Charli XCX has spoken out on the backlash that followed the release of Rita Ora's latest single "Girls," which features XCX alongside Cardi B and Bebe Rexha. Upon the song's release, it was met with concerns of how the mostly male writing team evoked exploitative, harmful stereotypes of sexual relationships between two women.
"I think the conversation and dialogue around this song is really important," the British singer tells Rolling Stone before the Denver stop of Taylor Swift's Reputation world tour, where she is one of the opening acts. "I try so hard to be as involved with the LGBTQ community as possible. Without that community, my career would not really be anything."
As seen on her last two mixtapes, Number 1 Angel and Pop 2, XCX has been focusing primarily on collaborations with up-and-coming LGBTQ artists, including ALMA, Mykki Blanco and Kim Petras. She notes that upon the beginning of the backlash, she made sure to read and engage with what was being said by her peers.
"I read Kehlani's post, Hayley [Kiyoko]'s post, Katie [Gavin] from Muna's post. I could totally relate to the conversation that was being had. Of course, the intention of the song was never to hurt anybody. None of the artists on this song would ever want to upset or hurt anyone."
Still, XCX is proud of what the song means to her friend Ora, noting that the lyrics and story being told belong to the lead artist. "I know from when Rita invited me to be a part of the song, this song was about a specific experience that she had with a woman," she explains. The pair have known each other for years, and Ora even appeared on XCX's sophomore album Sucker. XCX also knew that Ora identified as bisexual before and emphasizes that her personal experience and gaze should not be negated.
"I know that Rita's had extremely meaningful relationships with both men and women. She really does have every right to tell her story because she's not doing it from an exploitative viewpoint: she's been with women and had relationships with women. She's had relationships with men too. I don't understand why her story is less valid than anybody else's," XCX says of Ora.
Ora had been excited about the song and its story, having told XCX that "this was the first she's been honest" and was upset after the critical responses had poured in from her fellow LGBTQ artists. "Rita had never confirmed her sexuality," XCX adds. "She basically felt like she had to come out [because of this]."
The singer has since decided to take her time to form a response, though she wanted to say something immediately given her close work with the community that felt hurt by the song's lyrics and message. Since the song and response occurred, she's spoken with friends like Gavin, ALMA and King Princess one-on-one.
"I just really want to learn from this situation," she continues. "I think that's something we can all do: we can all learn from this conversation. It would be great to continue this dialogue in a positive way — not in an attacking way — so that people can learn about people's feelings, about people's sexualities and viewpoints. We can learn to not judge people before we get all the information. We can learn how certain words might make certain communities sad or upset."
XCX is proud of "Girls" because it meant she was supporting a friend. "I've known Rita for a very long time in this particular journey and in this particular story in her life. I would never want to take anyone's space in pop music, but Rita is somebody I've known for a very long time who has had queer experiences and [I felt] that perhaps this is a safe space for me to be on this record. I apologize to any people I've offended by that."