Remember when Tramp Stamps made that song saying they’d rather die than sleep with another straight white guy? It’s like they thought they were being progressive while singing about sexuality, but it really missed the mark. But how do sexuality and bi-fetishization come into play when it comes to songwriting?
Throughout music history, we’ve seen artists using music to express their sexuality, and lesbian and bisexual women have often been the subject of such songs. Just think of Katy Perry’s “I Kissed a Girl” or the lesbian makeout scene in t.A.T.u.’s video for “All The Things She Said.”
We also have Liam Payne’s “Both Ways” in which he sings about hooking up with a bisexual woman. This narrative is not uncommon – the male gaze has fetishized lesbian and bi women. It maintains that being gay is okay, as long as it’s women loving women.
While Liam’s approach to singing about bisexuality was problematic, Rita Ora was criticized for her 2018 single “Girls” in which she sings “sometimes I just wanna kiss girls” while also enjoying some red wine. Some argued that her song insuniuation that one must be intoxicated to want to kiss someone of the same sex. Rita Ora was called about by LGBTQ+ musicans like Hayley Kiyoko, MUNA and Kelani, leading her to release a statement and come out as bisexual.
So if musicians sing about sexuality, should they also explicitly state it for us? Or can they explore their sexuality in private, and sing about it as they choose?
We’re unpacking all of this and so much more with musician and content creator Joseph Dubay (aka @emojoseph on TikTok.)
Find Joseph on all the platforms for more!
Sources for Sexuality and Bi Fetishization in Songwriting
The Strange and Homophobic History of “Queer Icons” t.A.T.u (Junkee, Dani Leever, 2021)
t.A.Tu.’s Fauz-Lesbian Singer Wouldn’t Accept a Gay Son (Billboard, Elias Leight, 2014)
The Facts on LGBT Rights in Russia (Global Equity)
Former t.A.T.u singer Julia Volkova is running for Russian parliament (The Calvert Journal, Paula Erizanu, 2021)
Liam Payne is being called out for his “biphobic” Both Ways lyrics (Popbuzz, Sam Prance, 2019)
Liam Payne apologises for threesome track as he vows to ditch sexy lyrics (DailyStar, Jack Hardwick, 2020)
Katy Perry Finally Admitted That “I Kissed a Girl” Is Problematic (Nylon, Sandra Song, 2018)
Chart Topping Lesbian Love Song Divides Gay Community (The Guardian, Mark Brown, 2008)
Rita Ora and Cardi B Apologize for Problematic “Girls” Lyrics (Them, John Paul Brammer, 2018)
Rita Ora, “Girls,” and the Reckoning of Queerbaiting (Out, Mikelle Street, 2018)
Hayley Kiyoko: Rita Ora, Charli XCX’s “Girls” “Does More Harm Than Good for the LGBTQ+ Community” (Pitchfork, Michelle Kim, 2018)
No one should be forced to come out like Rita Ora was, especially when people like Harry Styles get to ‘gaybait’ without criticism (The Independent, Yusuf Tamanna, 2018)
Ashnikko’s tweets about the song + sharing her sexuality
Ashnikko (Euphoria, Saskia Pstema, 2020)