This week’s moral-outrage-in-pop comes courtesy of Rita Ora, whose single ‘Girls’ does a fine job of painting bisexuality as a passing phase, brought on by a few glasses of wine and swiftly forgotten. Here sexuality is described in the same terms as an impulse buy on Amazon or fried chicken after a night out.
Rita comes to ‘Girls’ mob-handed. Cardi B, Charli XCX & Bebe Rexha (no clue) provide verses, though it’s unclear if they received writing credits. Despite Cardi and Charli being infinitely more interesting vocalists than Rita Ora, all fall remarkably flat. There is plenty to say about the song’s simplistic and offensive treatment of genuine sexual expression, but first let’s be clear, this fails fundamentally as a pop song.
‘Girls’ offers precisely zero reasons to hit the replay button. The synth bass isn’t all bad and the quasi-trap of the beat is ubiquitous, and could have laid under perhaps a hundred pop hits released this year. Nothing happens from this point. With the essentials set up the track plays out in the most unsatisfying way possible. And while no one is expecting ‘YYZ‘ from a chart-aping pop tune, pop ought to be better than this.
Of the vocal performances Charli XCX is the most enjoyable – intense but quirky – and perhaps left alone on the track she may have been able to sell the message. But that leads us to the message itself…
Put simply ‘Girls’ is unbelievably fucking offensive not just to the LGBT community but anyone with so much as a lick of good taste. Ten years to the day, almost exactly spookily enough, Katy Perry broke out with ‘I Kissed a Girl’.
That was fine for 2008, though by 2010 the mood was already shifting away from this sort of male-orientated masturbatory simplicity. Crucially – that actually had a decent hook. At least let me tap my foot if you’re going to condescend to me.
‘Girls’ perpetuates the most blunt, clunky, pandering and pig-headed conception of bisexuality. What is truly amazing is that each vocalist comes at it from a different point of view, but each of these is dreadful, all drawn from the same well of dismissive, leery wilful ignorance. In Charli XCX’s verse she’s the hunter to the prey, leading some poor girl astray, who shouldn’t be doing something so lewd. For Cardi it’s more a one-night distraction. Rita obviously wouldn’t have done it if she wasn’t drunk.
There is a defence to this sort of writing and this conception of what being bisexual entails. That is that for some men and women, this is as far as it goes. They do it for one night and then forget it, often in shame. However while it may speak to truth, it ultimately celebrates a point of view that our culture is (hopefully) moving away from.
In ‘Girls’ bisexuality is about sex not love, rebellion not longing, and it only lasts the night.