INTO more

Culture
Halsey Defends ‘Strangers’ Music Video After Fans Say They Wish It Was More Queer

When Halsey and former Fifth Harmony member Lauren Jauregui released their duet “Strangers,” fans went wild for what would be the first-ever love song performed by two out bisexual women on mainstream pop radio. In interviews, the two shared how the song came to be – Halsey wanted it to be an ode to a toxic relationship between two women, and was adamant about recording it with another queer artist. 

“I just love that Lauren and I are two women who have a mainstream pop presence doing a love song for the LGBT community. It’s unheard of,” Halsey told Idolator. “It’s very rare to see it from a female perspective.”

The duo performed “Strangers” at several festivals and major televised performances, but hadn’t released a music video until this week. While live shows had the two singing to one another and caressing one another in a loving (read: non-gratuitous or titillating) fashion, the video steered clear of any romance or sexually-motivated scenarios, opting instead for Halsey and Lauren to face off in a boxing ring. They don’t share any intimacy or words in the “Strangers” video; just blows. The two fight until one defeats the other (no spoilers!) and the video ends with said winner sharing a quiet moment with a man. 

Because fans were so excited about the song, they highly anticipated the video and were likely expecting something a little closer to the epic that was Hayley Kiyoko and Kehlani’s recent collab, “I Need.” Instead, fans were somewhat disappointed at what they perceived as a lack of queerness. 

On Tuesday night and throughout the day on Wednesday, Halsey responded to some fans who alleged the video was “too straight.” She explained that their characters, Luna (Halsey) and Rosa (Lauren), are a couple “who are forced to fight and it breaks Luna’s heart to have to fight the person she loves. Much like it feels to be in a toxic relationship.” It was a metaphor, she says, for “any kind of relationship.”

“It was a hard situation,” she tweeted. “The song is obviously my effort towards greater representation but I didn’t want to make the clickbait sexy vid everyone wanted, cause it does no justice to the narrative of the song I wrote.”

She went on to explain that her album and subsequent video concepts were based on “one continuous gender-flipped Romeo and Juliet story.” She says her character, Luna, is Romeo, and the cis male, Solis, is Juliet. Jauregui’s Rosa is the woman Luna desires before meeting Juliet who, in this scenario, is a man. So, in short, Halsey and Lauren are exes in this fictional flip. 

Halsey argued with fans that “Strangers” is a bisexual story, and of course, it is based on her own identity. But Halsey is right that same-sex depictions in music videos can become hypersexual in a way that detracts from legitimacy. Those are usually deployed by non-queer artists in an attempt to queerbait or titillate and are offensive or just plain trashy. Bisexuality isn’t always easy to display visually with tact. Do an image search on Getty for “bisexual” and see how many threesomes pop up, or images that make it look like there’s some kind of illicit adultery or other hypersexual situation.

On the flip side, for so long, openly lesbian artists like k.d. lang and Melissa Etheridge have had to keep love interests out of their music videos and pronouns obscured so that they could still resonate with mainstream America. This kind of hetero-washing dictated much of the content we’ve seen on MTV, where the few hints of lesbianism or bisexuality were often used for shock value rather than inclusion.

Maybe it’s because Halsey has proven to be such a “fuck your conventions” type of artist who is proud of her bisexuality that “Strangers” seemed so lackluster to lesbian and bisexual fans. What they seem to be requesting from Halsey is something more from the relationship at the center of the song itself–the relationship between the two women singing to and about one another, as the video doesn’t give much in that way other than their bloodying one another with boxing gloves. They sought a connection; a way into what had transpired between Rosa and Luna that wasn’t in the sole context of an emotionless brawl. 

“The vid is a metaphor for a toxic relationship. You beat each other down as u get weaker & more desperate ur shots get dirty & you fight cheap,” she tweeted. “You lose sight of what ur even fighting for. When someone finally wins, what have they really won? won a fight. lost the person you love.”

Halsey’s choice to continue the concept album visually meant storytelling that skipped over the nostalgia of her relationship with Rosa/Lauren, though, and that has some fans feeling frustrated at the lack of affection, sentiment, or chance at rekindling the romance between the two pop stars who gave them the first-ever love song between two openly queer women. That is surely a missed opportunity, as exploring their relationship visually would have given more validity to that part of the story. 

The on-screen battle is without any real connection between the two women, which is ultimately what’s so disheartening. The video for “Strangers” didn’t match the song and the intention professed by the pop stars at the center. Were the boxing match intercut with video from the past – the two women going through the motions of having been in love or in lust and inevitably the shift that has brought them into the ring – there would be more investment, more visibility, more of a chance to feel something other than surfing through subtext to see ourselves.

Of course, just being out and proud and bisexual is and should be enough. But in #20GayTeen, LGBTQ viewers and fans are still hungry for (and devouring) explicitly queer content because we’ve been so devoid of it. Halsey is one of few openly bisexual artists who uses female pronouns in her singles; female love interests in her videos (see: “Ghost”). So when a song like “Strangers” is shared with another huge bisexual pop icon and they are shown as opponents without emotional investment, it is a bummer for those who are looking for more images of truthful relationships between two women. 

Unfortunately, for too many fans, the romance wasn’t as palpable as Halsey intended for it to be. She exists as a bridge between a time when out artists couldn’t specify queer love interests or include them in videos if they wanted to be hugely successful and now, where young queer idols are directing their own same-sex sagas and gracing the cover of major magazines.

Halsey helped queer mainstream pop by being proudly bisexual, and “Strangers” is still quite radical in Trump’s America. I can’t begrudge those who just want to see it displayed more explicitly by someone they see as authentic; someone who they trust to do it right. That doesn’t mean a hypersexual slumber party or showing bisexuality “in the bedroom”; instead, maybe something that speaks to the intimate relationship referenced in the song itself. Videos don’t always have to be literal interpretations of songs, of course, but marginalized communities who are too often depicted by outsiders in upsetting ways still have few icons to put their hopes in, and Halsey just happens to be one of them. 


Trish Bendix

Trish Bendix is the Managing Editor of INTO.

twitter