No, Bad Bunny isn’t queerbaiting – and here’s why we need to stop policing sexuality

Bad Bunny is the latest in a long line of celebrities to face accusations of queerbaiting after he shared a kiss with a male back-up dancer at the 2022 MTV VMAs.

The reaction to the kiss was mostly positive – fans were quick to heap praise on the Puerto Rican rapper for bringing queerness to the VMAs stage. Others were simply glad he managed to inject some excitement into what was, all in all, a fairly tepid awards show.

Naturally, the jubilation didn’t last too long – within hours, a row had broken out on Twitter, with a small number of people accusing Bad Bunny of queerbaiting.

The word “queerbaiting” is generally used in discussions about famous figures, television shows or films that allude to queerness, but identify explicitly with it.

In pop music, Harry Styles has repeatedly been accused of queerbaiting, with some criticising him for adopting a queer aesthetic while steadfastly refusing to define his sexuality.

Harry Styles presale tickets go on sale this week for his 2023 European tour.
Harry Styles presale tickets go on sale this week for his 2023 European tour. (Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Harry Styles)

Long before Styles and his sexuality became the focus of public debate, Madonna and Britney Spears found themselves in their own queerbaiting furore when they kissed on stage at the VMAs in 2003.

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So of course, Bad Bunny was always going to face some pushback when he locked lips with another man on stage.

Shortly after the VMAs aired, one person tweeted: “I love Bad Bunny, loooove. But the queerbaiting has to stop. It’s really cringy. If he’s gay or bi, fine. If not then please stop.”

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But a quick scroll through Twitter shows that’s far from the common view.

In fact, most of the reaction has been from fans who are furious to see Bad Bunny being accused of queerbaiting.

Naturally, many people deflected the argument by saying critics would be better off looking at Harry Styles if they want a true version of queerbaiting – but that’s problematic too.

In more recent years, people have increasingly started using the word “queerbaiting” to refer to any person who is not openly LGBTQ+ who toys with their own sexuality or gender expression. Harry Styles has wormed his way into the centre of that debate because he repeatedly refuses to label his sexuality publicly.

Bad Bunny, on the other hand, has described himself as “heterosexual”, but he hasn’t ruled out the possibility of one day finding himself attracted to a man.

Bad Bunny performing at the 2020 Billboard awards
Bad Bunny is touring his latest album, El Último Tour Del Mundo. (Kevin Winter/Getty)

“At the end of the day, I don’t know if in 20 years I will like a man. One never knows in life. But at the moment I am heterosexual and I like women,” he told the Los Angeles Times.

Harry Styles and Bad Bunny are hugely successful artists who have massive LGBTQ+ fanbases, so it wouldn’t be too surprising if they were both trying on queerness to appease the people who support them.

But the problem with any argument around this topic, is nobody really knows who either of them are. Both Styles and Bad Bunny are celebrities, and all celebrities of their calibre are projecting carefully crafted images of themselves to the world.

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That means fans are often left guessing who their idols are behind closed doors and how they identify. In turn, that leads to people questioning the motives of artists like Bad Bunny and Styles.

Where there’s doubt, people will try to fill in the blanks – and when the blanks can’t be filled in, they’ll accuse somebody of queerbaiting instead.

In one sense, that’s fair enough – people want authenticity – but it also upholds a system that requires all LGBTQ+ people to “come out” publicly so they can be granted permission to express themselves in their careers.

Bad Bunny is seen during The 2022 Met Gala.
Bad Bunny is seen during The 2022 Met Gala. (Slaven Vlasic/GC Images)

It also upholds a model that prevents non-LGBTQ+ people from exploring their own identities. It only serves to back people into corners where there are so many limitations on self-expression they don’t even bother to push the boundaries.

Nobody really knows what celebrities’ motivations are

Yes, it’s entirely possible that Harry Styles and Bad Bunny are feigning queerness for monetary gain – but it’s feasible they just don’t want to have to publicly come out.

Or, perhaps, they simply care about their LGBTQ+ fans and want to advocate for them and help them feel seen.

Whatever the truth is, it helps nobody when we demand that public figures identify themselves before being granted permission to express themselves and explore their own identities.

If anything, society should be moving away from requiring people to slot neatly into boxes.

Instead, some people would just like to make those boxes even smaller.

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