The track, which features Cardi B, Charli XCX, and Bebe Rexha, is definitely a dancefloor anthem. But is it as queer as it seems?
Marilyn Drew Necci | May 11, 2018
Get ready to dance, because British singer Rita Ora just dropped a killer new track full of spicy queer content that’s sure to make all your summer jam playlists. “Girls,” which sports high-profile features from Cardi B, Charli XCX, and Bebe Rexha, really grabs your attention with its singalong chorus: “Sometimes I just wanna kiss girls, girls, girls,” the ladies sing. Aaaand you’re dancing.
But is this track really as much of a queer anthem as it seems on the surface? First, listen for yourself. Then we’ll talk about it.
Rita Ora is probably best known here in the US for her feature role on Iggy Azalea’s “Black Widow,” but she’s much more popular in her native UK, where she scored top ten hits with her last three singles, including “For You,” a duet with former One Directioner Liam Payne from the Fifty Shades Freed soundtrack.
“Girls” puts Ora together with three other pop divas, most prominently Cardi B, the former Love & Hip Hop reality star who’s been everywhere for the past year or so with huge singles like “Bodak Yellow” and “Be Careful.” The track also features Charli XCX, another bigger-in-Britain UK pop star, though you might still know her from her single “Boom Clap” making waves here in the US a few years ago. Bebe Rexha, best known for “Meant To Be,” her chart-topping collab with Florida Georgia Line, rounds out the jam-packed feature lineup.
While these ladies have a mixed history with the LGBTQ community — Charli XCX has always been counted as a strong ally, while Cardi B recently got herself in hot water by defending fiance Offset’s use of “queer” as an insult — none of them have previously been identified as members of the LGBTQ community themselves. And after hearing Rita Ora sing, “I’m excited, I’m open-minded; I’m 50/50 and I’m never gonna hide it” in the song’s opening verse, People magazine understandably had some questions.
“I always looked at this song as a real gender-fluid freedom record,” Ora told People. “It really represents freedom and the chance to be what you want to be — and there being no judgment and just living your life as you want to live it.” Pressing the issue, People asked if Ora was trying to say anything about her own sexuality in the song. “I knew people were going to look into it like that,” Ora responded, laughing. “I definitely said it because I can — and it was one of those things where, if I was 50/50…I’m not saying I’m ’70/30.’ … ‘I’m 50/50, and I’m not gonna hide it.’ I’m not hiding what I am, who I am, if I wanna do this, if I wanna do that. That’s just how it’s gonna be.”
OK, but what does that mean though? Asked directly if she was bisexual, Ora responded, “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.” Asked if she wanted the song to be a bisexual anthem, she said, “Definitely. I definitely want it to feel like it’s an anthem to somebody.” She’s clearly stoked about the song and wants it to be a hit, but she isn’t exactly rushing to embrace its queer connotations.
One cannot help but note elsewhere in the interview where Ora mentioned a big inspiration for this song being Katy Perry’s “I Kissed A Girl.” Another dancefloor banger, for sure, but a song that’s long been considered more of an appropriation of LGBTQ experiences for shock value and to titillate boys, rather than any expression of deeply held feelings. Reviewing Perry’s album, One Of The Boys, for Slant Magazine at the time of its release, Sal Cinquemani wrote that “I Kissed A Girl”‘s “self-satisfied, in-your-face posturing rings phony.”
He continued, ““I Kissed a Girl” isn’t problematic because it promotes homosexuality, but because its appropriation of the gay lifestyle exists for the sole purpose of garnering attention—both from Perry’s boyfriend and her audience.” He then noted the uneasy contrast between this song and Perry’s follow-up single, “UR So Gay,” which uses the word “gay” in a “casually derogatory” fashion, according to Cinquemani. Ora does nowhere near as much running from the ideas her song expresses as Perry did a decade ago. That said, she still doesn’t seem to want to embrace the full implications of what she’s singing about, either.
That said, if you focus solely on the lyrics, the song itself is a ringing endorsement of girl-on-girl makeouts, regardless of what its singers might say offstage. And if you’re looking to turn up the party this Saturday night, you couldn’t do much better than dropping this record. But does it deserve the support of the LGBTQ community despite Rita Ora’s half-stepping in interviews? Jukebox jury’s out — let us know what you think in the comments over on Facebook.