Billy Connolly used to talk about arsehole detectors. Flamboyant trousers. Beards dyed in primary colours. These things upset the arseholes so much, just by existing, that arseholes reveal themselves by complaining loudly. Sam Smith is a perfect arsehole detector. Their body, their music, their gender, their pronouns, their videos: arseholes can’t help but comment loudly and persistently.

If you want to find the bigots in a room, mention Sam Smith. Fatphobia, homophobia, transphobia, ageism, femmephobia, civility politics and denial will bubble up within seconds. Think of the children. The children who never watch music videos, because it’s 2023 and the ITV Chart Show and Top of the Pops and CD:UK and MTV are not in every home. They’re not up late on a Friday night watching Sam perform on Graham Norton’s BBC show either, unless some parenting issues are afoot.

So, Rear Admiral “Mary Whitehouse was right”, if you object to Sam Smith then you are an arsehole and you have been detected. How dare Sam transgress the “no fats, no fems” rule? And “no kink at Pride”? In their own music video for I’m Not Here To Make Friends, which doesn’t do anything that Relax or Justify My Love or Alejandro didn’t do first. “I’m a blessing of a body to love on”? Yes, bb, you are.

Villanelle, a fictional character played by Jodie Comer in Killing Eve, is allowed to wear a big flamboyant pink frock, but the “dress however you want” crew don’t like it when someone they perceive to be male does it. Harry Styles can hint at bisexuality and gender play, but Sam – who openly loves and fucks men and is actually out as non-binary – is embarrassing for being themselves.

Mumsnet deleted a thread where the outraged gender critical cops growled “at least Holly Johnson [of Frankie Goes To Hollywood] wore a suit” and pages of ad hominem attacks tore apart Sam’s body, moral character and gender. Talk of handlers and poor mental health robs Sam of their agency – heaven forbid an artist should make art. The same conversations were had about Miley Cyrus, once she escaped the shackles of Hannah Montana, and nobody doubts now that she owns her own sexuality and career.

Whole academic articles and dissertations have been written about Sam Smith’s importance as an openly queer musician. They aren’t brand new. Their stylised intimacy is utterly authentic and wildly emotional, and that makes repressed Brits feel uncomfortable.

Sam should have the decency to be buttoned up like George Michael pre-Outside, or as thin
and pretty as fellow radically open artist Olly Alexander (of Years & Years). While anyone who is trans or non-binary and our allies are dubbed misogynists, there is misogyny deep at the heart of this furore. Women are expected to have a sexualised image in their music videos, unless they’re fat or Black (or both): WAP is just uncouth.

The same people who said it was woke nonsense when student unions banned Blurred Lines by Robin Thicke are now saying it’s disgusting that Sam Smith’s video contains sexual content because it isn’t something they personally find hot and they think feminised “male” bodies are repellent.

If they’re going to be our moral arbiters, the complainants need to at least be consistent. They liked Madonna when she was young and now think she should put it away – her entire persona. Sam is over 30, it’s undignified to have their body and desires on show. Health at every size, but only if it’s completely robbed of sexuality. Anyone can wear a corset, unless they have a body that can fill one and then it’s too overt. Too horny. Too wrong.

Lil Nas X literally dances with the devil, but he’s young and thin and beautiful. Even he is seen as too much, because he’s Black and gay and not ashamed. I’ve seen complaints about the fetish gear – of the kind Rihanna literally sells as part of her clothing line and that fills at least one Strictly professionals group dance every year.

It’s not even extreme, it’s anodyne stuff of the kind you can literally buy on the high street and even see Alex from admin wearing in the queue for Rocky Horror on tour. The element of the video that freaks people out most, however, is the water sprays that come straight from Frankie/Relax.

Sam Smith wearing a corset, nipple pasties a bejewelled sailor hat and long shiny gloves holding their tongue out while being sprayed with water in a fancy house surrounded by queers
Sam Smith wearing a corset, nipple pasties a bejewelled sailor hat and long shiny gloves holding their tongue out while being sprayed with water in a fancy house surrounded by queers

Oh god, Stephen, “multiple golden showers”? It’s clearly not actual piss, justa cheeky hint, and I’m sorry you can’t even find a professional to pay to help you deal with your feelings about watersports. Really the whole song is a fuck you, Sam Smith is not here to make friends and they don’t need to mollify arseholes high on shame and unfulfilled kinks.

Judith Peraino, Professor of Music at Cornell University, points out that music provides “space and time wherein gender and sexuality lose clear definition” – and that is a major part of its appeal. Music is itself queer; it queers the edges of things society tells us are fixed and gives us a space to imagine and express ourselves differently.

Those creating a moral panic about queer theory, akin to Chris Rufo’s manufactured crisis around critical race theory, would say that queer theorists are perverting music into destroying boundaries and meaning. Actually, we’re just opening the gates they’re so desperate to keep, finding new levels of meaning and entering consensual explorations of the possible.

Or, in other words;

be free and find joy. Let’s dance!

This article was funded by LGBT+ Futures: Equity Fund is a two-year £786,000 partnership between Consortium and The National Lottery Community Fund, designed to help community-led and grassroot organisations supporting some of the most under-represented and marginalised LGBT+ communities. Read more here.