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You decide – are ‘queerbaiting’ Billie Eilish accusations justified?

Some believe the artist’s latest music video is attempting to attract an LGBTQ+ audience without representing the community itself. Others consider this stance problematic for implying Eilish must explicitly define her sexuality, being in the public eye.

In the age of social media, celebrities landing themselves in hot water is nothing new.

Gen Z role model Billie Eilish is no exception, recently finding herself at the centre of ‘queerbaiting’ accusations after promoting the release of her latest music video Lost Cause on Instagram with a carousel of behind the scenes images. The caption? “I love girls.”

With many presumptuously deeming this a sign of her official coming out, the comment section was instantly flooded with praise. ‘Does this mean what I think it does?’ wrote one user. ‘It better because I’ve been simping my whole life.’

Though such an outpouring of adoration from Eilish’s vast young fanbase is customary, this was quickly overshadowed by criticism towards what appeared to be a callous attempt to attract an LGBTQ+ audience without representing the community itself.

‘STOP DOING THIS IF YOU’RE STRAIGHT,’ ‘she’s literally fetishising wlw relationships,’ ‘I really never thought you’d resort to queerbaiting’ reads a handful of the negative responses, all tinged with an element of exhaustion as if this isn’t the first time.

It isn’t, in fact, as Eilish’s apparent tendency to profit off queer identify without conforming has been a talking point for a while now, initially coming to light when she dropped ‘wish you were gay’ in 2019.

Largely perceived as homophobic for suggesting that anyone who rejects her must be part of a marginalised group, Eilish later defended the track, stressing the lyrics were never intended to offend.

Unfortunately, this history does not bode well for Eilish’s current status as a ‘queer-baiter.’ Alongside circulating screenshots of her boyfriend’s prejudiced posts, the backlash shows no signs of abating.

On the flip-side it’s worth noting that Eilish has, throughout her illustrious career, remained an outspoken advocate for the broader LGBTQ+ community.

When publicising her debut album, she donated a portion of all proceeds from her merch store to a suicide and crisis prevention programme for queer youth known as The Trevor Project.

Not to mention her immense following, with comprises a significant LGBTQ+ majority.

In many cases people are drawing on their own experiences of being outed before they were ready, and are forewarning others of the potential harm pushing Eilish to define her sexuality could have.

Read Billie Eilish's Vogue Cover Interview In Full: “It's All About What Makes You Feel Good” | British Vogue

Since the earliest stages of her fame, Eilish has been scrutinised: for obscuring her figure, then for wearing too-revealing clothes on the cover of Vogue (by way of example).

Stripped of the privilege to make mistakes privately and learn from them at her own pace (let alone navigate her sexual agency), it seems that no matter what the 19-year-old does, she runs the risk of being judged.

It’s important we bear this in mind, especially as cancel culture continues to get worryingly out of hand, and the urge to humiliate takes precedence over mental health repercussions.

Let’s break this all down further.

What is ‘queerbaiting’ and why is Billie Eilish in the wrong?

For those unfamiliar, ‘queerbaiting’ is a term the media devised (amid concerns over the increasing corporisation of Pride) to define instances where onscreen LGBTQ+ representation is used solely (and often tactlessly) as an exploitative marketing ploy.

It’s when creators toy with the idea of queerness – without ever fully understanding it – to strategically tease queer individuals into watching or consuming their content.

The phrase is used a lot more habitually these days, a result of societal shifts and an increasing pressure to hold celebrities, brands, and corporations to different, improved standards.

In the case of Eilish – who has, in the past, asserted her heterosexuality – it’s indeed feasible to see why she’s being called out for queerbaiting.

The Lost Cause video includes scenes of her at a sleepover with several female friends, all of them rolling around on the bed in their underwear, hyping each other up while they twerk, and grabbing each other’s behinds.

Pair this with the artist’s previous lapses in the public eye and the otherwise contextless caption, and it comes as no surprise that some LGBTQ+ netizens fear the behaviours are being appropriated for commercial gain.

Referencing an interview from 2017 in which Eilish touted herself as trying to be ‘really different from a lot of people,’ that she would ‘rather die than be artificial,’ they argue that it’s unlikely her actions stem from a place of authenticity, more a bid to provoke fervour among fans and foes alike.

How is this reaction problematic in the grand scheme of things?

According to Eilish, Lost Cause explores the theme of women craving female energy for healing in the aftermath of being hurt by men.

It’s her take on loving her gender and feeling empowered by the women who inspire her.

On this note, many have expressed that the discourse around whether or not she’s ‘queer’ demonstrates how little room women are allowed to explore their identity and the degree of control over their sexuality that still prevails.

This comes down to the male gaze which, even in 2021 where we’ve taken huge steps towards accepting and recognising that sexuality exists on a spectrum, continues to see audiences assume a woman is queer when she deviates from traditional heteronormativity.

‘Sapphics have always been sexualised – seeing a group of women together, you automatically think it’s more sexual than it is,’ reads a tweet on the matter. ‘It reduces same sex relationships between women to a fetish for straight men, with tangible damage to queer women who have to deal with their relationships disrespected, as well as harassment and abuse when loudly presenting as queer in public.’

Eilish may well be experiencing this currently: navigating her sexual agency beneath the male gaze.

To deny her claims to ‘love girls’ if she doesn’t actually is to discount the very pervasive ways the patriarchy rules women’s lives and guides the perception of womanhood.

‘The conversation around queerbaiting has reached a confusing place,’ tweeted, a supportive fan. ‘On one hand we say don’t worry about labels, and on the other, if an artist presents themselves as even remotely queer, we interrogate them about their sexuality.’

Billie Eilish says 'I love girls' in latest Instagram

What they touch upon here, is that queerbaiting as a concept leaves restricted space for experimentation and fluidity, focusing heavily on labels when often there isn’t a label to give. The issue at hand not only perpetuates the narrative that female bisexuality, pansexuality, and queerness is ‘just a phase,’ but actively forces Eilish to label herself when, most likely, she isn’t ready to.

This reinforces the dangerous notion that we have to be something and disregards our basic human right to figure out who we are without the pressure of commitment. Presenting queerness as something that cannot be dabbled in, only wholly embraced or left entirely, will shun anyone who is questioning themselves.

‘Can’t a human experiment with their sexuality without the need of labelling?’ asks Drag Race UK runner up Bimini Bon Boulash. ‘It’s not a rigid binary, it’s a spectrum, so why do we assume everyone has to be straight until proven otherwise? Less labels more love.’

Ultimately, this 19-year-old owes us nothing. There’s no way for us to know if she’s queer unless she chooses to tell us, and speculating based on her image, music, or what she writes on social media is counterproductive to achieving equality.

Of course, it’s understandable the LGBTQ+ community would feel protective and perhaps even territorial of their spaces after decades facing discrimination, but everyone deserves to take their time.

‘Are we willing to risk silencing all queer exploration and forcing real queer people to either come out before they’re ready or stay closeted because they don’t feel “queer enough”, all so that we can feel like our media representation is 100% pure?’

All that’s certain is we must tread with caution moving forward, and ensure we aren’t perpetuating the attitudes that once erased us.

Yet the verdict here remains unclear. So, why don’t you decide?

 

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