At some point in the very recent past, a group of men gathered in the glossy cartoon factory where pop music is made, its smokestacks churning cotton candy, and discussed just how to promote their latest carefully-calibrated hit: the Rihanna/Shakira collabo “Can’t Remember to Forget You.” About five minutes into the meeting, someone grunted “lesbians,” everyone snickered and high-fived for about five minutes, and a YouTube sensation was born.
Or at least that’s how I imagine it to have happened. Pop is cyclical, so it’s fairly logical to see Shakira and Rihanna picking up where Katy Perry left off five years ago with “I Kissed a Girl.” Whereas Katy spent most of her video coyly writhing alone in the corner, the two stars of CRTFY engage in quite a bit more actual interaction, and the camera seems to love it.
It’s no easy feat to get straight men to close their porn tabs long enough to earn a record label some streaming revenue, but by pandering to a fantasy that epitomizes the male fetishization of lesbian relationships, the team behind “Can’t Remember” accomplishes just that.
To be clear, the song itself is neither a love song nor about a same-sex relationship: the two women are each singing about a fling they just can’t seem to shake, using male pronouns throughout. The homoerotic imagery of the video has no connection to the song itself; it’s an exploitation of sexuality with no purpose but gaining views: a staggering 76 million in one week alone.
At a time when a state representative is not allowed to say “vagina” on her own Congress floor, “Can’t Remember To Forget You” seems to present the form of female sexuality that’s most acceptable to the inhibiting cultural palate: a sexuality that places no demands on the men it exists to serve. Also in play here is the element of exoticism: as women of color, Shakira and Rihanna, especially the latter, have been long been marketed as more “flavorful” alternatives to the often-homogenous field of pop princesses. What results is a sexual fantasy that isn’t nearly as empowering as it thinks it is: rather, videos like this one contribute to the ongoing suppression of female sexual expression, particularly queer female sexual expression.
“Forget You” (and that’s another thing: could the title of this song be any more cumbersome?) sends a message to its tens of millions of viewers that lesbian sex (or, more specifically, the fairly chaste implication of lesbian sex) exists only for entertainment value, through the voyeuristic lens of the male gaze. As a marketing gimmick, it pays off. But when gay and trans expression in the real world is silenced by shaming and violence, it’s pretty clear who’s paying that price.