Call the ‘think of the children’ backlash over Sam Smith what it is: Bigotry and fatphobia
You don’t care about explicit music videos, you just can’t stand seeing fat queer people living their truth
My interest in Sam Smith is, at best, passing. During the adult contemporary boom of the early 2010s when they had a Lewis Capaldian and George Ezra-esque grip on the mum-pop chart with a load of tepid love songs and album covers with them looking pensive in Moss Bros suits. As the decade grew, so did Sam – coming out as non-binary, making sleeker and more adventurous pop like Dancing With a Stranger and How Do You Sleep and then by the 2020s getting to number one with the likes of Unholy – the first ever UK number one for a non-binary person and trans woman, alongside Kim Petras. Sam Smith has blossomed into the person they want to be – doing away with their mum-friendly image with a new focus on queer self-love and, well, fun! I personally still will never be a stan – and that’s okay. But with Sam Smith evolving into something more unapologetically queer and liberated, criticism that their aesthetic and visuals are somehow destroying the minds of children have followed suit. You might dismiss the vitriol towards Sam Smith as right wing pearl clutching, but I’m sad to say that a lot of the backlash is a call coming from inside the house.
‘I’m not here to make friends’
The catalyst for the Sam Smith discourse that has plagued Twitter this weekend is the release of Sam’s fourth album Gloria, a record I found myself enjoying more than anything they’ve put out previously. Specifically, the release of the record’s fourth single I’m Not Here to Make Friends and its accompanying video.
I’ll make no bones about the fact that the video is provocative, it’s queer, it’s referencing kink. Sam is in corsets, dancing with sexy backup dancers and at one point, simulates piss play (it’s just water sprayed, but it’s implied). This is nothing wilder than you’d see on Drag Race or on a night out in literally any gay club, but of course because it’s in mainstream pop music the pearls are being clutched with a vice grip.
The vitriol needs to stop
Before the video even came out, you only need to look under Sam Smith’s album announcement to see the hatred levelled at them from Stan Twitter. As trans and non-binary hate gets more prevalent in the streets and in the media, it’s so disheartening to see people so openly not care about sending endless abuse about everything from someone’s looks, weight and beyond. Weirder still when, to my knowledge, Sam Smith has done absolutely nothing to warrant it besides be visibly queer and show off their body.
“I can deal with not Googling myself or reading the comment, that’s something I can control. What people don’t realise with trans non-binary people in the UK is that it’s happening in the street. I’m being abused in the street. Verbally. More than I ever have. Someone spat at me.
“If that’s happening to me, and I’m famous, I’m a pop star – can you imagine what other queer kids are feeling?” Sam Smith opened up to Zane Lowe about what they go through daily – but if that’s not enough, they have to contend with queer discourse about their appearance and antics every time they log on.
‘Think of the children’ outrage is ridiculous
For the last 40 years of pop music, sex has been at the forefront. Everything from choruses that go “I’m horny, horny horny horny” to I Touch Myself, from music videos featuring Britney Spears writhing in breathy sweat as she purred that she was a slave for us, or watching the dancers thrust and pump it away in the music video for Eric Prydz’ Call On Me, it’s not like Sam Smith’s simulated piss play moment is the only time anything insinuatingly filthy hit the mainstream.
From the way people are going on, you’d think Mary Whitehouse had ruled the ratings system for the past few decades. Britney Spears famously said how it’s not her job to parent America’s children when probingly asked if her videos and songs had become too provocative. All these years later, it isn’t Sam’s job either.
Would this be happening if Sam looked different?
I can’t help but think if Sam Smith looked like Olly Alexander or Troye Sivan, would we even be having this conversation – would we be seeing any backlash? I hate to say it, but I don’t think we would. The mainstream public AND the gay community of vicious “slay queen” twinks hate to see a fat person not care about being fat. They hate to see a fat person wearing clothes that they think fat people should feel ashamed to wear. They cannot process it, because they are still living a life where they’ve been indoctrinated into thinking that being fat is something to be ashamed of. It truly is bleak.
I hope Sam Smith maintains the above it attitude they’ve kept up so far regarding this backlash – they deserve to be happy, the deserve to make the art they want to make. You don’t have to add their new album to your Spotify playlists to vocally stand with them against bigotry and hate.
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