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Queer female musicians are calling out Rita Ora and Cardi B’s bisexual bop

It’s basically ‘I Kissed a Girl’, 2018 edition

Rita Ora has a new song. Called “Girls”, the track features Cardi BCharli XCX and Bebe Rexha, and thanks to its lyrics, has been immediately touted as a bisexual anthem. Not everyone is psyched about that, however.

In an interview with People, Ora discussed the lyrics (which include Cardi rapping about scissoring, as well as lines like: “I’m 50/50, and I’m not gonna hide it”, and “Red wine, I just wanna kiss girls, girls, girls”) saying: “I’m not hiding what I am, who I am”. It’s not quite a coming out moment, though – asked point-blank whether she identifies as bisexual or sexually fluid, the singer defers, saying: “I think the way…If people look at it like that, it’s very narrow-minded, and I don’t think that’s what this record is. I don’t think that that even matters. Yeah.”

In an interview last June, the singer also dismissed the idea that the song was about being attracted to women and spoke openly about trying on a different sexuality being a trendy thing in music. “There's a song called ‘Girls’ which, at the first listen, you'll be, like, ‘Oh, wow. She's definitely letting us know that she likes girls.’ But it's not that. It is called ‘Girls’ because I have features with my actual friends on it, like Charli XCX, who is one of my bestest friends. The song is basically about females complimenting other females and supporting each other...When Katy Perry sang ‘I Kissed a Girl’, it wasn't necessarily her saying, ‘Guys, I'm a lesbian’. It was more about feeling empowered to be outspoken and free to choose and pick, and say things. That's what Girls is about and it's really exciting. I’m not the only one doing it. A lot of people have been doing it throughout the years. I'm just joining the pack.” Eek.

In response to its release, a group of queer female musicians have voiced opinions on the song.

Kehlani wrote on her Twitter that she felt certain quotes “weren’t progressive”, but was clear that this wasn’t a personal attack on the musicians themselves. “I have an incredible song out with one of the artists, and would love to work with the other three as well. & have met them all and respect them. there. were. harmful. lyrics.”

Singer Hayley Kiyoko, who identifies as gay and whose music openly addresses her lesbianism, took particular offense to the song’s central idea of needing to be drunk to kiss women. “It’s important for us artists to use our platforms to move the cultural needle forward, not backwards,” she said on Twitter. “Every so often there come certain songs with messaging that is just downright tone-deaf, which does more harm than good for the LGBTQ+ community. A song like this just fuels the male gaze while marginalising the idea of women loving women.”

Another voice came from Katie Gavin of the 2017 Dazed 100 ranking band Muna. “I feel grateful for the reminder that the songwriting world is full of people that feel entitled to write about communities to which they do not belong,” she commented. “Grateful for the renewed fire under my ass to give us queer people better bangers.”

Author, podcast host, and infamous bisexual on the internet Gaby Dunn took a slightly more nuanced view, tapping into some of the stigma that exists around bisexual women, particularly those who may be exploring their sexuality for the first time. “It's important not to add more shame to women who feel they need alcohol or other excuses to explore their attraction to women,” she tweeted. “I also suspect if this song was with Harry Styles, Shawn Mendes, Charlie Puth and Frank Ocean we'd all be DELIGHTED.”

WDYT? Is this an appropriation of sexuality? Do artists need to be queer to profit from LGBTQ+ themes in their work? Or is Rita totally fine ‘joining the pack’ and singing about a sexuality that she’s not willing to actually acknowledge as part of her identity?