kali uchis twists the male gaze in video for “la luz(Fín)”

With the release of Kali Uchis’ new album Sin Miedo (del Amor y Otros Demonios) ∞ November 18, I wanted to revisit the video of her single “la luz(Fín),” featuring Jhay Cortez, which premiered last month, as it continues to get comments raising concern about its portrayal of Uchis’ bisexuality.

First off, the video is stunning. Co-directed by Lauren Dunn and Uchis herself, it features dazzling baby blue and pink sets, textured by lots of cute motifs like stars, sparkles, bubbles, rainbows, and lollipops. The visuals are appropriately bubblegum for this soft pop song, and they mesh perfectly with the 2000s-inspired fashion that Uchis has been embracing lately. Driving through space, licking her female lover’s face, this video embodies fantasy. The audience is then taken to a boudoir, where Uchis waits on pink satin sheets for her lover to come join her in bed. The two start kissing, and we all know where this is going. But suddenly—record scratch!—the camera zooms through the peephole of the bedroom door, and the audience realizes that they are not the only voyeurs present: Jhay Cortez is beside himself as he starts his verse, watching in ecstasy as the two get hot and heavy. 

This scene boldly depicts the male fetishization of WLW (women-loving-women) relationships, and more than a few viewers raised objections to this representation. One YouTube user described the video as a “basic male gaze fantasy,” while another laments, “it just fucking sucks to see a video like this and cant even live in the fantasy that women can love each other in peace for even a 3 minute music video. I still love Kali and I like the aesthetics of the video, but it just hurts to be reminded that as a wlw, I’m still always under the male gaze.” In other comments, the video is called “misogynistic,” “unimaginative,” “performative,” and “gross.”

Without disregarding the reality of queer women’s marginalization and the frequent fetishization of their relationships in pop culture, and with respect to those whose viewing of “la luz(Fín)” elicited painful reactions, these characterizations misinterpret the video’s meaning (as some comments on YouTube point out) by critiquing its inclusion of a scene depicting the male gaze without considering how Uchis presents herself as being fetishized. Let’s return to the scene.

After Cortez plays the part of Peeping Tom for a bit, the couple reveals that they are aware of his spying by looking in the direction of the peephole as Uchis gives a little twerk and her lover slaps her ass. This awareness is made clear when the fish-eyed effect on the camera that depicts Cortez’s gaze is then used on Cortez himself to represent looking through the peephole from within the bedroom. Cortez shakes his head, grits his teeth, and prays to God for strength—he can’t take being on the opposite side of that door. The women then resume their eye contact, leaving Cortez ignored, able to watch but not participate.

It would be incorrect to interpret this video as not fetishizing sex between women for the male gaze, but it is equally incorrect to interpret it as just fetishizing sex between women for the male gaze. It only fetishizes Uchis’ bisexuality to the extent that any media representation of WLW relationships is available to be appropriated for male pleasure. In fact, the video for “la luz(Fín)” takes Cortez’s voyeurism and raises it Uchis’ exhibitionism. The women revel in the chemistry between them and take additional pleasure in their being watched. The peephole even resembles a camera lens, making the scene reminiscent of a cam show, where adult performers can profit off of letting others watch their bedroom activities from elsewhere. While no payment transaction is present in the video, the aesthetic tie to camming supports a reading of the women’s position of authority in the scene. Far from being victims of the male gaze, Uchis and her lover enjoy the power play of hypnotizing Cortez with their bodies then leaving him blue-balled behind a locked bedroom door.

This does not mean that the women entirely overcome the male gaze. A single act of using the fetishization of WLW relationships to torture one man does not eliminate the oppressive conditions that produce this ability to torture him in the first place (and, of course, this torture could also be a source of pleasure for Cortez). But in a world where misogyny and heterosexism have fostered the creation of a culture that exoticizes lesbian sex for the pleasure of men, the video for “la luz(Fín)” appropriates the pleasure that men derive from sex between women and uses it to amplify the pleasure that the women engaging in the sex feel. 

We also can’t forget that the ability for male viewers to take pleasure in watching this video would remain regardless of whether or not the video included a representation of it. The YouTube user who commented, “it just hurts to be reminded that as a WLW, I’m still always under the male gaze,” assigns Uchis the role of the villain who perpetuates the male gaze, but Uchis would be forced to do so in any representation of her bisexuality because, as this user herself notes, women who love women are “always under the male gaze.” Instead of just representing her bisexuality and allowing viewers to do whatever they want with that representation, Uchis wrests some power from the male viewers who would sexualize the watching experience by directly addressing the issue in the video. Further, we can’t be sure how exactly Uchis’ bisexuality dictates the eroticism of the scene. It could just be an embrace of exhibitionism in response to the unavoidable stares of men, but it could also be an exhibitionism that incorporates both being physical with a woman and involving a man from afar. Point is, the male gaze is a constant, regardless of Uchis’ depiction of it, and only through its depiction can she reappropriate some of its power.

At the end of the video, the two women drive off together and disappear under a rainbow, leaving Cortez, and the audience, behind. We’re no longer invited to watch the show; what happens under that rainbow is between Uchis and her lover. By leaving us in her dust, Uchis returns to the only place that her relationships with women can exist unfetishized: the private sphere. This is the unfortunate reality of WLW relationships in our society. But the “la luz(Fín)” video also offers a more active strategy for reducing the violence of the male gaze than just sequestering women’s queerness to the home: By incorporating the male gaze into the pleasure of public sexuality between women, Uchis and her lover look back through the peephole and say “We see you just as much as you see us, and who’s actually in this bed right now?”1 This of course is not a solution to the larger issue of the male fetishization of sex between women, but it is an assertion of public space to represent a WLW relationship that acknowledges the male gaze for the purpose of disarming it, however temporarily.

The strong, painful reactions that the video for “la luz(Fín)” evokes are totally valid, as the video depicts a significant problem in our society with real consequences for the safety and wellbeing of women who love women, but to attribute the violence of the male gaze to Uchis unfairly misreads her public critique of it.

1. I identify the boudoir scene as “public” because even though its setting is ostensibly private, the women are very much put on display and are aware of their lack of privacy in what seems to be a larger-sized spacecraft. Also, the film representation of a bedroom is not an actual bedroom; an audience consumes this scene on the publicly accessible media platform YouTube, making Uchis and the actress who plays her lover engaged in a public representation of sexuality.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s