Jen Foster has been out as long as she’s had a career in songwriting. The Nashville-resident has won several awards for the music she’s penned for herself and others, and had them featured on shows like All My Children and the movie Girl Play.
Having made a name for herself in the lesbian community early on, Foster has recently reached an entirely new audience with her latest single, “I Didn’t Just Kiss Her." A play on the Billboard top 40 hit “I Kissed a Girl” by Katy Perry, Foster has taken a tongue-in-cheek theme and made it funnier, sweeter and a lot more gay than the original.
With a new album in the works, the single’s popularity could not come at a better time for Foster, who is hoping that this will help her to achieve the mainstream credibility that she’s hoping for, and show that lesbian artists can be just as successful as the straight ones that market themselves to the gay community.
AfterEllen.com: You’ve obviously been getting a lot of interest in your new single and not just because it’s a good song, but because it’s sort of a response to Katy Perry’s song. What initially gave you the idea to do something like that?
Jen Foster: Actually that beat and melody, I had had for a while and was actually another song. I’d written an entirely different melody and lyrics to it. People were always commenting how much they loved the beat, how much they loved the guitar. They seemed kind of puzzled when it came to the lyrics because it was more of a political type of song. And I just thought, “That beat and melody is so cool.”
And I wanted to put something a little more, like, I don’t know compelling to the music — something that would really grab people.
Out of the blue one day, that melody came to me: “I didn’t just kiss her / We went all the way and I liked it.” I thought, you know, the Katy Perry song was so big, and such a hot topic. I’ve been out of the closet for a long time, so it’s not a big deal to me, but I think it is to a lot of people who are ready to hear something like that.
AE: When you first heard the song, were you the side of those that thought it was exploitive and ridiculous or think it was just a song.
JF: Being an artist myself, I tend to be pretty open-minded, whatever people are trying to express. You know, I got it. When I first heard the song, I thought the songwriter had a really good gimmick. You know, it’s so obviously not too offensive but yet just edgy enough to kind of capture a big audience. She was pushing the envelope without going a little too far.
I think society takes things in increments. You can’t just slam something huge on society when they’re not ready for it. It was almost a logical step in what people could expect. And I think suddenly in sixty years, suddenly being an out lesbian won’t be such a big deal.
AE: I don’t know if you ever saw her video, but it had nothing to do with the song. She wasn’t kissing any other girls. She was playing it really safe.
JF: I need to see that video. I’ve been so busy and on the road I haven’t seen it yet.
AE: It’s just her. It has nothing to do with the lyrics or kissing a girl: very anti-climatic. Though she was on Ellen singing it. Did you happen to see her singing it with Ellen?
JF: I didn’t get to see that. I’ve got some homework to do!
AE: Well now everyone’s going to ask you all about Katy Perry!
JF: Obviously the tie-in with that song is huge. I check my MySpace page daily and it’s amazing. We’ve already got 21,000 hits in less than six days out. 21,000 plays on MySpace, for an independent artist like me, that’s pretty big.
AE: Is that something that you feel like you almost had to do as an independent artist? Write songs like that that are more for marketing and business aspects?
JF: If you listen to my other music, it’s so not even in that genre. I watch like folk and pop and rock. I’m mostly a songwriter than an artist. I’m writing songs all the time when I’m home, when I’m on the road. But of course, you have to fight hard when you’re an independent artist. No one hands you anything. You have to get creative.
It’s hard because if you market yourself hard, people tend to think it’s all marketing, it’s all hype and the person doesn’t have the talent. But I really feel that I’m one of those artists that has the talent and also has the business mind to do something with it. In Nashville, I’m starting to work with a lot of other songwriters and getting some mainstream interest.
AE: It just comes with the territory, finding a way to get people interested. I’m sure it’s helpful with the internet.
JF: Totally. So much is internet marketing and part of it’s touring. I have a record label and three people that work with me closely, but I’m always overseeing everything, every decision that’s made … how we market my image. Twenty-four seven, it’s about getting the music out there.
To me, it’s not about being famous. I feel like I have something to say in my music. This single in particular is not a moving emotional song like other stuff I’ve written. It’s going to hit people in another way and hopefully bring attention to my other music as well.
AE: And you’re reaching a new audience. Has being a lesbian musician been a positive or negative in your career?
JF: To me, my personal happiness has been way more important than success. You hear about certain celebrities that are in the closet that are living sort of privately miserable lives. I’d rather be happy and open about who I am. That to me is success. I was never willing to compromise, is the thing. I’m going to live my live, be who I am, say what I want to say. And if people want to get on board, great. And if they don’t, it sucks but I can’t help it.
I feel like I come from that feeling that an artist really should be honest. That’s our job. A lot of people, because of their culture, because of their families, live in constraints in their daily lives. Our job is to say the things other people can’t put a voice to. The artists I love are the ones that do that. People that are saying the things we’re thinking but can’t put into words. That to me is a responsibility.