Twenty-year-old singer Camila Cabello recently announced her departure from Fifth Harmony, the group that put her on the map. Among other things, she said she felt uncomfortable with being sexualized as part of the group.
“Especially with being a girl group, there’s been a lot of times where people have tried to sexualize us to just get more attention,” she said in an interview with Girls actress Lena Dunham. “Unfortunately, sex sells. There’s definitely been times where there’s stuff that I have not been comfortable with and I’ve had to put my foot down.”
We applaud Cabello’s willingness to “put her foot down” for feeling overly sexualized. But her first high-profile effort since leaving her band, a duet with rapper Machine Gun Kelly, doesn’t sound and look that much less sexualized than her previous work.
“Bad Things” romanticizes and rationalizes a volatile and destructive relationship—one that includes some different “bad things” than Cabello sang about when she was with Fifth Harmony.
“Bad Things” is a back-and-forth duet between two lovers who practically want to devour each other in their passion.
Of the two, Cabello’s a bit more coy, leaving what “bad things” she has in mind more to listeners’ imagination. “Am I out of my head?/Am I out of my mind?” she wonders before confessing, “If you only knew the bad things that I like/ … I only wanna do bad things to you.” Much later in the song, she does suggest that the badness she has in mind is physical: “And no one has to get it/Just you and me/’Cause we’re just living/Between the sheets.”
Twenty-six-year-old rapper Machine Gun Kelly, in contrast, spells his “bad” desires out in explicit detail. He begins by suggesting that they dispense with the word bad altogether: “Nothing’s that bad/If it feels good.” That, of course, is a feeling-based assessment of reality that we’ve heard myriad times in pop music. But MGK (as he’s known) is just getting started.
“We’re both wild/And the night’s young/And you’re my drug/Breath you in ’til my face numb,” he tells her. Their physical connection is almost animalistic: “I got what you dream about/Nails scratchin’ my back tat/Eyes closed while you scream out.” A line too graphic to print here refers to her anatomy, before MGK wraps up his first rapping verse with images that veer toward vampirism: “While my teeth sink in those lips/While your body’s giving me life/And you suffocate in my kiss.”
MGK’s second verse again compares the relationship to an anesthetizing drug (“I love the pain/And I love the way your breath/Numbs me like Novocaine”) and alludes to taking other drugs as well (“And we are/Always high”). Then he pictures her walking around almost completely unclothed: “Nothin’ but your heels on/Losing our religion/You’re my pretty little vixen.”
Finally, he knows his reckless ways have a hypnotically alluring impact on this young woman: “And I’m the voice inside your head/That keeps telling you to listen to all the bad things I say.”
Things don’t get any better in the video. In fact, there’s just more “bad” stuff to add the growing list of problems with “Bad Things.”
A montage of vignettes illustrates the story of the song’s two subjects, called Bonnie and Romeo. That right there is a pretty good hint about where things are going.
There’s all manner of sensuality here as fur-and-lingerie clad Bonnie (Cabelo) and Romeo (Machine Gun Kelly) lounge languidly with each other and with friends in various locales (including a dilapidated warehouse they seem to call home). Sometimes they’re smiling and laughing, other times fighting and shouting. Clearly, it’s an explosive relationship. They eat at a diner, then dash out without paying. Romeo gets in a fight with someone. He drives erratically in a late-model muscle car.
Where things take a seriously grim turn, though, is near the end of the video. While trying to hotwire and steal a vehicle at a gas station, they’re surprised by police, who give chase on foot. The couple ends up on the ledge of a tall building and seem as if they’re going to jump when the police bust through the door behind them.
The video, then, adds more disturbing layers of self-destructive behavior to the song’s already problematic narrative. And for young or impressionable fans, suicide for the sake of someone you “love” is depicted as the ultimate “romantic” choice.
Bad things, indeed.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews as the site’s director. He and his wife, Jennifer, have three children. In their free time, the Holzes enjoy playing games, a variety of musical instruments, swimming and … watching movies.