The Women: Reifying HeteronormativityThe women are enacting gender in traditional ways, while simultaneously engaging in sexually evocative ways with each other, as described by the “hot lesbian” figure. According to Gill (2008), queer representations following heteronormative standards are “packaging lesbianism within heterosexual norms” (p. 50), appealing to the male gaze. Indeed, lesbian women are almost always represented in highly sexualized ways, usually drawing on codes of pornography to allude to male heterosexual fantasies (Gill, 2007). Thus, they fail to challenge a heteronormative framework.
Another possible reading of the protagonists is as heterosexual women experimenting with other women – something Diamond (as cited in Gill, 2008) terms “hetero flexibility” – again, failing to resist the status quo.
Harry Styles: Resisting Heteronormativity
As for Styles, his androgynous-leaning look fits his rejection of labels and binaries. However, his enjoyment amidst the scantily clad women would fit a heteronormative framework. The presence of two other men’s presence among the group could be read as queer, although they are never represented sexually and are never close to Styles. Thus, there is an apparent discrepancy between Styles’ androgynous look and the gender of the protagonists surrounding him.
However, this discrepancy can only be seen as such when reading the video from a heteronormative framework, in which a man should portray hegemonic heterosexual masculinity. Therefore, a queer reading demonstrates how, despite the sexual tension between Styles and the women, the video is breaking out of a strictly heteronormative framework.
Queerbaiting as a Tool to Affirm the Status Quo
Lastly, seeing as the queer representations in the video fail to challenge a heteronormative framework, it could be read as queerbaiting. There can be talk of queerbaiting when a narrative uses queer romantic tropes to attract (bait) queer viewers into supporting the narrative – without “fully offering any meaningful representation” (Roach, 2018, p. 168). Ultimately, this serves to re-affirm the heteronormative framework.
Roach (2018) analyses how many celebrities, specifically heterosexual boyband members, have used their own person for queerbaiting purposes, by embracing gay male aesthetics for instance. Roach (2018) argues that Styles chooses not to do so, which is something that the present analysis supports. However, although Styles may not use his own persona for queerbaiting, the other protagonists in the video walk that line dangerously – as seen through the “hot lesbian” and “midriff” figures, which appear counter-hegemonic on the surface, but ultimately serve to reinforce the status quo through their representations of gender and sexuality.