Billie Eilish just released a music video for her song “Lost Cause.” The music video seems to embrace femininity, the power of young women, and fun that passes the Bechdel test. But many are calling her out for potential queerbaiting. The video features her and her friends getting up close and personal, and she then posted “I love girls” as a caption on Instagram without any context. There was no build-up aside from the music video; it seemed to come out of the blue.
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Part of the questioning came from her current relationship. Her current boyfriend had previously posted homophobic remarks, and while he has since apologized for them, it’s made fans wonder: if she is coming out, how can she feel comfortable with her boyfriend’s past? Is this post genuine, or a sign of women’s empowerment? It’s anybody’s guess.
Eilish is hardly the first Hollywood star to mystify an audience and launch hundreds of comments questioning the celebrity’s sexuality. Here’s how celebrities’ vagueness can be harmful to the LGBTQ+ community.
What is Queerbaiting?
Queerbaiting isn’t new, but it’s become popular as acceptance and visibility within the LGTQ+ community is brought to the forefront. The term stems from stars, shows, movies – pretty much all that Hollywood touches – implying that they’re a part of the LGBTQ+ community as more than an ally. This prompts those in the LGBTQ+ community to continue watching, to hang on to the potential storyline, without actually giving them the acknowledgement they want.
An example of queerbaiting: Calvin Klein released a commercial with the model Bella Hadid kissing a female robot, the Instagram AI-star Miquela. The critiques were swift, with many saying that there are plenty of LGBTQ+ models available (and also, why would they use a robot?).
Calvin Klein released an apology, accepting and acknowledging their accidental misstep. The queerbaiting: is Hadid actually gay? Could she be a representative of the community? She never released a statement, leaving fans to wonder, to grasp on to the possibility that this high-profile model could be a spokesperson for the community. And to this day, she has yet to respond, leaving fans in the dark, questioning if it was her coming out.
Here at CALVIN KLEIN, we welcome all types of constructive feedback from our community. We see your comments and we appreciate them. We’d like to offer our thoughts in response to comments on our campaign video featuring Bella Hadid and Lil Miquela. pic.twitter.com/OIcIekyR9K
— calvinklein (@CalvinKlein) May 17, 2019
Queerbaiting in Pop Culture
Celebrities are also regularly queerbaiting. In Eilish’s case, she announced that “[she] love[s] girls” to her 86.8 million followers. Her fans flocked to social media, trying to figure out whether this was a sly post acknowledging her sexuality or whether she was simply talking about platonically loving her friends. The opinions are divided, and Eilish has not responded.
if billie eilish didn’t just come out, we have a serial queerbaiter on our hands i fear
— 𝚊𝚜𝚑𝚕𝚎𝚢 (@twyashley) June 10, 2021
it’s damaging to queerbait because it changes how the world sees and treats wlw relationships. there’s a fine line between girl appreciation and queerbaiting for benefit (whether it’s for the male gaze or for the attention of others in the community etc).
— vee (@ghost2princess) June 12, 2021
god i hope she isn’t queerbaiting
— hunter will miss b99 (@swagmeyers) June 10, 2021
is billie eilish gay or queerbaiting? i ask myself for the thousandth time since 2019
— wy (@st7ckz) June 10, 2021
Celebrities don’t owe us an explanation for their sexuality. But when queerbaiting is so obvious to catch, and LGBTQ+ fans are desperate to have someone to relate to and represent them, celebrities need to acknowledge their actions rather than leave suggestive comments and then pretend nothing has been said.
Ariana Grande also caused a flurry of responses with the music video “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored.” In it, she sings these lines, also discussing how “then I realize she’s right there, and I’m at home like ‘damn, this ain’t fair.’” The music video features her following a man and his girlfriend, ending with them in a hot tub. But instead of finally catching her love interest, the man she has been following, she lunges at the girlfriend for a kiss – or so it seems, because the video cuts out before we can see if there was an actual kiss. It’s a twist to the end of the music video…but why is one like this needed?
Queerbaiting in The Media
It’s not just major celebrities, though. Not just singers who almost kiss or throw their fans into a frenzy. Many TV shows and movies also queerbait – think Sherlock Holmes and John Watson from Sherlock, Beca and Chloe from Pitch Perfect, and Finn and Poe from Star Wars. Fans have flocked to these, writing their own fiction in which the characters eventually fall in love, even when writers deny these relationships.
One TV show that has been critiqued time and time again especially for its writers regularly queerbaiting is Rizzoli and Isles, a crime show featuring a female detective and female medical examiner, who work together to solve murders. The show was on from 2010-2016, with a 72% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Dubbed by BuzzFeed as “the gayest non-gay show on television,” many people have wondered if this friendship is something more — if there’s a secret that watchers will find if they interpret moments differently.
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The problem is that the writers and stars know what they’re doing. One writer explained “Rizzoli and Isles have been heterosexual from the first episode, though there is no way I would want to interfere with my viewers’ fantasy lives.” And Angie Harmon, who plays the badass detective Jane Rizzoli, admits that she’ll “brush [Sasha Alexander, who plays Maura Isle’s] blouse or maybe linger for a moment.” In an interview, Alexander said “Their relationship; it could be sexual one day, I mean, they’re not gay in the books. But who knows?”
But they backtrack without backtracking, because in the end, “As long as we’re not being accused of being homophobic, which is not in any way true and completely infuriating, I’m OK with it” says Harmon. Aka: the more they can play up the potential lesbian vibes without actually being lesbians, the more they draw viewers in with the hope that the ship will eventually sail if they want it enough. And for those who are homophobic? Well, nothing to see here.
say it with me queerbaiting refers to a conscious act by a creator and/or a bigger entity (like a tv channel or big corp) to tease fans with the idea of an lgbtq character/relationship in a piece of media with no intention to follow through on said character/relationship
— yakisoba pan angel ⋆ (@maymayleigh) June 11, 2021
A historic example of this: when J.K. Rowling announced that Dumbledore was gay and previously in a relationship with Gellert Grindelwald. There had been no suggestions of this in the books, no open-to-interpretation moments. Though fans were confused (understandably so), they were also thrilled. Did this mean they’d have a gay storyline in one of the biggest book and movie franchises?
The answer: no.
J.K. Rowling Confirms Some Characters in Her Books and Movies Are Gay Everywhere Except in the Books or the Movies https://t.co/Y5gcbMWNB9
— Eric D. Snider (@EricDSnider) March 16, 2019
Despite the contentious relationship between lovers-turned-enemies, “Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” did not feature the romance. When Rowling was asked about this announcement, then asked why there was no evidence, she explained, “as happens in any relationship, gay or straight or whatever label we want to put on it, one never knows really what the other person is feeling. You can’t know, you can believe you know.”
Then why did she find it necessary to bring this up? And even more frustrating: how could a writer claim this, then come out with transphobic statements, alienating her fan base even further?
From the second JK said Dumbledore was gay, it was clear she never saw LGBTQ+ people as anything more than tools. Stepping stones for attention.
There’s no pats on the back for post-series gay announcements anymore, so she’s turned to hatred to keep the publicity train rolling. pic.twitter.com/uSxnIdW7nJ
— Drace (He/They) (@Drace_Domino) June 13, 2021
In the end, maybe Billie is bisexual, and we just don’t know it. And it’s true, it’s celebrities’ information to have, not something they owe us. But as the conversation opens up about legitimate representation and statements for likes, it’s fair for many to want answers. The LGBTQ+ needs support, and queerbaiting is not the right way to go about it.
What are your thoughts on queerbaiting? Let us know below.
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