When I saw the sneak peak screenshot of Shakira’s new music video for “Can’t Remember to Forget You”—with her and Rihanna very, very close together—I admit, I was hopeful. I knew nothing about the song but was looking forward to the possibility of gender-neutral lyrics (“you”s instead of “he”s) and a decidedly female co-star, and what that could mean for the video’s narrative. The verdict: nothing even a little bit progressive.
First of all, let’s clarify that no one is surprised when Shakira or Rihanna shows a lot of skin, and that they both have the right to claim their bodies and sexuality as their own, as do all women. Beyond that, it should be refreshing to see a pair other than Male/Female on the screen—and maybe if they were singing about or to each other, rather than about a guy, it would have been. But it’s not, because they spend their screen time alternating between gyrating against walls, smoking cigars (ah, phallic symbolism), and climbing all over each other until it’s hard to tell where Shakira ends and Rihanna begins. Of course, there’s nothing inherently wrong with this last element—queer ladies are great!—but the song’s pronouns create a very stale, very hypersexualized Male Gaze that’s hard to ignore.
It’s not that I think Shakira even intended to make anything queer-friendly—though if she wanted some tips, she could have watched Paramore’s “Daydreaming” video, which features two girls who may never kiss onscreen but clearly love each other to the moon and back, or anything by out singer Hayley Kiyoko. It’s the fact that she (or her team, or whoever’s in charge) made a video full of shallow girl-on- girl visuals in the middle of such important and heated debates about queer representation in the media, when members of the LGBTQ community are fighting to be portrayed accurately in pop culture.
I will rarely object to someone showing how proud they are of their body, or to an artist daring to pair up with a person of the same sex, but when the “narrative” decides to exploit rather than respect, I can’t help but roll my eyes at another missed opportunity to show that women—especially of the less-than-heterosexual variety—are more than just sex.