Friday, May 25th, 2018

Rita Ora ft. Cardi B, Bebe Rexha & Charli XCX – Girls

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Pedro João Santos: It’s 2018: the world’s grown more colorful and “I Kissed a Girl”‘s pseudo-sapphism has been duly revised. Yet somehow those involved in writing “Girls” didn’t think it would open up a can of worms to repackage just that. Surprise: it did and Rita Ora’s second era is now a landscape of chaos. (She did say “take me anywhere.”) Other elements are, rather than offensive, flat and uninventive. The trap-lite, synthetic backing comes off as a perfunctory rehash of Lily Allen’s “Our Time,” Rexha’s contribution is actively grating, Cardi’s verse is, amusing, if not her best; Ora is really just there. XCX’s palatable hook is of note, but even its simplistic nature belies her admirable pop nous. What’s most insensitive about “Girls” is how it nears pop indigence.

Alfred Soto: Writing about Ricky Martin and Elton John + George Michael a few days ago, I noted the existence of songs written about women by queer writers whose experiences with women extend no further than their own material. Whether anyone in the credits has experience with queerness matters less than the Bush II-era garishness of the approach. No one knows what the hell she’s doing or what she’s supposed to express except the most vaporous solidarity.

Stephen Eisermann: I didn’t think Rita had entered the queer-bait for controversy part of her career, but here we are. It’s too bad that this half-baked, too-many-cooks mess is how she chose to drum up controversy, though.

Lauren Gilbert: As a Certified Bisexual™, I would like to affirm that getting drunk on wine and wanting to kiss girls is indeed Bi Culture. More seriously, this song has attracted all kinds of controversy for its portrayal of bi women, but a) it’s a jam, b) I feel like it accurately depicts a queer version of the same party-all-the-time-get-drunk-and-kiss-some-hot-people sexuality that Rita Ora (and Charli XCX) have made a career out of. This isn’t Serious Queer Content; it’s a gender-switched “Boys” with all the objectification that implies — a “Boots and Boys” for the queer eye. It is not a bisexuality of late night crying of girls who will never love you (not that I speak from experience), but of “when I think about the bliss / of looking at the girls.” It might have some cringe-worthy lines that imply sex exists for a male gaze, but the same can be said about many songs written by men and sung by women. If this song existed in a wide continuum of songs about girls who like girls, it would likely have attracted little attention. But we don’t live in that world; Hayley Kiyoko is the exception rather than the rule. I am not sure that it is this song’s fault, though; it is Fun, even when the lyrics are Questionable. It isn’t “Bloom,” and that’s… fine by me? Pop songs can go pretty far on cringe-worthy lyrics and a decent hook, and the perfect (representation of queer culture and of queer lives) need not be the enemy of the good-enough. Queer girls need ludicrous party jams, too.

Alex Clifton: Look, I’m glad we’re getting more queer music overall. I’m here for songs that use same-gender pronouns unabashedly, and in that sense “Girls” has nothing to hide. It’s unapologetic and sugary and loud. But it’s also kind of boring. Repeating the word “girls” seventeen times in the chorus feels generic overall. I get no sense of these girls that they want; they’re just nebulous ideas, flitting away. It’s like a summer dream with the haze of “kush lovin'” floating over it; that seems better articulated than any of the girls sung about in the song. Quantity is good and needed, but I want the quality to be up there too, and sadly “Girls” feels like it’s lacking in spirit.

Juan F. Carruyo : A line-up reminiscent of the ’69 Mets devote a paean to a late night hangout with friends that suddenly turns sexy. A lot of the lyrics just seem readymade for instant memeification (“’68 chevy, just rolling j’s”) which is a bit of drag. But the sentiment is honest and the production is adequate. Hoping for the male remake now. 

Mo Kim: I’m more offended by the laziness than the sloppiness of the subtext (which, to be fair, is a byproduct of the laziness): “Girls” lands like the debrief of a party even the teller only attended via Snapchat, such a simulacrum of queer joy that even the choice of car is most significant as a pop culture callback. And whereas the lyrics are light on substance, the performances are lethally leaden. Take it as a peculiar kind of equality that bisexual women like Rita Ora get to have their mediocre summer hits too.

Will Adams: “Girls” shares a problem with “2002” in that its references are deployed carelessly and, as such, create implications that are at best questionable and at worst harmful. “Red wine” was the sticking point for many, but the kicker is that it has absolutely nothing to do with the song. Substitute anything else with two syllables — Big Red, key limes, cheese puffs — and nothing changes. But like Malibu or Chevy ’68s, red wine is evocative of something, so red wine it was, which made listeners connect the dots from that to “cherry Chapstick” even more quickly (though it doesn’t help when the artist makes the connection for you). I sympathize with Rita Ora’s desire to write from her own experience, but “I’m fifty-fifty and I’m never gonna hide it” is an awkward way to go about it. Really, the most detail we get is the first line: “her name is Laura.” The rest is a song that can’t decide, per its co-stars, where it belongs: a giddy-yet-hazy crush song from True Romance (Charli XCX), dominance via a lion taming metaphor (Bebe Rexha), or unfazed, detached swagger (Cardi B). Rita’s apology was heartbreaking for several reasons, most of which being the realization that as lead artist of the song the burden of the backlash fell on her — a woman attempting to explain her sexuality — instead of the fact that there were too many cooks, in writing and in artist billing, all trying simultaneously to be relatable to everyone and ending up nowhere. Sometimes we just wanna fit in.

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4 Responses to “Rita Ora ft. Cardi B, Bebe Rexha & Charli XCX – Girls”

  1. well said Lauren!

  2. also does anyone else remember when rita ora performed at the canonisation of mother teresa

  3. how did I not know about that? I do remember, however, when she performed outside a lingerie store in Lisbon

  4. great work all around and def shout-out to Lauren’s blurb in particular