Bebe Rexha on 'Girls' backlash: 'People automatically went for the negative'
Last week, the release of Rita Ora’s “Girls” — which features Cardi B, Bebe Rexha, and Charli XCX — was anticipated to be the “Lady Marmalade” of a generation. But when the song dropped it was met by furor. Certain leading members of the LGBTQ+ community in music (notably Hayley Kiyoko and Kehlani) argued that the song was damaging and regressive, with its line “red wine, I just wanna kiss girls” presenting a clichéd trope about bisexuality as something women only participate in when feeling frisky on the dance floor. Furthermore, the reveal that six of the nine writers were male added further hurt to queer-identifying, undermined songwriters who feel shut out of major labels.
Both Ora and Cardi have since responded to the criticisms. Ora tweeted a note saying the song reflects her own “truth” and is “an accurate account of a very real and honest experience in my life.” Cardi justified her role on the song and tweeted that she has experience with “a lot” of women.
Speaking to EW earlier today, Bebe Rexha — who has so far been silent on the debate — is mixed in her reaction to the backlash. “My sexual life is nobody’s business,” she says. “But we’re singing a song about kissing girls and that remains true to who I am. It’s the life that I live and it’s honest to me.” Coming to the song’s defense, Rexha, whose debut album Expectations is out June 22, was quick to assert that she wouldn’t sing on a song for the sake of a solid career move. “That would be pretty f—d-up,” she adds. “And I’d agree with where the critics are coming from [in that case]. Everybody can have their own opinion.”
Rexha’s major bugbear in the debate is that there was a prejudice towards all four women’s sexuality. It was assumed that they were heterosexual, which is an issue if LGBTQ+ anthems should be written and sung by LGBTQ+-identifying artists. “The question of whether [the song] was true to us was completely dismissed,” says Rexha. “People automatically went for the negative instead of saying: ‘Well maybe these girls do kiss girls, maybe Bebe is bi.’ You don’t know about my sexual orientation, so I felt disrespected.” Rexha continues by insisting that all her art is based on real scenarios. “I’ve kissed girls, you know what I mean?” she says. “And I don’t do it because it’s fun or whatever. Do you have to be fully lesbian to put out a song about kissing girls? What if you’re bi? Isn’t the point of being supportive of the LGBTQ community that you can love whoever you want and everything is fluid and non-judgmental?”
With that said, Rexha admits that the grievances surrounding the “red wine” lyric are valid. “I get it,” she says. “It’s f—-d-up. I don’t drink red wine and say, ‘I wanna kiss girls.’” And how does Rexha react to the notion that the song is an example of the women’s sexuality being co-opted by white heterosexual men to sell a commercial summer hit? “That’s just overthought,” she says. “If I hear a song and feel connected to it, it’s exciting. I follow what feels good in my heart. People just like to make drama.”
This interview is part of a forthcoming full-length feature with Bebe Rexha about her album Expectations.