By Patricia Whyte
Ariana Grande’s latest music video, “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored,” has been met with controversy since its release on Feb. 7. The video was released one day before Grande’s latest album “thank u, next” came out.
In the video, the singer is seen following a couple around at a party, eyeing them as she sings. Viewers are led to believe Grande is after the man she encourages to “break up with [his] girlfriend,” but in the last seconds of the video, she ends up with the girl instead. Many were surprised by the twist ending. Some fans even believed that the video may symbolize Grande coming out as bisexual.
However, others accused Grande of queer-baiting, a trend done in many television series, movies and books as a way to subtly hint at a character being queer without actually owning it, in an attempt to attract LGBTQ+ audiences or simply for dramatic effect. The lyrics of the song do not suggest Grande is attracted to women and do in fact affirm that she is after the man and not his girlfriend.
The ending of the video would be one thing if Grande herself were queer, but because the singer does not identify with the LGBTQ+ community, the video appropriates queer culture and experience and uses it as a way to have a surprising plot twist or leave fans “shook.”
Additionally, the video feeds into the fetishism of the lesbian community by heterosexual male audiences. Although it was produced by Grande, media involving sex or relationships between women has been historically predominantly produced by men for a male audience and is often criticized by members of the lesbian community for its inauthenticity.
By using two heteronormatively feminine-presenting women, played by straight actors, “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored” appropriates LGBTQ+ culture and contributes to the fetishism of gay women all for the sake of a twist ending. It is queer bait. This isn’t the first time Grande has been accused of cultural appropriation in her videos, either.
The singer’s “7 rings” video and artwork led critics to call out Grande for appropriating black culture. The video and song bear many similarities to those of black artists, and the lines are blurred as to what is inspired by and what is taking from those artists.
Contrarily, while the “break up with your girlfriend, i’m bored” music video can be seen as queer baiting, one can take the song as an anthem about self-love. In the video, the girl Grande is encouraging the man to break up with bears a striking resemblance to Grande, wearing a similar outfit and hair style.
A popular theory suggests Grande was not encouraging the man to break up with his girlfriend for her own personal gain, but rather encouraging herself to break up with her boyfriend to focus on loving herself. However, the lyrics of the song suggest a blatant comparison of two women, ultimately deeming Grande as superior.
LGBTQ+ representation in media is necessary for cultural diversity and it is important for queer stories to be told. However, posing two straight women as queer purely for shock value is wrong and, frankly, tacky. Culture is not a costume, and capitalizing on other cultures by passing it off as your own is harmful to marginalized communities. Posing as another identity for the sake of a twist or views should be viewed in the same way.