he wrote, saying he is "very honored and thankful" to have been on the show.

"I do wish I would have performed better in the moment. I should have picked another song to sing and calmed myself down regardless of the kiss. I should have been able to perform under pressure," he continued. "I do not think I was sexually harassed by Katy Perry and I am thankful for the judges [sic] comments and critiques. I was uncomfortable in a sense of how I have never been kissed before and was not expecting it."

While most would say what happened here isn't sexual harassment, it does tackle the debate on consent in a new way. As Melanie Hamlett writes for Glamour, this is "an example of a Hollywood gatekeeper wielding their power."

The dialogue about consent — and other sexual harassment-adjacent conversations — has never been about men vs. women, it's been about a person in power vs. a person with less power. Even if Glaze did feel as though he had been wronged, would he be able to go head to head against A-list stars or a powerful TV network? No. Again, this is a great visual depiction — though gender-flipped — of what young women (and some men) go through early in their careers. These "gatekeepers," they control your fate.

"Feminism's goal has never been to protect only women but rather to challenge a system that encourages abuses [of] power, and harms those without it, even when those doing it are women themselves," Hamlett writes.

Was what Perry did to Glaze on the same level as what the likes of Harvey Weinstein has done to countless women? Most will say no. But a misstep is still a misstep and we must call it what it is regardless of the guilty person's gender. True gender equality isn't about one gender always being right and the other always being wrong, it's about working toward a world in which we can all mess up, learn from our mistakes, and all become better people.

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