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Ariana Grande rejects labels — and it’s okay

According to Spotify, Ariana Grande is currently the number one artist in the world, and she just became the youngest person to ever headline Coachella. Everyone seems to have an opinion about Grande lately, and I recently wrote an article discussing her multiple instances of cultural appropriation.

Now the conversation has shifted to focus Grande’s sexuality.

Following the release of the music video for her song “Break up with your girlfriend, I’m bored,” Grande was accused of queerbaiting. In the video, she moves in to kiss model Ariel Yasmine just as the video ends.

Since the release of the video, Grande co-wrote and released a new song, “Monopoly,” with her best friend and artist Victoria Monet. Both artists sing the lyric “I like women and men,” which sparked more controversy and questioning from fans about Grande’s sexuality.

At the end of Grande’s Coachella performance, she also displayed the rainbow flag behind the entire stage. It was also announced in February that Grande would be headlining Manchester Pride.

The announcement that Grande would be headlining Manchester Pride sparked controversy, as many people expressed that a straight artist should not be headlining a pride event. Between the accusations of queerbaiting and frustration that the headlining slot at Manchester Pride was not given to a queer artist, there has been little room to consider that Grande might not actually be straight.

While her fans have been demanding to know what Grande’s sexual identity is following her lyrics in “Monopoly,” she responded on Twitter saying that she isn’t going to label herself.

“I haven’t before and still don’t feel the need to now,” Grande said in a tweet. “Which is okay.”

Queerbaiting is still a common and problematic issue for queer folks looking for representation in the media. Queerbaiting happens when authors, writers and artists hint at romance between same-sex characters or people for the sole purpose of attracting members of the LGBTQ+ community without properly representing them.

Grande does not have a good track record with appropriation, and queerbaiting can be seen as another form of that.

I brought up the accusations of queerbaiting in my previous article about Grande, and I will admit that my initial reaction to the almost-kiss in her music video was shock. After giving it more thought, I realized that I should give Grande the space to explore and understand her own sexuality that I want for myself.

If Grande were straight, then she could be rightfully accused of queerbaiting, but we don’t have enough information to make those accusations. Additionally, we are not entitled to even have that information. Grande doesn’t owe us an explanation of her sexuality.

The gate-keeping comments claiming that Grande is appropriating queerness based solely on the way she presents herself and her high-profile dating history with male celebrities are discouraging for people to hear. Many bisexual/pansexual/queer women and people that feel like they can’t come out for fear of not being accepted as “gay enough” by the LGBTQ+ community. No one should feel pressured to “prove” their queerness to anyone, regardless of how big of a star they might be.

There is also a double-standard present regarding the sexuality of women versus men. Women with queer sexualities are often taken less seriously than their male counterparts, and women face more scrutiny. For example, according to Elle, when Harry Styles made statements about “messing around” with both men and women, the public didn’t make a fuss about it. On the other hand, the internet did not leave actress Ashley Benson and model Cara Delevingne alone after rumors spread about a romance between them.

While labels can be helpful for many people when understanding their own sexuality, Grande should have the freedom to explore her sexuality without the pressure of a label if she chooses. According to the Institute for the Study of Sexual Identity, labels can be harmful for a person’s development of their sexual identity.

“Labeling someone puts us at risk of ignoring the multitude of variables that play a part in sexual identity development,” Julia Sadusky of the Sexuality Institute said, as reported by Them. “Sexual behavior and experiences, sexual attractions and how to make sense of them, and sexual identity labels and their meaning are distinct and they all matter. To base identity solely on current strength of attractions, especially for the youth, may not be helpful. Each person is a person to be engaged with, supported, and listened to rather than isolated, labeled, and spoken at.”

While it is exciting that another pop star might be bisexual/pansexual/queer and provide us with more representation in the media, Grande was right when she tweeted that it is okay that she isn’t prescribing to any particular label. While I am still uncomfortable with her instances of cultural appropriation, I respect her decision to forgo labels.

Sexuality is fluid, and if Grande rejects being labeled as straight, then we should accept and respect that. For now, all we know is that Grande can’t be labeled — and that is okay.