The ‘Girls’ Aren’t All Right: Rita Ora’s New Song is Harmful to Bisexuality
I ain’t one-sided, I’m open-minded
I’m fifty-fifty and I’m never gonna hide it
Rita Ora claims her bisexuality from the get-go in “Girls”, her new collaboration with Carbi B, Bebe Rexha, and Charli XCX. After being called out for the trite — and, some would say, tone-deaf — way she speaks about her love of women after the song’s release last week, she apologized by saying, “This has always been a part of my experience.” As a person who identifies as bi/pan sexual, I won’t say I’m calling bullshit, but bovine manure.
Before we get into the problematic nature of Ora’s attempt at raising awareness through what she called a “gender-fluid freedom anthem”, it is important to paint a picture of the erasure, intolerance, and brutalization that queer people still face in the year 2018. This is especially true for femme-identifying folk whose queer experiences are fetishized in so many places in popular culture, including in the context of this song.
Ora opens the song by proclaiming “I ain’t one-sided, I’m open-minded.” For many queer folk, their queerness has never been about being “open-minded,” because their attraction to same-sex folk is not a matter of choice. Some spend half their lives in misery, trying desperately to fit the mold the rest of the world has made for them. Or perhaps they’ve been out since they were children and have had to spend their whole lives protecting their bodies, explaining their truths, and even choosing love over family.
You don’t have to squint very hard to find evidence that the song was co-written and produced by men (Ben Billons, Jonny Coffer and others). What says American cis straight man more than a song about girls kissing girls for the fun of it? This song is about having a good time. Not being bisexual. Bisexual people are rarely given the space to claim their truth. This song fetishizes and hyper-sexualizes bisexual experiences. It doesn’t make more space for queer people whose sexuality transcends same-sex hookups on drunken nights. Here’s one example:
All summer, we've been in the 'bu
'68 Chevy with nothin' to do
Just rollin' J's, kush lovin'
And last night, yeah, we got with the dude
I saw him, he was lookin' at you
So I said, "Hey, kush lovin'"
There is already the harmful idea in popular culture that bisexuality doesn’t exist at all, especially for masculine folk. But there is something particularly destructive, anti-queer, and misogynistic about looking at lesbian relationships only within the context of the male gaze. Throughout “Girls,” these women are not claiming to love other women (romantically or sexually) outside of either actively including – or actively excluding – men.
These women are not claiming to love other women (romantically or sexually) outside of either actively including – or actively excluding – men.
However, I’m going to go ahead and say that while many bi/queer experiences might include wine, weed and maybe stronger things, it never included being straight and getting so lit they just needed to kiss a girl, “be [her lipstick] for just one night,” as Cardi B throws out to open her verse. And even if the other artists besides Ora don’t identify as entirely straight, it is harmful to perpetuate the idea that bisexuality is something you turn on for kicks whenever you want. It reminds me of women who say things like, “I’d never date a girl but I’d probably fuck one.” That’s cool, but you’re not bisexual.
It’s no one else’s place for anyone else to claim or speak Ora’s truth (or any of the other women’s, for that matter,) for her. But from white queer folk to straight black folk, your inclusion in an oppressed community does not negate your privilege. Ora is traditionally sexy, light-skinned, thin, and straight-passing, both in her appearance and ability to date men. If you’re going to create a song about your place in a community, the song shouldn’t shit on that community.
Now let me name a few queer femme-aligned artists of color: Angel Haze, Syd the Kid, Azealia Banks, Princess Nokia, Kehlani, Mykki Blanco. Honestly, those are only the femme and famous ones. There are loads and loads of queer artists who are up-and-coming in the music industry or coming out in the world. Janelle Monáe provides an empowering example of claiming her bi/pan sexuality in her tracks “Pynk”, “Make Me Feel”, and their accompanying new videos on her new album Dirty Computer.
If this song is really about Ora’s experience as a queer person, why not collaborate with and feature other queer artists? Maybe that just would have been too easy. Mykki Blanco, who is a trans-feminine person with an androgynous look, would certainly have been a choice that was more challenging to mainstream gender norms and beauty ideals. Queer folk are historically and continuously excluded from any spaces, but especially in the context of pop culture, visibility is regulated in an effort to increase profits, not awareness.
If you’re going to be down with the cause, be down all the way, not a tool of an already oppressive paradigm.
Try again, boo.