The Sam Smith Video Backlash Is Nothing But Homophobia And Fatphobia Combined

They're not here to make friends...

Sam Smith has acquired a fresh generation of self-proclaimed slutty fans. Collaborating with Kim Petras on ‘Unholy’ in 2022 – AKA the iconic force behind ‘Slutpop’ and ‘Treat Me Like A Slut’ – this is a new era for Smith. Their new music is worlds away from the soft, piano heavy tracks ‘Stay With Me’ and ‘I’m Not The Only One’ they first found fame with almost 10 years ago. 

Now, Smith ushers in the Gloria era. To accompany album release day on January 27th, they released the music video for ‘I’m Not Here To Make Friends’. A sexually liberated frenzy of colourful velvet robes, leather whips and nipple tassels, it’s an overt ode to queerness. 

The references to acclaimed ballroom documentary Paris Is Burning – the real-life inspiration behind Pose – are there, with Smith’s pink boxy dress emulating Pepper LaBeijia’s brilliant golden version famous on the historic floors of Harlem. It’s a cultural moment; a sex-positive, body-positive love letter to all the queer elders that came before.

And then came the inevitable backlash. With an army of dancers dressed in tight corsets and nipple tassels – Smith included – this video was always going to be a topic of conversation, but the response it’s received has been next level. Critics have branded it “pornography”: one Christian commentator has gone so far as to condemn YouTube for not including age restrictions on this “degrading sexualised new music video.”

Appearing on The Graham Norton Show last week, Smith happily joked about the criticism, remarking that it resulted in their favourite headline to date: “Sam Smith horrifies OAPs”. “Nothing seedy went on guys, it wasn’t weird. Weirder things have happened in that castle, let’s be honest”, they laughed, perched on the red sofa next to Claire Foy, M Night Shyamalan, Sarah Michelle Gellar and Rob Beckett. They later tweeted a picture of the black feather dress and headpiece worn in the video with the caption “never too much.”

It goes without saying that fans and celebs alike have come to Smith’s defence. “If Nicki Minaj can wear a thong in Anaconda, if Miley Cyrus can wear nipple tassels at music awards, if Harry Styles can wear a dress in Vogue Magazine, Sam can do whatever they want”, professional dancer Sam Salter – who has previously appeared on the front cover of Attitude – said in a TikTok video. “If you have a problem with it, you are the problem. Even subconsciously – if you don’t wanna have a problem with it but it makes you uncomfortable, that’s fine but you’ve got some learning to do.”

As it stands today, pop music would not be the same without LGBTQIA people. The power doesn’t just lie in out queer musicians like Frankie Knuckles, Sylvester, Freddie Mercury and countless others: LGBTQIA fans have always shaped content.

Madonna is a prime example. Madge, as she’s affectionately known by many gay men, has always lovingly produced music for her LGBTQIA fans: in the midst of the HIV/AIDS crisis, she actively employed gay male dancers for her Blond Ambition tour in 1990. Meanwhile, much of the world stigmatised the queer community, viewing the pandemic as a deservingly “Gay Plague”. The tour was branded “one of the most satanic shows in the history of humanity” by Pope John Paul II.

As an LGBTQIA musician, Sam Smith is making history. Literally. Topping the Billboard Top 100 with ‘Unholy’, Smith and Petras made history as the first openly trans and non-binary musicians to accomplish this feat. Immediately after its release, the track went viral on TikTok and it’s largely stayed that way. Their song – in all its queerness – was the kinky, sex positive soundtrack to 2022.

The bottom line is this: sex has always been present in modern pop music, both lyrically and visually. That isn’t a controversial statement. Christina Aguilera in ‘Dirrty’, Miley Cyrus in ‘Wrecking Ball’, Madonna in ‘Like A Prayer’, Britney Spears in ‘I’m A Slave For You’… the list goes on. It’s long, and it’s fabulous.

Here, Smith has been targeted not only because their video is sex-positive, but because its content comes from an overtly queer, plus-sized person. That vitriol has been made possible because of the homophobic, fatphobic ideas that are still omnipresent in society; whether conscious or unconscious. And something needs to change.

Sam Smith is out here producing the most authentic music of their career. That much is true. Let us celebrate that in peace and enter our slutty villain era together, in harmony.

Words: Eleanor Noyce

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