Sam Smith has undergone a remarkable metamorphosis. The singer known for their soulful voice – who rose to fame with songs like “Stay With Me” and Disclosure’s “Latch,” who used to dress in grey suits and natter politely on Saturday night television – now finds themselves at the centre of a culture war over their performances of their new album, Gloria, which includes the 2022 hit “Unholy.”
This song, along by a video of Smith wearing devil horns in a sex club, has made quite a sensation. Smith came out as homosexual in 2014 and non-binary in 2019, and their latest work has embraced an open display of sexuality and queer culture. “Unholy” also includes a lyric by German singer Kim Petras, who became the first trans musician to win a Grammy in February when the song won Best Pop Group Performance.
Some criticised Smith’s performances of “Unholy” at the Grammys and the Brits for invoking the devil: More than 100 complaints were filed against the Brits’ performance, in which Smith dressed black leather fetishwear and a top hat with devil horns. “You don’t have to be super religious to be disturbed by Sam Smith’s devil-worshiping performance,” one user tweeted. “This Sam Smith performance is literally a tribute to Satan,” says another.
And now we’re back, fresh off the first night of Smith’s Gloria tour in Sheffield. They’ve been accused of “Satan-worship,” “glamorising Satan,” and “literally praising Satan.” They’ve been continuously labelled as “satanic,” a term that suddenly appears to be flung about as if we’re in the dark ages and everyone goes to confession on Sundays instead of ordering goods from Amazon Prime to be delivered the same day and scrolling through the MailOnline. “Why does he need to literally worship the devil as openly and abhorrently as possible to sing his songs?” said Andrew Tate.
It’s not the first time in recent years that an LGBTQ music singer has been accused of satanic practises. Lil Nas X, an American rapper, was chastised for his music video for “Call Me By Your Name,” in which he gets tempted by the serpent in the Garden of Eden, slides down a pole to hell, and offers Satan a lap dance. When Demi Lovato, a non-binary artist, published the album cover for their album Holy Fvck last year, depicting them lying on a crucifix-shaped bed in a bondage suit, the ASA prohibited it in the UK due to the offence it may cause Christians.
This is essentially an extension of a long-running occurrence. “Satanic panic” originated in the 1980s as a result of a conspiracy idea claiming ritual abuse was taking place throughout the United States in the name of Satan. Despite the fact that the conspiracy concerning a satanic cult was exposed by the US government in 1992, satanic hysteria persisted. Heavy metal, Dungeons & Dragons, and Harry Potter were all supposed to corrupt teenagers because of their Satanic or occult ties. A prosecuting lawyer described Amanda Knox, who was wrongfully convicted of murdering her flatmate in 2007, as “Lucifer-like, satanic, demonic”; now, the far-right movement QAnon is based on the idea that a group of satanic paedophiles conspired against Donald Trump during his presidency.
Child abuse is often at the root of worries about Satan worship, and Sam Smith is no exception. People are outraged that there was no age limit for the event, as well as images of a little child greeting Smith after the show. At first sight, it’s easy to see why the films that are spreading seem to be improper for children. Smith is grinding and licking suggestively while wearing nipple tassels, a sequined thong, fishnet tights and thigh high boots. Yet it’s impossible to foresee comparable outrage over similar footage of female pop artists in equally revealing costumes using similarly provocative dancing movements. There may be slut-shaming and disapproval, but the outrage aimed towards Smith is plainly motivated by homophobia.
Most individuals who describe Smith as “satanic” have never given Christianity or Satan a second consideration, but when they feel threatened by anything, they are glad to weaponize it and join on the bandwagon. One Twitter user remarked, “Fallen completely into wokeness,” as if “wokeness” were the same as the depths of hell.