When two female pop stars sing a duet, the themes can vary from empowerment (Lady Gaga and Beyonce’s “Telephone”) to friendship (Whitney Houston and CeCe Winans on “Count on Me”) to feuding over a mutual love interest (Brandy and Monica’s “The Boy is Mine”). But it’s rare for a song featuring two women to pass the Bechdel Test, and when it does, it’s not generally because the women are interested in one another.
Instead of representing real romance between women, pop music has given us thinly veiled Sapphic scenarios by the likes of Katy Perry and Demi Lovato: winks to same-sex attraction without any positive or truthful visibility for a population that is often ignored by mainstream culture. And while Britney Spears and Madonna have employed similar tactics for performances and music videos, lesbian, bisexual, and queer women have been largely left out.
So when Halsey (née Ashley Nicolette Frangipane) and Fifth Harmony’s Lauren Jauregui explicitly croon female pronouns and sensual lyrics to and about women on their new track, it’s not just a new take on the female-female duet; it’s revolutionary.
“She doesn’t kiss on the mouth anymore,” Halsey sings at the beginning of “Strangers,” which will appear on her upcoming album, Hopeless Fountain Kingdom. “‘Cause it’s more intimate then she thinks we should get / She doesn’t look me in the eyes anymore / Too scared of what she’ll see, somebody holding me.”
This kind of lusty and longing lyrical fodder is commonplace in pop music, but never between two women—certainly not two out-and-proud pop stars. (Halsey, who wrote the track, has been out as bisexual her entire career; Jauregui came out as bisexual earlier this year in an open letter to President Donald Trump).
Jauregui tells ELLE.com that she recognizes just how subversive the song is. “It’s a whole space that no one’s ever really touched upon before, and I feel like representation in music is so important,” she said by phone. “And reality-wise, we’ve both been in the situation before with different people, so it’s cool to have that representation.”
Read more at Elle.