The Weeknd’s new hit “Lost In The Fire” unfortunately contains queerphobic lyrics, in 2019. Shivani Dave writes how a seemingly throwaway line reinforces a violent reality for many queer and trans women.
Content note: This article contains discussion of sexual assault.
Lost in the Fire was supposed to be The Weeknd”s hot track with French DJ Gesaffelstein, but on release of the song social media users were quick to critique it. The song’s lyrics have been slammed as misogynistic and homo- and bi-phobic contributing to the culture of dismissal many lesbian and bisexual women face daily. In the song, the artist refers to a woman’s same-sex attraction as “a phase” and promises to “f**k you straight” or failing that he offers to “cure: the subjects perceived sexual deviance, with a threesome.
Outrage has been prevalent on social media, because it is such lyrics that cement ignorant attitudes surrounding sexuality and sexual fluidity in society. The Queer musician, Marika Hackman, called this out on Twitter, writing, “Well done to The Weeknd for managing to deride, fetishise and dismiss lesbianism all in one verse”.
“The Weeknd isn’t necessarily renowned for his lyrical genius as much as his catchy-pop beats, and he isn’t the only one making these faux pas and the prevalence of such attitudes is continuously harmful to the community. The comments in response to Hackman’s tweet, and others similar to it, show just how widespread this issue is”
The rhetoric this song reinforces is one that allows some people to think sexuality, particularly female sexuality, is a choice. It also suggests it is purely performative, designed for straight, cis-male enjoyment. Which fuels the tension between music and the queer community, making concerts and festivals a fearful place for LGBTQ people. This is the same tension that has sparked initiatives that directly tackle homophobia at some of the biggest music festivals in the country, but despite this, many LGBTQ people attempt to ‘pass’ as straight out of fear of attack or abuse.
The Weeknd isn’t necessarily renowned for his lyrical genius as much as his catchy-pop beats, and he isn’t the only one making these faux pas and the prevalence of such attitudes is continuously harmful to the community. The comments in response to Hackman’s tweet, and others similar to it, show just how widespread this issue is. Many objected to her sentiment, claiming she was “overreacting” to harmless lyrics in a song. But most of the dissonance comes from ignorance around the nuances of discrimination, when lyrics attack the queer community, it is portrayed as hypersensitivity.
One of the people being accused of being over-sensitive is the French artist, Maryne Lahaye. She delved into the hatred behind the phrase “I’ll f**k you straight” by tweeting “it is the most violent & hateful thing a man can say to a queer girl, & The Weeknd really went & put that in a song, in this exact context, and nobody is saying anything or doing anything about it. This song is extremely popular & it makes me wanna throw up.” At press time, the song debuted highly at #9 and #27 on the UK and US singles charts, meaning it was being heavily streamed, mainly by young people.
The lyrics unfortunately recall a barbaric history of the idea of “f**king someone straight”, a colloquial term for a hate crime known as corrective rape, which still happens today. Corrective rape, sometimes referred to as homophobic rape or lesbophobic rape, is seen as a ‘method’ by some to punish LGBTQ people for not conforming to social norms surrounding sexuality or traditional gender roles. Despite the scientific community finding a biological aspect in the development of sexuality, many people still do not believe this to be the case and think it is solely as a result of one’s environment and upbringing. This leads them to believe sexual orientation can be changed or, as they see it, fixed.
While these attitudes are most commonly seen in more socially conservative countries – like India, Jamaica or Uganda where corrective rape is particularly prevalent – and the argument can be made that homophobia is comparatively less severe in the UK, it is still damaging, and we need to do better. According to a report by Stonewall, one in five LGBTQ people in the UK have experienced a hate crime or incident due to their sexual orientation and/or gender identity in the last 12 months.
“Homophobia is not limited to R&B music, but a quick Google search will bring up a number of articles highlighting the issues surrounding homophobia in lyrics. But in the world of #MeToo and #TimesUp and even more recently with the focus on #MuteRKelly, we, as consumers, are holding artists to account for their actions”
In a country which prides itself on LGBTQ acceptance, along with a Prime Minister “determined to eradicate homophobic and transphobic bullying”, social attitudes haven’t changed overnight. The same survey found that more than a third of LGBTQ people (36 per cent) say they don’t feel comfortable walking down the street while holding their partner’s hand. For those that are not LGBTQ, just ask your queer friends – the only surprising aspect of this Stonewall survey is that the figure is so low. In the UK, another study has found that bisexual women were twice as likely as heterosexual women to have experienced non-physical abuse (6.8% compared with 3.9%), but were nearly five times as likely to have experienced sexual assault by a partner or ex-partner (1.9% compared with 0.4%).
Homophobia is not limited to R&B music, but a quick Google search will bring up a number of articles highlighting the issues surrounding homophobia in lyrics. But in the world of #MeToo and #TimesUp and even more recently with the focus on #MuteRKelly, we, as consumers, are holding artists to account for their actions. We should be doing the same for artists that pedal homophobia to sell a catchy tune, even if it does come from our favourite artists.
If you put these lyrics next to the likes of Janelle Monáe or Frank Ocean — two queer R&B icons who have both seen great successes – there is clearly a want for good music which doesn’t hang on the marginalisation of LGBTQ people, and we should embrace it with open arms. The Weeknd should take note.
Shivani is a freelance journalist and broadcaster with a specific interest in underrepresented communities and queer identity. She studied physics and made a swift transition from science to comedy to journalism. You can follow her on Instagram.Follow @ShivaniDave