Abel Tesfaye usually has a knack for writing about the knotty issue of sex. On his latest collab, he completely misses the mark, leaning on tired old clichés about queer women
Throughout his career, The Weeknd has made a name for himself writing about complex, dark, tangled sex. From arms-length treatment of emotional baggage of his track ‘The Hills’ (“I only love it when you touch me, not feel me,” he sings) to the ecstatic lust of ‘Can’t Feel My Face’, it’s something of a topical calling card, which he dissects atop slinky R’n’B.
Lost in the Fire (feat. The Weeknd), a song by Gesaffelstein, The Weeknd on Spotify
It’s why ‘Lost in the Fire’ – his new collaboration with French techno artist Gesaffelstein – feels so jarring. Initially a snappy, smooth and unremarkable bop about getting back with an ex after a year apart – the first verse touches on new-found loyalty, and “fuck[ing] you slow with the lights on” – it starts out as template Weeknd song, all sultry falsetto and knowingly over-the-top declarations. And then… the second verse. Presented without comment:
“You said you might be into girls
You said you’re going through a phase
Keepin’ your heart safe
Well, baby, you can bring a friend
She can ride on top your face
While I fuck you straight”
Such classic lad banter! Wahey – lesbians! Bring a friend! Threesomes! How edgy, and not at all predictable. I don’t know if The Weeknd and Gesaffelstein had a good long guffaw to themselves about that final “fuck her straight” humdinger after they committed it to tape, but from here, it just sounds incredibly sinister. It also contributes to existing myths that, frankly, need chucking right into the sea.
Society has many warped ideas about queer women. Perhaps one of the most dangerous is the notion that queer women in same-sex relationships “just haven’t found the right man”, along with the idea that they can be “turned”. It’s the reason a lyric such as “fuck her straight” is completely awful to its core, even if it was likely intended as a cheap throwaway pun.
This infuriating habit of objectifying LGBT women for male consumption is only exacerbated by ropey representations in popular culture. Eminem has an especially poor track record here, with a history of violent lyrics directed at queer woman. Take ‘Stay Wide Awake’ (“Impregnate a lesbian girl now lets see ya have triplets”) and the original uncensored lyrics for ‘My Name Is’ (“Extra–terrestrial, killing pedestrians / Raping lesbians” was edited out of the final track) as two extreme examples. Artistic license to portray a violent character taken into account, they’re still horrendously hateful lyrics.
There are far less extreme examples, too. From the dodgy lyrics of Katy Perry’s ‘I Kissed A Girl’ to the haunting image of Justin Timberlake drooling over Britney, Christina and Madonna’s make-out sesh at the 2003 VMAs, coupled with various other ‘hot lesbian’ tropes found everywhere from pornography to mainstream music videos, many men (obligatory disclaimer: #notallmen) are led to believe that they’re entitled to view queer women as nothing more than a performance put on for their benefit. This is a narrative that ‘Lost in the Fire’ also contributes to.
‘Lost in the Fire’ is the musical equivalent of being approached by a random ogler, who, hitching up his frayed bootcut jeans and smirking into his bottle of beige lager, swaggers up uninvited and asks “can I join in?”. It’s a hugely annoying interaction that most queer women will immediately recognise – because it happens on a regular basis. It’s not subversive in the slightest. it’s just tiresome, attention-seeking and juvenile, ticking off pretty much every item on the crap writing checklist. Trivialising women’s sexuality? Check! Petty entitlement? Check! Making it all about men? Check and check! Triple mega-cliché-riddled-check!
It’s all the more disappointing when you turn your attention away from The Weeknd and Gesaffelstein, and look at the genuinely boundary-pushing pop music that’s being written elsewhere. Put ‘Lost in the Fire’ up next to the music of, say, Janelle Monae or Frank Ocean, and it sounds like a musical dinosaur. The Weeknd? The king of the sexy slow jam? Unless he ups his game, not for much longer.