Brianna Scott, Opinions Editor
Ariana Grande’s new music video for her song, “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored” is resurfacing discussions about queer-baiting in pop culture.
Queer-baiting is a term used to describe queer representation being used in media to draw in an LGBTQ+ audience without fully committing to depicting romantic relationships between queer characters. It’s a bait-and-switch to pull in gay audiences without alienating straight audiences who may be homophobic — because we, obviously, must coddle heteronormativity.
In Grande’s music video, she’s flirting with a boy who is taken — hence the song title. But Grande also flirts with this boy’s girlfriend in various scenes. The pair dances close, shares intimate glances and at the end of the video the two lean in to kiss in a steamy hot tub.
Of course Twitter blew up with Grande’s fans praising the video, but others were not fond of Grande using bisexuality as a prop.
ariana grande saying that bi women are there for straight women to experiment with when they’re bored is an extremely toxic and privileged view, if she wants to experiment with her sexuality that’s fine however don’t use mine for shock value and clout
— 🌻 (@fkaepunk) February 8, 2019
i love ariana so much and i’m so proud of her always but the buwygib mv wasn’t right of her.
i know some people are saying the other girl is supposed to be a version of her, but being lgbtq shouldn’t be used for aesthetic or trend, like the ending, no matter the intended meaning
— tahlia ♡ 39 (@bermanswife) February 8, 2019
Some say the other girl in the video is supposed to represent Grande herself and is a metaphor for self-love and self-acceptance.
so the “girlfriend” in the break up with your girlfriend, im bored resembles ariana so much even down to the moon tattoo behind her ear, the hair clip. the girlfriend is ariana. she’s breaking up with her boyfriend and loving herself. #thankunext pic.twitter.com/vfb9Lv6tMo
— mia (@onelovesbutera) February 8, 2019
Whether this is true, despite Grande tweeting that the flirtation between the two gals means “nothing,” we still need to talk about straight people profiting off of the LGBTQ+ community by pandering to us.
Ariana Grande's learned nothing from people of the LGBT community calling her out for queerbaiting & using lesbian intimacy for shock value in her video. Instead of apologizing, she's joking about it- "it didn't mean anything" as if her female friend (Camilla) would be jealous. pic.twitter.com/tc9UBEe4Gd
— Appropriana (@appropriana) February 12, 2019
I don’t want to assume Grande’s sexuality, but she has never come out stating she is lesbian or bisexual. It’s worth mentioning that she also doesn’t have to. It might shock some people, but us queer people don’t have to come out in public manners or wear badges that say, “HEY, I’M GAY,” though it’s cute and fine if you do. Coming out is unique to every queer person and we are allowed to come out at our own pace. If Grande is queer and isn’t ready to publicly announce it, by all means keep the closet door creaked open.
But Grande does owe her audience an explanation as to why her music video was scripted and directed the way it was. Grande does owe the queer community the respect of not using our sexualities as experiments, entertainment or for clout.
In an interview with musician Troye Sivan, Grande talks about her allyship to the LGBTQ+ community.
“There’s nothing, I swear to God, honest to God, knock me out, I swear on my life, more rewarding than seeing sweet little gays in the audience moving along to my choreography,” Grande said, “or a drag queen coming into my meet-and-greet with like a 40 pound ponytail and thigh-high boots. It’s the most fulfilling, like it makes my heart scream. It’s the best reward.”
Honest to god, knock me out, Ariana, you’re the bisexual icon I’ve been looking for!
Musicians such as Janelle Monáe, Hayley Kiyoko, King Princess, Angel Haze and Lauren Jauregui are just a few LGBTQ+ artists we should be considering queer icons.
Nevertheless, queer-baiting has been a long standing problem in media.
Modern examples of queerbaiting include Betty Cooper and Veronica Lodge in “Riverdale,” Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles in “Rizzoli & Isles,” Castiel and Dean Winchester in “Supernatural” and Sherlock Holmes and John Watson in “Sherlock.”
Queer baiting formulas include: burying gay characters (literally), fetishzing girls together, the trope of experimenting in college, ambiguous gay characters or innuendos with no result and no room for bisexuality or pansexuality as viable identities.
Burying gay characters is the most bothersome formula. This can be unnecessarily killing off a queer character or erasing their queer identity.
Trini from the 2017’s Power Rangers film was described as the first LGBT superhero. But there weren’t any confirmed mentions of her sexuality in the film. The original character throughout the series has been portrayed as straight.
The ambiguity of Trini’s sexuality isn’t a bad thing, discovering your sexuality is important. The actual scene, however, is so minor that some in the audience might have missed it.
It’s possible to have fully fleshed out LGBTQ+ characters without ever mentioning their sexuality.
It’s not necessary to stop a full scene so a queer character can look at the audience and say, “By the way, I’m LGBTQ+ identified!”
The reason it’s important to clarify a character’s sexuality is because we live in a heteronormative, heterosexual-dominant society. Queer is still not the default, it’s “othered,” it’s an insignificant after-thought. Heterosexuality is assumed as the default setting for humans.
A queer utopia would be never having to blatantly clarify anyone’s sexuality because sexuality isn’t assumed.
It’s not about hiding representation or making every character queer. It’s about accurately portraying queerness and committing to it. You can explore a character’s sexuality or gender identity without using it as a cheap way to appeal to a different demographic. I’m looking at you, J.K. Rowling.
Us queer people tend to hold onto any ounce of representation because we get so little of it. Think about some of your favorite TV shows or movies and count the amount of openly LGTBQ+ characters. You can probably count them on one hand and still have fingers left over.
A 2016-2017 breakdown shows that of all LGBTQ+ characters on primetime programming, 20 percent of characters are lesbian, 46 percent are gay and 32 percent are bisexual.
Sometimes people think those of us in the LGBTQ+ community are projecting our own sexuality onto characters, but filmmakers and actors tend to leave the sexuality of characters up to interpretation. This would be perfectly fine if they weren’t doing it out of fear of losing gay audiences, i.e., the gay coin.
You don’t throw a few LGBTQ+ characters into a movie or show to appease the community. Genuine representation looks like dedicating time to exploring the backstories of queer characters and developing them. It looks like respecting their sexuality without fetshiziation and not being afraid to explicitly display queer characters.
You’re not doing the LGBTQ+ community any favors by leaving gay characters in the closet with one foot out the door.