It’s an old joke by now that everyone is offended by everything on the internet, but behind that joke’s generally malicious intent is the fact that marginalized groups can often perceive a danger to themselves in statements and art that can potential real-life consequences. Case in point, Rita Ora‘s latest pop single “Girls,” which features appearances from Cardi B, Bebe Rexha, and Charli XCX was intended to be a playful celebration of bisexuality, but some listeners picked up on some potentially “harmful” lyrics and criticized the song for its carelessness over the weekend. Ora, to her credit, promptly responded with an apology on Twitter:
Among her critics were a number of other pop stars who openly identify as LGBTQ, including Kehlani and up-and-coming singer Hayley Kiyoko. In response to the song’s lyrics, Kehlani wrote, “hate to be THAT guy but there were many awkward slurs, quotes, and moments that were like ‘word? word.'” Of course, her criticism was perceived by some as hate, to which she replied, “and don’t make this personal. i have an incredible song out with one of the artists, and would love to work with the other three as well. & have met them all and respect them. there. were. harmful. lyrics.period. love y’all. ?” She also encouraged fans not to “drag” the artists involved, who she called “fantastic,” pointing out that “most times that person doesn’t even even have the confidence left to try to learn or grow” afterward.
Kiyoko’s statement, a longer screenshot from her notes app, made it clear that while she supports the women on the song, it also “fuels the male gaze while marginalizing the idea of women loving women.”
Ora’s apology was direct and straightforward, admitting “I am sorry how I expressed myself in my song has hurt anyone. I would never intentionally cause harm to other LGBTQ+ people or anyone.” She went on to explain that she “hope(s) that continuing to express myself through my art will empower my fans to feel as proud of themselves as I’m learning to feel about who I am. I’m ever thankful to my fans for teaching me to love myself no matter what. I have strived to be a contributor to the LGBTQ+ community thoughout my entire career and always will be.”
All told, the incident, while minor, is instructive of a sort of “best practices” approach to these sort of faux pas. Rather than attacking Ora or any of the other singers involved, Kehlani and Hayley pointed out where the song went wrong and how it could be better, while Ora apologized for messing up without trying to deflect blame — while she did over-explain a bit, she did so in an effort to demonstrate her understanding of how she messed up and would try to do so in the future. The moral of the story here is that “to err is human,” but everybody deserves the chance to get — and give — a little grace.