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Is Harry Styles queerbaiting or destroying toxic masculinity?

By Christine Siamanta Kinori

In the past few months, the music industry in America has been rocked with numerous queerbaiting allegations.

Queerbaiting is when a person uses queer aesthetics, stories, experiences, and media as a stereotypical ploy to bring attention and buzz to them, but at the core of their content, there is no actual LGBTQ+ representation. Music creators commonly use this marketing gimmick to attract queer listeners. Currently, Harry Styles has been dealing with accusations of queerbaiting, but more and more performers are also facing questions.

Most recently, Bad Bunny’s performance at the 2022 MTV Video Music Awards led to a divisive debate online. During his performance of “Titi Me Preguntó”, he kissed one of his male dancers, and immediately people began trying to decipher what the kiss meant.

In his past interviews, Bad Bunny clearly stated that he considers himself to be sexually fluid but is currently heterosexual and attracted to women. This is why most people felt like the kiss was meant to create buzz for his performance and add shock value. On the other hand, many argued that the kiss in his performance was not to bait but to show that it is okay for men to be comfortable with their sexuality. They argued that the main point was to try and break the archaic narrative of toxic masculinity. We will let you watch the video and draw your conclusions.

Harry Styles has also found himself broiled in a controversy of queerbaiting mostly because of his sense of fashion. Styles is considered a pop fashion icon and he is not afraid to push the boundaries of fashion. He is famous for his gender-fluid fashion that embraces both his masculine and feminine side. Whether he is on the red carpet or at his concert, Styles is not afraid to dress in gender-nonconforming clothes.

His sense of fashion has led to many questioning his sexuality, In the past, Styles has never truly opened up about this until recently in his interview with Rolling Stone. In the interview, he expressed his opinion saying he doesn’t wish to define or label his sexuality. He has always been open about his finding the need to specifically define his sexuality as obsolete.

This has not helped calm the never-ending onslaught of criticism of queerbaiting he is facing. Throughout his career, Styles has been seen dating numerous beautiful women. Even though he never speaks publicly about his relationships, the fact that he has only been rumored to be dating women has led many to assume he is heterosexual.

This has only fueled the queerbaiting accusations and many believe he is using his fashion as a way to attract queer audiences. They believe he is benefitting from appearing/ presenting as queer even though he doesn’t explicitly claim to be part of the community. They pointed out that, after Styles’ fashion revolution he has emerged as a “queer “ fashion icon and more LGBTQ+ fans are getting to know him.

In the Rolling Stone interview, Harry also talked about his upcoming film Policeman. In the movie, Harry plays the lead role of Tom Burgess, who is a gay man living in Brighton in the 1950s. Styles broached the subject of how the gay sex scenes in his film will be executed and hinted that the sex scenes will be tender, romantic, and sensitive. ​​“So much of gay sex in the film is two guys going at it, and it kind of removes the tenderness from it,” said Styles.

However, this statement on the portrayal of gay intimacy in cinema sparked controversy. Many said it was disrespectful for him, having not come out as gay, to still offer his opinion on how gay relationships ought to be depicted in films. Some believed that he was discrediting works by queer directors who have worked hard to show gay relationships.

The effects of queerbaiting

Queerbaiting may seem like a trivial matter, but do not underestimate the power behind this marketing technique. Many content creators have been making lots of money by ambiguously hinting at being queer in their content.

They tease using subtle lyrics, and queer experiences in their music videos and performances. The artist deliberately uses this to attract the queer audience. They strategically do just enough to draw in the queer audience and still be safe to maintain their heteronormative and cisgender viewership. This successfully allows them to capitalize on the commercial power of the queer community.

It is harmful as it takes advantages of the audience who are craving for true queer representation. It has taken decades to get queer representation in media and the opportunity should not be misused in such shallow manner. It is still important to have real LGBTQ+ representation as it allows the queer community to own and share their experiences.It helps to start conversations and inspire change.

My two cents

At the end of the day, I think fashion is simply a way to express ourselves. Styles is allowed to wear what he wants and be freed from this ridiculous idea that he has to clarify his sexuality.

No one should be pressured to publicly announce their sexual orientation. This weird entitlement to assume and feel entitled to know celebrities’ sexuality needs to be stopped. They are free to keep it private or announce it when they feel comfortable and ready.

As for Bad Bunny, it was simply a kiss. It was part of the performance and I feel he was being inclusive given the message of the song he was performing.

However, we need to be careful when it comes to knowing the line between LGBTQ representation and queerbaiting.

About the Author:

Christine Siamanta Kinori grew up in a little village in Kenya known as Loitoktok near the border of Kenya and Tanzania. All she wanted to do when she grew up was to explore the world. Her curiosity led her to join Nairobi University to pursue a degree in Journalism and Mass Communications. She later got a job with an amazing travel magazine Nomad Africa which gave her the opportunity to explore Africa. She also writes for numerous travel websites about Africa and tries to create a new narrative in the media about our aesthetic continent.

Christine claims to have somewhat unhealthy addiction to TV and reading, as it is a fun way to keep herself occupied during the long journeys for her travel writing. She is also a believer of letting people be their beautiful selves. To her, love is love and it is the greatest gift we have as humans.

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