When it was announced that Rita Ora, Charli XCX, Cardi B and Bebe Rexha were teaming up on a song called ‘Girls’, you could’ve thought that the British pop powerhouses would pen a fist-pumping feminist anthem for the ages. You may have even thought it would be in a similar vain to Charli’s pop hit ‘Boys’; subverting the typical male gaze again once more and turning the typically sexist music industry on its head.
And you’d have been wrong. The infectious chorus: “Sometimes, I just wanna kiss girls, girls, girls/ Red wine, I just wanna kiss girls, girls, girls,” while it may seem at first glance to embrace innocent implications of bi-curiosity, holds problematic connotations. It reinforces the narrative of party girls kissing party girls just because they’re fuelled with alcohol, not because they’re truly exploring the fluidity of sexuality.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with girls kissing girls when they’ve had a drink or two (or nine), but it’s unfortunate that four female singers had a chance to truly explore a means to portray a minority in the mainstream, and they all entirely missed the mark.
The problems only worsen the further you look into the song. “And last night, yeah, we got with the dude / I saw him, he was lookin’ at you / So I said hey, kush lovin’” Charli sings, bringing in the entirely unnecessary male gaze into the narrative, fuelling the idea that they’re girls getting on girls for the sake of male attention, not representing the dire need for actual lesbian experiences within the music industry. While it’s all a-okay to simply be exploring sexuality and doing things for the sake of thrills, it’s certainly not okay to reinforce the ideal that lesbians exist for the sake of male pleasure; rather than the girls doing it for themselves (pun intended). With this in mind, it’s hardly the “empowering anthem” that Rita intended. In fact, it’s quite the opposite, a song which holds damaging connotations for legitimate bisexual listeners and artists alike.
This idea only strengthens with the fact that ‘Girls’ was produced by three men, and written by six men compared to the three women who penned the track. Surely to have an authentic take on female bisexuality, it would have been better to have been entirely created by… you know… bisexual women?
Other musicians have taken to social media to criticise the track, with lesbian singer Hayley Kiyoko branding it “tone-deaf”, while queer singer Kehlani states that the lyrics are “harmful”. With criticisms coming from within the LGBT community itself, it shows that the track was indeed harmful to some, rather than the uplifting liberation banger that Ora originally intended it to be.
|Hayley Kiyoko voices her concerns about the track on Instagram|
Rita, in her defence, has stated that she’s “50/50 and she’s not going to hide it,” in the song’s lyrics. Plus, it’s been rumoured that she dated sexual-fluid model Cara Delevinge, and featuring artist Cardi B is openly bi. Bebe has never stated her sexuality, and rightly so, as an artist it is entirely her right to keep her private life just that. Charli has also remained silent on her stance, but has been a gay ally and an advocate for the LGBT community in the past; so it’s safe to say that the record doesn’t fall into the category of queer-baiting, like many of their contemporaries such as Nick Jonas and Jessie J.
|Rita Ora claims the track is an ’empowering anthem’|
With that said, it still dangers on fuelling the same narrative that ‘I Kissed A Girl’ by Katy Perry did a decade ago, a song which entirely panders to bisexuality being linked to pleasing men, with the god-awful line “I hope my boyfriend don’t mind it.” Ten years later, you’d have thought that artists – particularly those who belong in the community – would’ve known better. In fact, Rita stated that the track was one of the inspirations behind “Girls”, and it clearly shows. While it definitely doesn’t hold as much of a harmful rhetoric as Perry’s track did a decade ago, it still reinforces those damaging ideals when you look a little closer at the track.
Perhaps the only good thing this song has done is open up discourse for what true representation means for the LGBT community, giving us a small glimmer of hope that, in the future, artists will stop and think for a little bit longer before putting pen to paper.