Last week, Calvin Klein came under fire for its new campaign, which, in addition to starring the likes of Billie Eilish, Shawn Mendes, Noah Centineo, Kendall Jenner, and A$AP Rocky, was also notable for featuring a brief kiss (not, as some headlines would have you believe, a full-on make out) between computer-generated influencer Miquela Sousa (as in, she’s not real), aka @lilmiquela, and actual, alive-girl influencer Bella Hadid. Reactions arrived swift on social media—“children of lgbtq families are having birthright citizenship revoked but brands are out here thinking paying a virtual influencer to be gay for pay is the move,” writer Arabelle Sicardi wrote; “you’re supposed to wait until June for your tone-deaf queer-bait ad campaigns,” New York magazine’s Madison Malone Kircher tweeted—and then in thinkpieces—the campaign, Dazed editor Emma Hope Allwood wrote, “borrows sexuality for clickbait, othering queerness as “surreal” (and combining it with the added virtual human gimmick) as engagement-driving content.”
That is to say, the campaign, titled “I Speak My Truth” despite featuring a same-sex kiss between a model who, at least publicly, identifies as heterosexual and a pixel, did not go over well—so poorly, in fact, that the brand issued a public apology just a day later. “We understand and acknowledge how featuring someone who identifies as heterosexual in a same-sex kiss could be perceived as queerbaiting,” it read. (We shall henceforth remember today as the day “queerbaiting” appeared in a public statement by a brand.) “As a company with a longstanding tradition of advocating for LGBTQ+ rights, it was certainly not our intention to misrepresent the LGBTQ+ community.”
Elsewhere, the Calvin Klein campaign does actually gesture towards inclusivity, featuring models like musicians Troye Sivan and Kevin Abstract, both of whom are openly gay, which makes the Lil Miquela-Bella Hadid moment—which, based on the voiceover alone, seems to be more about what constitutes reality than what constitutes truth—all the more perplexing. The video remains up on Lil Miquela’s Instagram feed; Bella Hadid’s, which has since been taken over by videos and images from the Cannes red carpet, only includes her horse-girl-at-the-gas-station moments.