There’s a lot of backlash for the song ‘Girls,’ but is it justified?
The internet has been divided ever since Rita Ora dropped “Girls” a few weeks ago, a song featuring Charli XCX, Bebe Rexha, and Cardi B.
On one side, the song is being celebrated for bringing visibility to bisexual women. It’s proud and honest, and it doesn’t characterize the feelings women have for each other as something hidden or sensational. On the other hand, the song is being criticized for perpetuating negative stereotypes about bisexual women, which isn’t entirely inaccurate.
In an interview prior to the release of ‘Girls’, Ora told People, “It really represents freedom and the chance to be what you want to be — and there being no judgment and just living your life as you want to live it.”
Polarizing reactions to 'Girls'
However, celebrities like DJ Kittens, Kehlani, and Hayley Kiyoko disagree with this perspective. While the song certainly reflects a more progressive take on female bisexuality, it also implies that bisexual women are inherently polyamorous, that our attractions exist in service of male desires, that we sleep with other women exclusively as dalliance.
“Every so often there come certain songs with messaging that it downright tone-deaf, which does more harm than good for the LGBTQ+ community,” Kiyoko -- who is affectionately called “lesbian Jesus” -- wrote in a statement on Twitter. “A song like this just fuels the male gaze while marginalizing the idea of women loving women.”
DJ Kittens, who also identifies as a lesbian, accused the song of trivializing women who sleep with women.
“This song is literally about wanting to hehe kiss girls when you’re drinking and smoking weed,” she stated. “It’s harmful when LGBT women are fetishized and no relationships are ever taken seriously.”
‘Girls’ talks about having a threesome and sleeping with women just for one night; these behaviors aren’t necessarily worth our condemnation. At the same time, it reinforces performance as the primary way that bisexuality is expressed. When the only representations of female bisexuality still involve men, it can be hard for us to develop identities outside of the male gaze. And if this song is meant to be empowering to bisexual women, why does the male gaze need to be present at all?
Ora even stated that she drew inspiration from Katy Perry’s ‘I Kissed A Girl,’ but that song has particularly been criticized for sensationalizing and trivializing our attractions, calling it “not what good girls do” and “wrong”. Perry even stated that she would make edits to the lyrics if she were releasing it again. From that perspective, it is odd that Ora perceives that as a song to be inspired by -- and her favorite song, no less.
‘Girls’ also represents a reality that cannot be ignored. It talks about bisexual women who aren’t having serious relationships with women -- and that is a valid expression of bisexuality, even if it makes other people angry. Plus, against a backdrop of compulsory heterosexuality, and a centering of monosexualities, bisexual women do explore their attractions via performance. Sometimes, we do require alcohol to have courage. We shouldn’t, but we do -- although, people besides bisexual women rely on alcohol to act on desire and never face criticism for it.
When I was figuring out my sexuality, I had threesomes, I got drunk and kissed girls, I did perceive women as flings on my way to perceiving them as potential romantic partners. For me and so many other women, ‘Girls’ is authentic.
In her statement, Kiyoko also wrote, “I don’t need to drink wine to kiss girls; I’ve loved women my entire life.”
To that, I say she is blessed to have never doubted her attraction to women, but so many of us have. Even lesbian women struggle in this way. I think it’s far more valid to challenge the way our desires are invalidated and sexualized via this stereotype than it is to attack ‘Girls’ for acknowledging it.
DJ Kittens, who like Kiyoko, identifies as a lesbian, wrote:
Similarly, Katie Gavin of MUNA wrote, “The songwriting world is full of people that feel entitled to write about communities to which they do not belong... I hear the familiar chorus that women’s sexuality is something to be looked at instead of authentically felt.”
Can we police music?
When straight people create queer art as tourists, it feels exploitative and queerbaity. After all, they are capitalizing off of and performing an identity but avoiding the challenging parts of having that identity. It’s akin to appropriation. Unfortunately, I’m not sure that’s what’s happening here, or that we can effectively police music like this. Sexuality is fluid and someone can identify as straight for most of their lives, only to have experiences with members of the same sex later on. And of course, some people simply don’t adhere to labels but consider songs like ‘Girls’ to be accurate to their lifestyles. The expectation that people claim a queer identity before they make music about themselves seems silly and unrealistic.
Prior to the song’s release, People asked Ora about her sexuality; her response was intentionally vague In the controversy that followed ‘Girls’, Ora has since stated, “I have had romantic relationships with women and men throughout my life and this is my personal journey.”
Cardi B also clarified her own sexuality on Twitter, where she said:
We can't expect artists to affirm their identities to the public
I have always perceived Cardi as queer; her last album housed a song that expressed interest in a threesome with Chrissy Teigen and Rihanna, which was a very clear indicator of where she exists on the sexuality spectrum. However, do we really need to drag celebrities out of the closet just to ‘allow’ them to make music? More importantly, straight people never have to make public statements about their heterosexuality, so why is that the expectation we place on queer women? As harmful as stereotyping might be, it is equally as harmful to demand that artists affirm their identities to the public, and is probably more informed by a desire for access to their personal lives.
Bebe Rexha addressed this in her own statement about ‘Girls’, saying, “My sexual life is nobody’s business. But we’re singing a song about kissing girls and that remains true to who I am.”
My two cents
I do acknowledge that perhaps, this song could’ve done without Charli XCX, who does not identify as queer. Her verse sounds like a heterosexual person’s vacation through Queertown -- the lyrics state, “and last night, yeah, we got with the dude/I saw him, he was lookin' at you/so I said, ‘hey, kush lovin’” -- and not an actual queer person reflecting on a lived experience. And in that case, perhaps we shouldn’t let it reflect female bisexuality at all.
‘Girls’ may not be good or subversive, it may reinforce tired stereotypes, but it doesn’t mean that Cardi B, Charli XCX, Bebe Rexha, or Rita Ora need to be ‘dragged’ or ‘cancelled’. Instead, I hope it motivates queer artists to be sensitive with what they create. Bisexual women need music about their crushes, their relationships, and their struggles -- not just about their one-night stands and threesomes.