Rita Ora Apologises For New Song Amid Backlash
"I have had romantic relationships with women and men throughout my life and this is my personal journey."
Over the weekend Rita Ora released "Girls", which featured Cardi B, Charli XCX and Bebe Rexha and was hailed as some kind of attempt at the next bisexual summer anthem.
Citing inspiration from the Spice Girls, "Lady Marmalade" and -- probably most obviously -- Katy Perry's "I Kissed A Girl", the song is an ode to having a few glasses of red wine and pashing your best gal pals.
Lyrics include, "I just wanna kiss girls, girls, girls / Red wine, I just wanna kiss girls, girls, girls..." and "I ain't one-sided, I'm open minded / I'm fifty-fifty and I'm never gonna hide it".
Upon the release of the song Ora was asked by PEOPLE if she considered herself bisexual or sexually fluid. Her response was a deflection, saying "If people look at it like that, it's very narrow-minded".
"I don't think that's what this record is. I don't think that even matters," the 27-year-old said.
Immediately after, PEOPLE asked if Ora was hopeful the song would become a "bisexual anthem". To that she responded, "Definitely".
"I definitely want it to feel like it's an anthem to somebody. I want there to be a sense of freedom for anyone who listens to it. So I'll take it!"
Unfortunately for Ora the song faced pretty widespread criticism from fans as well as other artists. Most of that was aimed at the fact that a singer who had only ever presented as heterosexual was trying to capitalise on queerness while attempting to distance herself from those very themes of her own song.
In response to "Girls", openly queer singer Hayley Kiyoko posted a statement to her Twitter calling the song tone-deaf.
"To be clear," Kiyoko wrote, "I fully support other artists who freely express themselves and applaud male and female artists who are opening up more and more about their sexual identities".
"I don't need to drink wine to kiss girls; I've loved women my entire life. This type of message is dangerous because it completely belittles and invalidates the very pure feelings of an entire community."
Another queer singer, Kehlani also weighed in on the song with a series of tweets.
The criticisms were bolstered by Ora citing Katy Perry's "I Kissed a Girl" as an influence, a song that minimised queer women, portraying Perry's "bisexuality" as a fun experiment one might do on a boring bus trip or after too many Cosmopolitans.
The problematic lyrics of Ora's "Girls" echoed Perry's "just to try it" with references of wine and drugs leading to an experimentation.
That brings us to Ora's response, on Monday the singer posted a statement calling the song "an accurate account of a very real and honest experience".
Representation of LGBTQ+ people in music has always been shaky, with many heterosexual artists like Perry creating these preformative narratives of queerness.
The problem comes from attempting to profit off this "casual queerness", leveraging the kind of lipstick lesbianism that caters to heterosexual men (see: Madonna and Britney kissing at the VMAs in 2003).
In an interview with #legend in June last year Ora claimed "Girls" was just about her friends. "The song is basically about females complimenting other females and supporting each other".
"When Katy Perry sang 'I Kissed a Girl', it wasn’t necessarily her saying, 'Guys, I’m a lesbian'. It was more about feeling empowered to be outspoken and free to choose and pick, and say things. That’s what 'Girls' is about and it’s really exciting. I’m not the only one doing it. A lot of people have been doing it throughout the years. I’m just joining the pack."
It's unclear what Ora believes doing "it" meant, if not capitalising on this idea that queerness is a theme you can apply to a single. Like a new hat or hairstyle, you can simply give it a whirl to be fashionable and edgy.
Despite that, Ora thanked her fans for their support to "love herself no matter what".
Meanwhile artists like Janelle Monáe recently released Dirty Computer, an incredible musical and visual thesis of empowerment, celebrating the artist's sexuality and gender. Dirty Computer is out now and you should absolutely listen to it.
Featured image: Getty images / Atlantic / Twitter @RitaOra.