A gay kiss between a heterosexual woman and a robot has landed Calvin Klein on the receiving end of “queerbaiting” criticism, and the fashion brand has publicly apologized.
The lip-lock came in a new commercial from CK’s “I speak my truth in my Calvins” campaign, which previously released an ad featuring queer celebs Indya Moore and Troye Sivan and thirst quenchers Shawn Mendes and Noah Centineo, among others.
In the ad, model and self-identifying straight woman Bella Hadid kisses a robot named Miquela. “Life is about opening doors,” says the narrator, assumed to be Hadid but could also possibly be Miquela. “Creating new dreams you never knew could exist.”
Miquela, who naturally has a presence on Instagram, also “posted” about the virtual partnership:
A post shared by *~ MIQUELA ~* (@lilmiquela) on May 16, 2019 at 6:00am PDT
Sexuality is a complicated thing, and so is unpacking what in the hell just happened in this commercial.
But many saw it as a textbook example of “queerbaiting,” or manufacturing queer sexuality to sell a product or idea to the LGBTQ market, without actually identifying as queer.
That Hadid’s same-sex kiss happens to feature a CGI-robot rather than another human woman only adds layers of “huh?” to the messaging.
Related: 7 celebrities accused of queerbaiting: James Franco, Nick Jonas, and more
While we might stop short of calling the ad “offensive” — “ill-conceived” seems like a more apt term — some cried foul.
Madison Malone, an associate editor of the New York Magazine, tweeted: “who is gonna tell Calvin Klein you’re supposed to wait until June for your tone-deaf queer-bait ad campaigns!!”
who is gonna tell Calvin Klein you’re supposed to wait until June for your tone-deaf queer-bait ad campaigns!! lil miquela and bella hadid out here smooching two weeks too early!!!
— Madison Malone Kircher (@4evrmalone) May 16, 2019
And Dazed Magazine published a piece titled, “Bella Hadid and Lil Miquela kissing is… not cool!”
That sentiment was echoed on social media:
I know it’s not even 9:30 a.m. but I just watched Bella make out with Lil Miquela for part of the new Calvin Klein campaign and I think I need to log off for the rest of the day. pic.twitter.com/5mTr4iEmft
— Alyssa Vingan Klein (@alyssavingan) May 16, 2019
— ????? ????? (@FLAIRESCENT) May 17, 2019
CALVIN KLEIN RLY USED A ROBOT TO QUEER BAIT I–
— raisa? (@jauremeralds) May 16, 2019
Isn’t she one of the heteroes like .. besides the fact that it’s her and a computer drawn girl like… I could b wrong but isn’t bella a full straighty
— sophisticated (@friend_of_a) May 17, 2019
Rather than let the hubbub machine inevitably move onto the next publicly perceived misstep, Calvin Klein, a company generally thought to have a solid pro-LGBTQ track record, apologized for the ad on Friday.
“We understand and acknowledge how featuring someone who identifies as heterosexual in a same-sex kiss could be perceived as queerbaiting. As a company with a longstanding tradition of advocating for LGBTQ+ rights, it was certainly not our intention to misrepresent the LGBTQ+ community. We sincerely regret any offense we caused,” the statement reads.
Here at CALVIN KLEIN, we welcome all types of constructive feedback from our community. We see your comments and we appreciate them. We’d like to offer our thoughts in response to comments on our campaign video featuring Bella Hadid and Lil Miquela. pic.twitter.com/OIcIekyR9K
— CALVIN KLEIN (@CalvinKlein) May 17, 2019
Luckily, Miquela’s 1.5 million Instagram followers can still depend on her for moments of inspiration like this:
A post shared by *~ MIQUELA ~* (@lilmiquela) on May 1, 2019 at 4:03pm PDT
Dan Tracer is a queer writer, handstand enthusiast, and lover of all Kaytranada remixes. Find him on Instagram.