Rita Ora only just launched her new single ‘Girls’, featuring Charli XCX, Cardi B and Bebe Rexha, but it already became a topic of discussion on social media. Ora, who recently had success with the pop hits ‘Anywhere’ and ‘For You’, wrote the track two years ago, but did not immediately do something with it. More recently she let some other female artists listen to it and Cardi B, Bebe Rexha and Charli XCX immediately decided to join the project. Some fans welcome it as the next LGBT anthem, while others criticize its lyrical content. Is ‘Girls’ really about ‘freedom and being who you want to be’, as Rita would like to think?
In an interview with Paper Magazine, Ora explains how the song is not necessarily about gender or sexuality for her: “This song really is about telling and showing people that you can be what you want to be and that was the message I had in the mind. When I wrote it that’s how I felt. It really represented freedom to me.” In an interview with People Magazine, she however stated she hopes the song could become an anthem for bisexuals and explained how the lyric ‘I ain’t one-sided, I’m openminded, I’m fifty-fifty and I’m never gonna hide it’ is one of the most personal things she has shared in her songs. Last but not least she mentioned how Katy Perry’s widely criticized ‘I Kissed A Girl’ was an inspiration for her new single. Katy Perry famously sung how kissing girls is ‘not what good girls do, not how they should behave’ while portraying her intimacy with another woman as an ‘experimental game’ of which she hopes her boyfriend doesn’t mind.
Now I don’t want to deny Rita’s good intentions nor do I want to diminish the importance of her feeling brave enough to share something she considers personal, but ‘Girls’ has got some lyrical issues too. Charli XCX sings in her verse, “And last night, yeah, we got with the dude, I saw him, he was lookin’ at you”, showing that her interaction with another woman was to turn on a man. This again paints a picture of intimacy between women being desirable for the male gaze. Rapper Cardi B’s verse makes it very clear that her encounter with another woman is only for one night. “I could be your lipstick just for one night, girls just wanna have fun and have their funds right”, she raps. Now I think the ‘girls just wanna have fun’ reference, sums up exactly why this track rubs me, and not only me, the wrong way. Just like with Katy Perry’s ‘I Kissed A Girl’, the intimacy between two women is only described in a playful and supposedly sexy manner. It is something these girls do occasionaly when drinking. This is not about a meaningful relationship, it is only about wanting to sometimes kiss a girl, while drinking red wine.
Now I know that pop songs are supposed to be fun and playful most of the time, but Rita herself stated in more than one interview that ‘Girls’ has an important message in this day and time. With a statement like that you can only expect to be criticized if that supposed message fits in perfectly with the dominant discourse about relationships between two women. These are often seen as only fun and desirable for men to look at and nothing serious compared to a heteronormative relationship. As it stands, ‘Girls’ is not an anthem for bisexuality, but more of an anthem for girls who drunkenly kiss their best friend once and then identify as bisexual for a month because they think it is edgy.