What is ‘Queerbaiting’ and Is Billie Eilish Guilty of It?
Her “Lost Cause” music video and “I love girls” Instagram post made some fans feel they were tricked.
“I love girls,” read her caption. To some, this might’ve seemed like a simple appreciation post for women. But for others, it sparked the question, “Is Billie Eilish coming out as part of the LGBTQ community?”
The answer is no, she did not, and her heterosexual relationship history suggests she’s straight. Of course, that’s not a problem whatsoever; what people found problematic was that her actions came across as queerbaiting.
This Billie Eilish controversy has contributed to the larger queerbaiting discourse, which has become more prominent in recent years. But what is queerbaiting, why is it problematic, and is Billie Eilish guilty of it?
What Is Queerbaiting?
Queerbaiting is defined as, “a marketing technique for fiction and entertainment in which creators hint at, but then do not actually depict, same-sex romance or other LGBT representation.” Creators will queerbait in order to attract the widest audience possible, drawing in a queer audience while still retaining homophobic viewers who don’t want to watch shows or films depicting overtly gay relationships.
This is problematic, because media creators who participate in queerbaiting are essentially profiting off of the LGBTQ community while not actually contributing to them in a significant way. They queer-code their characters, add homoerotic friendships that remain perpetually platonic, or insert other forms of queer subtext. Examples of queerbaiting include the relationship between Luca and Alberto in Disney’s Luca, Betty and Veronica in Riverdale, and Finn and Poe Dameron in the recent Star Wars installments. Some people believe that real people, not just fictional characters, can serve as queerbait, too, thus the criticism of Eilish. Another example of a public figure scrutinized for queerbaiting is Harry Styles.
Many in the LGBTQ community feel they’re being taken advantage of or manipulated by companies that release queerbait media. They’re drawn in by queer subtext only to be let down upon realizing the creators never intended to provide true queer representation. In this way, many queer fans felt baited by Eilish’s “Lost Cause” video.
The Billie Eilish Queerbaiting Controversy, Explained
In June of 2021, Billie Eilish released the music video for her song, “Lost Cause.” The video shows what appears to be a fun girls’ night or sleepover. Billie and a group of young women play Twister, dance in the kitchen while eating candy and drinking, and lay with each other on a bed, all to the tune of Eilish’s catchy beat. While the scenes could be interpreted as several close friends hanging out, there is a lot of sensual, sapphic subtext that alludes to more.
For instance, Eilish and her friends snuggle on the bed, swaying together to the beat, hands on each others’ bodies. Their Twister game is equally as sensual at times. Eilish even shares a small kiss with another girl as the group dances in the kitchen.
Again, all of these things can be done platonically, but some viewers felt the sensuality was giving sapphic undertones reason to believe she was hinting at queerness or bisexuality.
The Many Sides of the Billie Eilish Queerbaiting Debate
Once the video reached audiences, speculative murmurs of Eilish’s sexuality began spreading on social media, which was further exacerbated by Eilish’s Instagram post. The post featured behind-the-scenes photos of her and the other women with the caption, “I love girls.” To add fuel to the fire, both the music video and the Instagram post were released during Pride Month, further reinforcing the public’s notion that this was Eilish’s coming-out.
“[D]id billie eilish just freaking come out?!…if this is another case of queerbaiting i’m suing,” a fan posted on Twitter.
One user replied, “Can’t she say she loves girls and be straight?” Another retorted, “Her sexuality is none of your business.” And yet another user commented, “Can’t a human experiment [with] their sexuality without the need of labelling? Why do we assume everyone has to be straight until proven otherwise? Less labels more love.”
These are all valid points. Women can love other women in platonic ways; nobody owes anyone else an explanation for their identity or sexuality; and folks can explore their sexuality as they see fit. Thus, many fans brushed the queerbaiting accusations aside. But others that felt baited expressed their opinions online, too.
A fan on Twitter who self-identified as a lesbian provided her opinion with this Tweet: “(I’ve loved billie since 2018) her music video “lost cause” wasn’t queerbaiting. however, her post after the fact was annoying. she captioned her post “i love girls”. i 100% think that’s queerbaiting…”
LGBTQ public figures also weighed in on the matter. YouTuber Samantha Lux, who is a transgender woman, said she didn’t think Eilish was queerbaiting. Rather, the “Lost Cause” video was about “finding a sense of comfort and finding a sense of intimacy with your close friends,” Lux suggested.
On the other hand, another YouTuber, Kristina Maione, who is pansexual, felt queerbaited, and shared her frustration in her YouTube video.
“Billie Eilish promoted that video, being like, ‘I like girls, and look at us girls licking each other, and all over each other,’ and then promoting that to her millions of followers, getting millions of views, and probably making millions of dollars off of it,” Maione said in her YouTube video.
This feeling of exploitation is the problem that Maoine and many other LGBTQ fans had with the music video and Instagram post. To them, it felt like Eilish was profiting off of their identities. Maione adds that Eilish’s song “was planned and produced and put out there into the world during Pride Month, it’s like the epitome of queerbaiting, the epitome of exploitation of a marginalized queer community.”
Maione’s words reflect what many other LGBTQ-identified folks feel, not only about Billie Eilish, but about queerbait media in general. While some are hurt by what they feel is exploitation, others remain unbothered. Ultimately, it’s fair to say that the Billie Eilish queerbaiting controversy is subjective. However, it can be said that queerbaiting overall is hurtful to the LGBTQ community. In a world where queer folks are still fighting for their rights, adequate queer representation is needed now more than ever — not for exploitative profit, but for the support and love of the LGBTQ community.