- Emma Louise Alvarez
Condemned & Celebrating: Sam Smith puts Queer Sex & Identity in the Limelight
© Instagram: Sam Smith
Leave your fatphobia and homophobia far behind: sex, sequins, and corsets are for everyone.
From backlash over the I’m Not Here To Make Friends music video to Unholy winning the Grammy for the best pop duo, headlines of Sam Smith can be found everywhere. It seems everyone has something to say - and it’s not all nice.
It all started with the music video of INHTMF, with Sam Smith dancing in incredible outfits: literally swinging from the chandelier in a two-piece gold-sequined suit, and, most ‘notoriously,’ for wearing an underbust corset with silver nipple coverings and a diamond-studded jockstrap.
Beyond the expected, but still completely unnecessary and unwarranted, homophobic comments of a music video which really is just a 'celebration of queer sex,’ people have found the need to comment on Sam Smith’s weight and size, criticising their weight gain since 2014, and leaving comments like ‘fatass’ on their content. It’s not just fatphobic: it’s mean. When will we finally stop commenting on people’s weight?
Sexuality and fashion are not just for thin people. Sex is for everyone; corsets and diamond-studded outfits should be for everyone too.
Internet influencer Matt Bernstein draws a parallel to how Harry Styles and Sam Smith are judged differently based on how they express themselves, or rather, not that it is a matter of expression, but of size. From skirts to dresses and showing off eccentric makeup looks, there have been very different reactions to fashion fluidity in relation to body shape and size. This brings to attention that fatphobia and homophobia are not endlessly interlinked: fashion-fluidity icon Styles faces no criticism over outfit choices and no comments rooted in fatphobia. So why should Sam Smith face all this judgement?
© Instagram: Sam Smith and EGONLAB
Queer bodies deserve to be celebrated, regardless of what they look like. It seems it’s a never-ending battle against what hegemonic ideals of society deem ‘appropriate’ or ‘beautiful.’ Queer identity and expression should not be debated and discarded. We are here. And we are not going anywhere.
This is exactly why it is such a celebratory and important moment for Unholy to win the Grammy: Kim Petras is the first transgender woman to ever win a Grammy, and this is a huge moment for trans and queer identity and representation everywhere.
But the controversy doesn’t stop there. Photos flooded the internet of the ‘satanic’ performance of Unholy at the Grammys, with cages, whips, and the devil’s horns being proudly displayed by Sam Smith during this rendition of the song. From ‘degenerate filth’ to the performance being ‘symbolic of who they serve,’ this kind of rhetoric remains incredibly dangerous in large circles of digital discourse. Because the harmful comments go beyond the symbols referenced in the performance: they are dangerous in implication.
An American Congresswoman has claimed that “Sam Smith’s demonic performance was sponsored by Pfizer. And the Satanic Church now has an abortion clinic in NM that require its patients to perform a satanic ritual before services,” where others have commented on why the UK government would “ban a man like [Andrew] Tate from schools who promotes hard work & fitness, yet nobody speaks up about this degenerate promoting filth to youth? They call this art.” This is not just hate speech. It’s dangerous.
Andrew Tate is facing multiple charges of rape and human trafficking. Sam Smith is dancing in a corset. There is no comparison here.
More must be done to actively dismantle this narrative that queer people have a ‘gay agenda’ and that there’s ‘no such thing as an LGBT child’ and to ‘stop sexualising kids.’ Queer people have always existed. We have hidden and chosen to hide, or chosen to only truly exist in hidden spaces. But now we are loud and proud, and we are here. How long have queer bodies and queer people been persecuted? Change is long overdue.
Sam Smith is putting queer identity and sex in the limelight, and this representation is so important: it’s ok to be attracted to whoever you’re attracted to, it’s ok to dress however you want, there’s no shame in whatever kinks you have or clothes you like to wear. Let kids make their own choices on who they want to be and who they want to be with.
People of the LGBTQIA+ community have always been condemned as ‘going to hell,’ Sam Smith reclaiming that narrative is symbolic. But for a different reason. It’s celebrating something that for so long has been condemned. Celebrating queer identities all over the world and all throughout history.
Honestly, I just think that people need to judge less and I hope that there’s a future where gender and identity and all these labels don’t matter that much. Where people can just be themselves and not get judged so hard. Kim Petras
And there is room for further celebration, too: Unholy went viral on TikTok in the summer of 2022, inspiring seductive and sultry dance routines. Ultimately, it is an empowering song; it is meant to be empowering. Sam Smith explains that throughout the creative process, they wanted Kim Petras to feel empowered, that she was seen and heard, and that she can be her most ‘authentic’ self.
That is true, too, for I'm Not Here To Make Friends: it is about being unapologetically yourself, celebrating sex and identity, and being proud of who you are. And there are videos on TikTok, too, of people dancing, celebrating, taking up space, and existing. The message is absolutely about empowerment: we are here, we always have been, and always will be.