Trapped Out of the Closet
On Billie Eilish, Ashnikko, and Self-Branding
There is no doubt in my mind, our society is becoming infinitely more self-aware. As Gen-Z comes of age, a lot of people who spend a lot of time on the Internet know that they are marketing themselves and are being marketed to, whether they will admit it or not. As such, there is a demand for authenticity and honesty the likes of which we haven’t seen in a space this open and broad. I want to talk about a couple of things that happened recently, and talk about who we’re demanding authenticity from.
Before I start, I just want to say that I know not everybody cares about this. The internet is so wide that practically everything is a niche interest. If none of this adds anything to your day, you’re probably in a better place than me anyway.
A few months ago, punk band Tramp Stamps (please stick with me) released their debut single, “I’d Rather Die.” Along with being a badly produced punk song with a few very questionable lyrics regarding male consent, the internet instantly took out its ire on the band as industry plants astroturfed by their label. It only took a few days after the initial wave of discovery across TikTok before anti-stans dug up old tweets and practically exiled the band’s official account from tumblr. Feeling particularly brave about this flawless victory, someone had to be next.
That someone was up and coming artist Ashnikko, who had already built a reputation on TikTok with her songs “Stupid” and “Slumber Party.” But it was the ‘discovery’ of her song “Clitoris! The Musical” from her debut mixtape that sparked a wave of hate. Comparisons to Tramp Stamps were made as Ashnikko sings of being bored with “cisgender heterosexual men” and the internet did what it does best, taking it entirely at face value. With a swathe of comments prying into Ashnikko’s identity, they finally responded in a short Twitter thread:
There has been something shifting in the internet as of late, where we demand that people be there most honest selves, so we may judge what they can and cannot say about the world. Put your pronouns in your bio so I know how to address you, and talk about your sexuality so I know I can relate to you. But it’s quickly changed from asking cisgender people to display their pronouns in an effort to normalize doing so, to asking everyone to do so, regardless if that person is comfortable with that. Now, let’s talk about Billie.
Billie Eilish has had an amazing career, and she’s earned it. But that success has come with a change of image. Eilish has been open for years about her fashion, covering most of her body in baggy clothes out of discomfort with how people might perceive her. The imagery associated with her latest album, Happier Than Ever, has changed that a bit. Especially with the music video for her latest song, “Lost Cause,” which shows Eilish and some of her friends doing general antics in a slumber party setting.
This video, along with an Instagram post captioned “i love girls” has caused thousands of commenters to accuse Eilish of queerbaiting. I’m not gonna try to unpack what that is because that would make this way too long, so bear with me as I skip to the point. It’s Pride Month, baby. Which means it’s time for the LGBT+ community to get marketed to excessively by companies that simultaneously donate vaults of cash to anti-LGBT+ politicians. This has created a narrative in the community that we need to always be aware of what we’re consuming, and who it secretly supports by doing so. But there’s a difference in buying Chic-fil-A and watching a music video. One is food, one is art. When we start seeing artists only as brands that are being marketed to us by executives, we forget that these artists are still people. People need to express themselves through their art, and sometimes expression can be a display of uncertainty, or a downright refusal to answer the question at all. For Ashnikko, “Clitoris! The Musical” is a mockery of guttural Broadway ballads that give you insight into a character by leaving everything on the table. I think the music video for “Lost Cause” isn’t being given enough credit for just how coy it is, the very thing that brought out accusations of queerbaiting. Even more so with the internet we want a telescope pointed at everyone’s personal lives, and Eilish’s video has a voyeuristic and taunting quality to it. As the girls address the camera directly the audience is reminded of the facade, that they are watching something made for them that is fabricated to a certain extent. But by taking the video at face value and trying to read into Eilish’s sexuality to determine if she is “allowed” to do something, the internet is attempting to drag her out of the closet.
I’ll say this, and it might not be pretty to hear: the closet is a safe space for some people. Some people are still working on themselves, and don’t want to reveal the intimate details of their identities and their lives to the world. And I think it’s our responsibility — and just a nice thing to do — to let people figure their shit out on their own. But by only seeing people as products to be consumed or as would-be influencers chasing clout, we’re never going to grant them the proper amount of personal space. We need to be careful, and we also need to observe who we’re doing this to.
Notice that everyone I mentioned by name in this piece is a woman.