Sam Smith has just released an iconic music video for their new song ‘I’m Not Here To Make Friends’ – and some people are already clamouring to scrutinise it.
The video is actually a playful celebration of sex and music with Sam (who uses the pronouns they/them) dressed in wonderfully camp outfits such as deep vibrant pink, fluffy coat, a corset, and an enormous headdress, while being fawned over by their dancers in similarly camp outfits in a castle.
Sam deliberately acts outrageously in the video, throwing champagne at the dancers and cheekily patting their bums – and that’s before we get to the scene where everyone dresses up in bondage clothing (you can watch the full, four-minute video here).
But, it was quickly pulled apart by critics for its overtly sexual nature, with people claiming it was “hyper-sexualised” and “normalising pornography”, as reported in the Daily Mail.
It’s worth remembering though, that music is so often a medium for artists to push boundaries.
In fact, some of the most celebrated artists have secured their names in the history books by refusing to listen to their critics, and instead celebrating stigmatised subjects – like sex and gender (as Queen did in their 1984 hit ‘I want to break free’) – to create a landmark cultural moment.
Think about Rihanna’s 2011 hit, ’S&M’ where she famously sings, ‘sex in the air, I don’t care’ and ‘chains and whips excite me’, or Christina Aguilera’s 2002 ‘Dirrty’ which came with a similarly sexually-changed video.
All of these songs caused a stir at the time of their release for being too sexual.
But, in 2023, are we really still that prudish?
Then, there’s the argument that Sam’s video will upset children, amid calls for there to be age restrictions put on viewing the clip.
Journalist Alex Phillips, former MEP for the Brexit Party, claimed it was not about how Sam “dresses or their pronouns” but that “you cannot protect your kids from things like this”.
Since when was it an artist’s responsibility to be PG all the time, especially when they have not marketed themselves to younger age groups?
Miley Cyrus faced some backlash when she embraced her solo music career after rising to fame through Hannah Montana, and started releasing videos like ‘Wrecking Ball’ (she was naked for most of it, and licked a hammer).
Others pointed out that Sam is a member of the LGBTQ+ community, and suggested that is why they’re under so much scrutiny, rather than the actual content of the video.
Guardian columnist Owen Jones tweeted: “Sex has always been a running theme in modern pop music and music videos often flaunt it.
“But Sam Smith as made the criminal offence of being a) queer and b) not skinny.”
He added: “To be honest, the Sam Smith video is pretty fucking tame and if you’re shocked by it, you are deeply, deeply sad.”
Indeed, Sam has previously revealed how they endured intense and cruel backlash since coming out as non-binary.
Despite this, the song and video actually seem to reflect a lot of self-love – one of the lyrics is ‘I’m a blessing of a body’ – and honours the more lavish elements of LGBTQ+ culture, all the while putting two fingers up at their critics through song title itself: ‘I’m not here to make friends.’
It’s an admirable (and joyful) response from someone who has been so open about their personal struggles, especially considering the previous backlash they’ve had just for being themselves.
Sam has previously explained the struggles they had with their own body image, before announcing in a 2019 Instagram post that they were finally in a happy place with their own appearance.
They said they planned to “reclaim my body and stop trying to change this chest and these hips and these curves that my mum and dad made and love so unconditionally.”
But, most importantly, Sam is still proud of the music they have created.
Over the weekend, they tweeted a picture of themselves in the most ornate outfit from the video, in what may have been a nod to the criticism. They added the caption: “Never too much.”
Speaking to BBC’s The Graham Norton Show, Sam even suggested they were delighted by some of the outrage they’d sparked, and that the video prompted the favourite headline they’ve ever received: ‘Sam Smith Horrifies OAPs’.
So enough of the pearl-clutching. Aren’t we all we past criticising someone just because of how they self-identify, their body image or how they dress? And can’t we just enjoy the video for what it is – harmless fun?