When girls kiss girls in pop music, it’s for a drunken taste of chapstick. Or out of jealousy for an ex-boyfriend. Or to shock a TV-viewing audience. Whether the example is Katy Perry or Little Big Town or Madonna, music’s most famous depictions of same-sex female romance typically treat it as a dare, a dalliance, a performance—rather than an expression of real desire.
It speaks to a transitional moment in pop’s sexual politics that Rita Ora’s new song, “Girls,” has been knocked for contributing to that shallow tradition rather than, as the creators might have wanted, getting praised for subverting straightness. A clear aspirant to song-of-the-summer status, it features a quartet of buzzy names—Ora, Charli XCX, Bebe Rexha, and Cardi B—singing and rapping about hooking up with women. On the surface, the song would seem to say that the march of queer acceptance is continuing apace. Ora told People that the track is an anthem of “freedom for anyone who listens to it.”
But the reception has been less-than-enthusiastic from some of the out women of pop. “A song like this just fuels the male gaze while marginalizing the idea of women loving women,” the singer Hayley Kiyoko, who’s openly gay, wrote on Instagram. Kehlani, another singer who identifies as queer, tweeted that the lyrics were “harmful.” Wrote the DJ and producer Kittens, “We’ve fucking had it with this shit. Xoxo, LGBT women.”