Staff Writer Jessica Anne Rose examines what Sam Smith’s identity means in our modern world.
At age thirty, singer and songwriter Sam Smith has won five Grammys, an Oscar, a Golden Globe, three BRIT awards, composed the theme song to 2015 Bond film Spectre, and has amassed 45 billion multi-platform streams per their Spotify biography. I found all this from a quick Google search, but only after sifting through various articles popping up surrounding everything they wear, being openly insulted by Noel Gallagher for no apparent reason, wearing corsets in a music video, and being condemned for their ‘Satanic’ performance at the Grammys. I never set out to become a fan of Sam Smith. Sure, I listened to their songs on the radio, but until last year – upon the release of their song Unholy – I hadn’t seen them in mainstream news.
Smith came out as non-binary in 2019, which I remember causing outrage simply because they chose to use they/them pronouns. The outrage bewildered me as I had come across non-binary people online and was well-acquainted with gender-neutral pronouns. Being seventeen at the time I was naive and assumed the negativity would die down once people became familiar with what it means to be non-binary. All Smith had asked for was to be addressed by a different pronoun, which isn’t difficult. This was until the amount of pure hatred continually directed towards Smith for everything they do – every outfit they wear, every song they sing – became all I ever heard in reference to their previously revered name.
One of the most common threats hurled at the LGBTQ+ community is that we’re all headed to hell. It doesn’t matter whether you have Christian beliefs or not; you’re automatically headed to their hell for something you can’t control. Smith followed in the footsteps of gay rapper Lil Nas X by taking the ‘hellbound narrative’ and running with it, profiting from the accusations of being akin to the devil by performing as what these hateful people claimed they both were. It’s empowering to see them take a concept of something so vile that all LGBTQ+ people are threatened with at some point in their life, twisting vitriol into inspiration. Smith’s Grammy performance alongside Kim Petras was legendary and it felt like the whole awards ceremony only began when the pair performed. Do I think Smith actually ‘worships Satan?’ No. I think they realised they would be harassed no matter what they did and followed in Madonna’s footsteps by playing into the controversy.
Outside of music, Smith seems to be a lovely person. I’ve always enjoyed their interviews and the way they build up other people, such as giving Kim Petras the full time for the pair’s Grammy award acceptance speech for Best Pop Duo Performance. I decided to listen to their new album, Gloria, and found myself quite emotional when I reached the track No God. The album lives up to its name with a reverent sound throughout, incorporating gospel music and a gospel choir throughout. No God’s lyrics are quite genius. Smith speaks empathetically and directly to those who hate them for their gender identity, trying to persuade them to meet them halfway. The chorus is a powerful dual narrative where the lyrics can be interpreted as directed towards Smith themself, as well as those who despise them.
“You’re no god (no), you’re no leader (no)
You’re no saint (no), you’re no teacher (no)
You’re no god (ain’t nobody wanna hear your voice)
No god (when nobody’s tryna save you, save you)
No god (give up, no), no leader (wake up, no)
You’re no saint (shut up, no), you’re no teacher (that’s enough now, no)”
Each track flows into the other with no stops in between and features two interludes paying homage to other LGBTQ+ legends. I simply don’t know how Smith can remain so gentle and compassionate with all they have endured and will continue to endure. If they had chosen to hide and pretend to be straight and male, maybe none of this hatred would’ve erupted. If they chose to cover up and wear conservative clothing, would the public tear their appearance apart? Or would they suspect Smith was LGBTQ+ and relentlessly hound and make a mockery of them until they came out, like they did to Heartstopper’s Kit Connor. Like people try to do to Shawn Mendes, Jenna Ortega or Harry Styles. I recall a boy telling me I should be grateful for not having to conceal my sexuality, because if I wasn’t happy with what we as a community had, straight people might as well take it all away from us again. Don’t get me wrong, everyday I thank those who fought before me who cleared the path for me to just exist as a lesbian in 2023. But homophobia has not disappeared, it has changed to adapt to the times. Drag Queens are being banned because of pedophilia accusations. Gender affirming healthcare is silently being taken away. Conversion ‘therapy’ still exists, and so does the stigma around HIV and AIDS.
The hatred experienced by Sam Smith and all other queer artists in the public eye is only the tip of the iceberg of how LGBTQ+ people are harassed, abused, and killed only for existing. People like Smith remain important to us because they offer us a beacon of hope, that despite
everything, you can be yourself and still be successful. We need people like Sam Smith in the same way we need our yearly Pride parade – to remind ourselves that underneath our grief and trauma we deserve to be proud to exist, to be celebrated and to be seen.