When celebrities keep their sexuality ambiguous or participate in overtly queer scenarios like kissing their male backup dancer — a question is sometimes raised: “Are they queerbaiting?”
Queerbaiting typically refers to a marketing tactic where media uses queer imagery, lyrics, plots, and conversation to draw in an LGBTQ+ audience without the intention to deliver accurate LGBTQ+ representation.
Today, the term has evolved and is also used as a criticism of a person, especially a public figure, who is seen to be portraying themselves as queer or ambiguous to pander to the LGBTQ+ community for marketing purposes.
But does this speculation contribute to erasing queer identities like bisexuality, asexuality, and pansexuality? Should sexual fluidity or creative roles only be reserved for celebrities who explicitly identify as queer? Is their presence detrimental to the LGBTQ+ community, and are these claims valid? It’s complicated!
Here are 10 celebrities accused of queerbaiting and how they responded to the allegations.
One of the biggest celebrities dominating the conversation around queerbaiting is Harry Styles. Harry is known for his inclusive music, androgynous style, and avoidance of labeling his sexuality.
Harry is the most vocal against these accusations, stating in an interview with The Guardian, “Am I sprinkling in nuggets of sexual ambiguity to try and be more interesting? No.”
“In terms of how I wanna dress and what the album sleeve’s gonna be, I tend to make decisions in terms of collaborators I want to work with,” Harry continued. “I want things to look a certain way. Not because it makes me look gay, or it makes me look straight, or it makes me look bisexual, but because I think it looks cool.”
When Nick Jonas went solo, he was criticized for queerbaiting after frequently courting the LGBTQ+ community at gay bars and benefits surrounding his music releases.
In addition to his public appearances, Nick appeared in television shows like The Kingdom and Scream Queens portraying gay characters.
Nick responded to claims of queerbaiting by saying, “Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion. I think it’s unfortunate that some people have to find a negative in every situation. Clearly, my heart is in the right place, and more than anything, if they just looked at my life and my gay friends and the authentic nature of where my heart is, they’d just see that they’re kind of ignorant.”
When Tyler Posey spoke about his sexual fluidity on his OnlyFans account, it sparked adverse reactions. A person claimed he was a “gay-baiter” — only pretending to be gay to make money.
Tyler clapped back at the allegations, saying that he’s only trying to be honest about himself. He added that the comments are strange and cruel, which inspired his awareness of cyberbullying.
Tyler’s girlfriend, alt-rock singer Phem, who is also queer, helped him realize his sexuality. “She’s helped me realize that I fit under the queer umbrella and that I’m sexually fluid, I guess. No, not ‘I guess.’ I don’t want anyone to take this and be like: ‘Well, he was kind of wishy-washy about it.'”
Billie Eilish was accused of queerbaiting when she released a music video for “Lost Cause,” a single from her sophomore album. The music video included suggestive interactions with partially dressed women.
Billie promoted the video on Instagram, her caption reading, “i love girls.” This post added fuel to the fire of the queerbaiting conversation.
In an interview with Elle magazine, she said to everyone discussing her sexuality, “Like, oh yeah, that’s everyone else’s business, right? No. Where’s that energy with men? I just wanted to make a song once, and then I kept making songs. I never said, ‘Hey, pay attention to my life.’ All my friends know I don’t wanna see any of [the negative chatter]. When people send me something mean, it hurts my soul.”
According to Complex, people also accused Ariana of exploiting the queer community when she headlined the Manchester Pride festival in 2019 and doubled ticket prices.
Ariana swiftly responded, “The LGBTQ+ community has been so special to me and supportive throughout my entire career. The relationships I have with my LGBTQ+ fans, friends, and family make me so so happy.” She claimed the ticket prices were the venue’s decision and out of her control.
When Normani released “Wild Side,” featuring Cardi B, the artists were accused of queerbaiting for holding each other while nude in the music video.
Cardi B wasted no time firing back at these claims, reminding the haters that she identifies as a bisexual woman.
In response to nude images of Cardi B and Normani holding each other, she explained it was to conceal her pregnancy.
Charlie Puth was called out for queerbaiting after he posted a TikTok video purposefully misusing a filter about gay sex that labeled whether he was a top or a bottom.
People also criticized Charlie for his sexually charged social media engagement, including innuendos and partially nude photos, and the queer ambiguity of his latest single with Joonkook of BTS, “Left and Right.”
While he’s yet to directly address the queerbaiting accusations, Charlie had this to say about the online criticism of his work with BTS:
James Franco appeared in several roles as a gay man, and casually joked that he was a “little gay” during an interview. Critics speculated that he used homoeroticism for commercial gain.
In response to the speculation, James did an interview with 429 Magazine where “Straight James Franco” spoke to “Gay James Franco.” He said, “Well, I like to think that I’m gay in my art and straight in my life. Although, I’m also gay in my life up to the point of intercourse, and then you could say I’m straight. So I guess it depends on how you define gay. If it means whom you have sex with, I guess I’m straight.”
James’ current sexual misconduct accusations continued the conversation about whether he uses his “queerness” to divert attention away from his more problematic behavior.
Lena Katina and Yulia Volkova, professionally known as t.A.T.u, were once considered gay icons for their unabashed music videos. But, in the 2003 documentary, Screaming for More, the duo revealed they are straight and were marketed as queer women for their musical act.
“That was my role. I never was a lesbian. I never was attracted to a girl. I never had that,” Katina told the Daily Beast when questioned. “I had some thoughts because I was pretending to be who I wasn’t. And then, I was thinking about it a lot, ‘Why am I concerned?’ There are so many actors playing different roles in movies. I will just look at it as a movie. If I am helping people with this role, then why not.”
On a Russian TV show, Yulia spoke out against the gay community, saying that if her son were gay, she would condemn him. “I believe that a real man must be a real man. God created man for procreation, it is the nature. The man for me is the support, the strength of… I won’t accept [a] gay son.”
Lastly, Madonna faced criticism after she posted a comment in response to Lil Nas X’s BET Award performance where he kissed his male backup dancer.
Madonna posted a side-by-side picture on her Instagram story of herself kissing Britney Spears (a moment from 2003 that many considered queerbaiting) and a picture of Lil Nas X’s performance along with the hashtag: “#DidItFirst.”
What do you think about these celebrities who were accused of queerbaiting? What about their responses?