Honestly, nothing would make me happier than Rihanna and Shakira having a hot and heavy lesbian relationship. In fact, I’d also be pretty happy about Rihanna and Shakira convincingly playing same-sex fuckbuddies in a music video. And yet, their new video together, “Can’t Remember to Forget You,” has me remembering why two women touching each other and writhing can make me so sad about the world.
Whenever I see this kind of performative ‘lesbianism,’ it brings me back to my friend’s high school boyfriend. When asked why men found lesbian porn worth watching, he replied, “Well, it’s like having two pieces of candy instead of one.” He may have been a jerk, but I am grateful for this remarkably succinct explanation of how female sexuality is objectified through this kind of performance.
The first clue that this video was about playing a part, rather than feeling a feeling was the insane amount of eye contact that both artists had with the camera. Now, I would be fine if there was an implied threesome in this video—I may think that boys are icky, but I certainly wouldn’t want to rain on anyone else’s idea of fun. However, when one person is touching another and not even looking at them, it’s pretty clear that they don’t even care how their partner reacts. And if you don’t even care how they react, why touch them in the first place? Touching a girl to make someone else happy is just… uggh. Talk about both demeaning sexual interaction between women and also making it perfectly clear that serving up someone else’s fantasy is more important than either of their wants.
Although the actions alone makes this video a lesson in how to use same-sex interaction as something sexy, rather than something real, the juxtaposition with the song’s lyrics make that message even clearer. Let’s not forget that the song itself is about a man, a fact made clear by the repeated use of male pronouns. In fact, the entire time that Shakira and Rihanna are writhing together on a striped mattress, they both repeatedly sing, “I’d do anything for that boy.” In case the blatant lack of interest in each other didn’t give it away, the lyrics make it crystal clear: it’s all about ‘that boy.’
This kind of performance doesn’t just demean lesbian sexuality, it demeans female sexuality as a whole. The questionable agency of the same sex interaction calls into question the motives of all of their actions. It’s hard for me to read the idea of sexual empowerment and freedom into Shakira and Rihanna’s semi-naked dancing when paired with the tired old narrative of ‘Oh look! I’ll touch another woman for you so I can be one of your pieces of candy!’
I certainly don’t entirely condemn Rihanna and Shakira for this—it just frustrates me to see this kind of homoerotic posturing when it’s nearly impossible to see examples of queer relationships taken seriously. I’m so tired of having same-sex intimacy co-opted as a performance for others to enjoy. I probably wouldn’t care at all about this if this wasn’t one of the most lesbian-oriented music videos I’ve seen this year. When I can go to the movies on a Friday night and happen to see a rom-com featuring two women, I may finally stop bemoaning the piss-poor representations of same-sex interactions between women in mainstream media. Shakira, Rihanna: you’re both extremely hot, that much is clear. Just please, please stop coopting some sort of faux-lesbianism to somehow make your music video extra sexy.
Previously: Why I Love Lingerie
What It's Like to Be a Lesbian in the Lingerie Industry
What Lingerie Isn't About: Why I Hate Compulsory Femininity
The Concept of a 'Bikini Body' Is Infuriating Bullshit
Sex, Lies and the Politics of Padded Bras