Reflections On Rita Ora’s “Girls”

When Rita Ora, alongside a fabulous trio of female artists such as Charli XCX, Bebe Rexha and Cardi B announced that they were going to be releasing a new song entitled ‘Girls’ which was going to explore female sexuality let’s just say that queer women were excited. However, the song, especially its “tone deaf” lyrics, have been met with fierce criticism from bisexual and queer women. The song suggests that female sexuality is fluid, that when Rita Ora meets “Lara”, has a bit too much “Red wine” whilst “Kush lovin” and she just has to kiss her.

The song attracted criticism, rather than praise, from notable queer women such as Hayley Kiyoko, who renounced the song as doing more harm than good to the LGBTQ+ community and catering towards male sexual fantasies, “A song like this just fuels the male gaze whilst marginalizing the idea of women loving women”. Katie Gavin, the lead singer of the upcoming band MUNA, whose members are all queer women, blasted the artists for attempting to align themselves with a community “to which they do not belong… I hear the familiar chorus that women’s sexuality is something to be looked at than authentically felt”.

The backlash prompted Rita Ora and Cardi B to exclusively “come out” and confirm they have had relationships with both women and men. Bebe Rexha has dismissed labels altogether and hit back by saying “Do you have to be fully lesbian to put out a song about kissing girls?” Rexha’s question is slightly insensitive as she fails to mention bisexuality as a legitimate sexual identity, preferring to argue that everyone’s sexuality is fluid. I don’t agree that Rita Ora should have had to come out in order to justify the song, no queer person should have to do this in order to be respected by the community. However, it cannot be denied that identifying as “queer” is rising in popularity with some people viewing it as a fashion statement rather than a legitimate identity. The amount of people who identify as LGBTQ+ is increasing, with many young people saying that they are sexually fluid. That’s great! But why has our identity been reduced to this ridiculous song?

For starters and to nobody’s surprise, the song about women kissing women has six men credited as the writers. The lyrics definitely reflect this. Elements of Katy Perry’s “I Kissed A Girl” have been carried on a decade later with the insinuation that alcohol and drugs lead Rita Ora to kiss girls. I completely agree with Hayley Kiyoko – there is definitely an implication here that women only kiss other women when they are drunk. On Twitter, people were defending the use of alcohol/drug influence when it came to having the confidence to tell someone that they’re attractive. However, there is a fine line between alcohol as a social lubricant and alcohol as a social crutch. In all honesty, it’s an unhealthy relationship to have if you need to be intoxicated in order to feel confident in your sexuality, and to then pull a member of the same sex as well.

Furthermore, Kehlani, an artist who describes herself as queer, called the artists out on social media for their derogatory language and use of slurs in the song. Basically, Cardi B used the term “scissoring” in her rap. I thought that we’d gotten over the fact that depictions of women in this sexual position were created to please men when they watch porn. Whilst it is not unheard of in the queer women community, scissoring works for some women and not for others, there is a lot of ignorance surrounding this topic and many people, queer and straight alike, believe that is the only way women have sex with each other. So a mainstream song like this does not help educate people very well at all.

Perhaps the most frustrating aspect about this whole thing, is that the song, and apologies for the allusion to another problematic tune, blurs the lines over what bisexuality actually is. Biphobia and bisexual erasure is a problem that does exist in straight and queer places alike. We’ve all tried to forget about t.A.T.u.’s fake relationship or the fact that another famous pop-star Jessie J claimed that her bisexuality was simply a phase. Harry Styles has gathered immense praise for merely suggesting in his song ‘Medicine’ that he might have had a relationship with a man. GLAAD (Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) have condemned the Marvel franchise for erasing the sexuality of their bisexual characters. So the dilution of the LGBTQ+ community is beginning. Less than 50 years ago in the UK queer people were fighting for their right to exist, now Pride is charging for tickets and booking music acts under a commercialised banner and artists can now allude, in such minuscule doses, to sexual fluidity and they’ll be praised.

No one has taken issue yet with the lyric “I’m the hunter and she’s the prey yeah” which just comes across as borderline creepy. I can’t help but be reminded of the UK in the 1980s, with Thatcher’s government officials introducing Section 28 and declaring that being homosexual meant that you were a pedophile. Images of young people being corrupted by the LGBTQ+ community were peppered all throughout the press and were also used to deride the Labour campaign by the Conservatives. These allegations led the the Lesbian and Gays Support the Miners to poke fun at the slur: their fundraising concert, with Bronski Beat as the headliners, was named “Pits and Perverts”. Even though time has moved on in the UK, there are countries who still equate being queer as being the same as a pervert Anti-LGBTQ+ campaigners will literally use this song to fuel their hateful rhetoric of youths being corrupted and led astray. In addition, this lyric describes a situation where consent is not really involved.

I’m skeptical about the lasting impact of Rita Ora’s “Girls”. It seems to me like a repeat of Katy Perry’s hit, it is meant to be an embrace of bisexuality however, their depiction is murky. As much as the artists “good intentions” and their defenders denial of this fact, people are going to equate kissing women with being intoxicated because that is exactly what this song alludes to. Also, let’s forget women kissing women for a second. How women about loving women? How about women having sex with women? How about women dreaming about women? Artists are wanting to explore the tantalising image of two women kissing, but never really go further to actively support the LGBTQ+ community. Hayley Kiyoko’s elegant words some up my feelings on the matter: “I don’t need to drink wine to kiss girls; I’ve loved women my entire life… We can and should do better.”

[Emma McKie – @emma_mck]

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