After pop sensation Ariana Grande released her new song Monopoly, many fans wondered whether she was hinting at her bisexuality.
Some, however, felt that she was manipulating LGBTQ fans by letting them believe she is queer. Using sexual ambiguity to tease an audience is called queerbaiting.
Queerbaiting is like flirting with a queer person for personal gain but not following through with it.
The concept is usually applied to film, television, and music, with a few artists being accused of hinting at queerness in order to maximise the market to which they appeal.
Accusations of queerbaiting can be difficult to navigate, as we don’t always know how artists identify. Last year Rita Ora was forced to come out as bisexual after people accused her of queerbaiting for the song Girls.
Essentially, when someone or something is accused of queerbaiting, it means that they’ve suggested queerness without following through.
In TV and film, LGBTQ characterisation and storylines are alluded to but never delivered, leaving people hungry for better representation.
Dr Michele Aaron, a reader in Film and Television Studies from Warwick University, tells Metro.co.uk that queerbaiting shows queer audiences that they’ve become a profitable market.
‘The queer community’s interest is courted for commercial purposes. You gain some rights, you start having some social and financial security, you become a market to be tapped,’ she explains.
‘At the same time, though, it is important to remember that stars and films, as key examples, have always enjoyed titillating audiences and allowing a brief frisson of sexual suggestiveness for (queer) audiences.
‘Think Marlene Dietrich or James Dean and numerous others. The difference, and it’s a very important one, is that homosexuality was both illegal or banned from being shown on screen when they were stars.
‘It certainly isn’t now – so the question becomes why is it still exploited or flirted with, rather than just shown and celebrated? Why, when we’ve supposedly come so far, do queer audiences still feel used and abused?’
She adds that it’s a problem because these storylines usually end on heterosexual resolutions. But, as Britain becomes more progressive, she hopes representation will also be more authentic.
‘I think mainstream UK culture is much queerer than it used to be and that we get to enjoy much queerer content where stars or shows sustain ambiguity and complexity in characters’ sexuality and don’t simply fall back on or idealise or end on heterosexual relationships.
‘It’s all about how the queer flirtation is used – is it a provocative one-liner encased in ‘high heterosexual’ performance? (as Grande’s seems to be). Or is it sustained, given proper screen time, proper due, and therefore actually challenging heterosexist society?’