Billie Eilish
Seventeen-year-old singer Billie Eilish has only risen in popularity from the start of her career. Will the controversy surrounding her new single set her back? (Illustration by Erik Ojo, Northeastern University)

Is Billie Eilish’s New Single, ‘Wish You Were Gay,’ as Problematic As It Seems?

The title is a clear instance of queer-baiting, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

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Billie Eilish

The title is a clear instance of queer-baiting, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

When Billie Eilish’s new single, “Wish You Were Gay,” came out, my queer girl friends were ecstatic. Had Eilish just joined the ranks of Hayley Kiyoko as another sapphic icon? The title of her single suggested so.

When my friends actually listened to “Wish You Were Gay” though, they were disappointed on multiple levels; of course, they were sad that the title had led them astray, but they were also disheartened by the narrative of the song itself.

“Wish You Were Gay” is a prime example of queer-baiting, a term most often applied to films and TV shows. Queer baiting is when fiction hints at the formation of a same-sex relationship between characters, in order to attract an LGBTQ+ audience, but does not follow through on that relationship, either by keeping the characters heterosexual or by killing one of them off. Eilish has brought queer-baiting into the music industry with a title that implies a song with queer content and that the singer herself might be coming out.

If you listened to “Wish You Were Gay” with hopes of lesbian undertones, it was probably a little insulting to learn it was just another song about a boy. Listeners learn what the song is all about and the meaning behind the title in these few lines: “I just kinda wish you were gay / To spare my pride / To give your lack of interest an explanation / Don’t say I’m not your type / Just say that I’m not your preferred sexual orientation.”

Essentially, the singer has been rejected by a man with a lack of explanation, and she wishes he were gay so that the rejection wasn’t about her personally and was just a matter of sexual preference. Eilish also confirmed this interpretation when she explained the song’s meaning. In a PopBuzz interview, she said, “It literally means that I wish he was gay so he didn’t like me for an actual reason instead of the fact that he didn’t like me.”

Some fans have responded very negatively to this meaning, even calling it a fetishization of gay men. At the very least, I think it’s fair to say that Eilish’s lyrics trivialize gay men’s sexuality. This is because she is only using homosexuality, or the idea of it, as a way to make herself feel better and legitimize her rejection.

She sees gayness as the “actual reason” he wouldn’t be interested in her. Because she is using his sexuality for her own gain, this also contributes to the idea of gay men being used as an accessory by heterosexual women. It’s clear why the narrative can easily be interpreted as offensive by some fans in the LGBTQ+ community.

The last controversial element surrounding “Wish You Were Gay” involves Eilish’s responses to its backlash. She seemed to justify her lyrics in an Instagram story where she said, “He just came out to me like a couple weeks ago. So I wrote the song and made him f*ck a dude. I’m f*cking proud, bro!” This statement is problematic because she is giving herself credit for making him come out, but coming out is a very intimate process to the individual, and she should not remove him, or his reasons, from his own story.

While the song might have come out a little offensive and errs on the side of queer-baiting, I don’t think it should affect our view of Eilish as an artist. The song lyrics depict the irrational, desperate nature of teenage love and rejection, which probably means listeners should take the line “I just kind of wish you were gay” with a grain of salt. It should also be kept in mind that the pop star is only 17, and 17-year-olds are apt to make mistakes. Unfortunately for Eilish, her mistakes are laid out for the public to see.

Eilish is also well aware of the responses to her song and commented on it in her PopBuzz interview. “First off, I want to be so clear that it’s so not supposed to be an insult,” she said. “I feel like it’s been a little bit misinterpreted. I tried so hard to not make it in any way offensive.” Unfortunately, she never addressed the accusations that the song title was queer-baiting. Of course, her intentions don’t make the song less offensive, but it does help shape the image of her as an artist.

Further affecting the interpretation of “Wish You Were Gay” is the pro-LGBTQ campaign that came with the single’s release, in which a portion of the proceeds from her apparel line, BLOHSH, went to The Trevor Project, a national organization that aims to provide suicide prevention services to LGBTQ individuals under the age of 25.

Some sources think that she might have done this because she anticipated a negative response to her song, but you might also view the campaign as a sign that Eilish never meant any harm to the LGBTQ community and honestly didn’t see the flaws within her song. In either scenario, the song did end up benefiting the queer community in some way.

There is no denying that Eilish is a talented and stunningly young artist. Since the release of “Ocean Eyes,” her career has been skyrocketing — this year she is in the Coachella lineup and will spend four months on her own tour as well. Her recent single, “bury a friend,” reached No. 74 on the Billboard Hot 100 as well as being No. 14 in the United States the week it came out.

I myself am still highly anticipating the release of Eilish’s next album, “WHEN WE FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO.” The album’s cover art is intriguingly spooky, especially compared to the sunny yellow cover of the “Don’t Smile at Me” EP.

The new album will include several popular singles she’s already released such as “bury a friend,” “when the party’s over” and “you should see me in a crown” as well as 10 more new songs. “WHEN WE FALL ASLEEP, WHERE DO WE GO” is not likely to disappoint and will be released on March 29.

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