Sam Smith, Janelle Monáe, Troye Sivan, Hayley Kiyoko — these artists are the landmarks of modern queer pop who have given the LBGTQ community a spotlight on the radio and on TV screens. But what happens when songs distort the true image of the minority or when “straights start queering”?
Rita Ora, CharliXCX, Bebe Rexha, and Cardi B are all victims of either scenario due to their involvement in the controversial track “Girls.” Most of the singers have already issued their apologies via Twitter, but do they really understand the harm behind the song? As they continue to push publicity for the accompanying music video, it becomes more difficult to say “yes.”
Just look at the opening scene of the “Girls” visual: women sprawled across the floor in skimpy undergarments and see-through clothing. You could call it body confidence, but the image gives the impression that queer love is just superficial lust based on how much you’re not wearing instead of a tangible and profound passion.
What’s even more dehumanizing? The background. A jungle inadvertently implies that LGBTQ love is too uncivilized, too feral, for the city or suburbs, even if Ora merely chose that setting for aesthetic purposes. Maybe that’s why love stories in the wilderness were left back in the 90s with “Tarzan.”
That’s not even mentioning the fact that the lyrics themselves illustrate being LGBTQ as a passing whim rather than an identity to be proud of. The pre-chorus closes with an admittance that Ora is intoxicated (“Kush lovin’”) before she voices her desires:
Sometimes I just wanna kiss girls, girls, girls / Red wine, I just wanna kiss girls, girls, girls
Sung against lighthearted synths and anthemic beats, the lackadaisical lyrics confuse what it means to be queer and in love with a drunken impulse. And that fatal misconception further stigmatizes, instead of normalizing, romance in the LGBTQ community by subsequently associating it with drunken mistakes: hangovers and blurry memories.
The biggest offense comes from the video itself. As Cardi B gets her spotlight during the bridge, Ora is seen fawning over the rapper before the two kiss. Initially, the romance could be hailed as a victory, a confident display of LGBTQ affection and an embrace of Ora’s and Cardi’s bisexual identities. The egregious moment loses its glimmer once you realize it could’ve been just another publicity stunt to recover from the backlash when “Girls” was originally released; after all, people go to extremes for views and success, and a kiss doesn’t ask for much.
However, don’t be too quick to label “Girls” a complete failure; the track does have its applause-worthy moments. Ora exudes a never-before-seen pride as she sings, “I’m 50/50 and I’m never gonna hide it,” reassuring listeners that finding comfort in one’s own skin isn’t impossible.
Overall though, “Girls” is a disappointment that seems to be burdened by its list of mainstream features, teeming with misrepresentation of an already marginalized population and kickback for musicians who can’t really afford it.