Sam Smith’s latest music video for “I’m Not Here To Make Friends” seems to have made the pop star quite a few enemies.
The video – which includes scantily clad dancers gyrating on beds and under streams of water – has sparked strong reactions on Twitter, where users have attacked and defended the singer.
Smith, who identifies as nonbinary and uses they/them pronouns, dons a sleek black dress, a fluffy hot pink gown and a corset with nipple pasties while singing about wanting to find a lover.
Experts say the reaction has less to do with the video’s suggestive nature and more to do with the person at the center of it.
Sam Smith slammed by critics; supporters say only thing ‘gross’ is the backlash
Following the video’s release on Friday, people have slammed the singer for flaunting their sexuality.
Most of the backlash involves disparaging comments about Smith’s body and the video’s risqué imagery. In one scene, Smith appears to wear a thong, in addition to nipple pasties, a corset and bedazzled gloves and a hat, while surrounded by backup dancers whose skin-tight costumes have openings that reveal their rears.
The backlash also prompted an outpouring of support from Smith’s fans, who defended the singer’s self-expression.
“Seeing Sam Smith be targeted because of their appearance is… really really disgusting,” @GagaManiaUK wrote. “As someone who struggles with how they look I don’t understand how you can say some of those things to another human being, it’s just so… gross.”
In an interview with The Sunday Times published Jan. 22, Smith opened up about struggling with their body image in the past.
“Within my industry there is definitely that question of, ‘What should a pop star look like?'” Smith said. “When I was 25 I came off tour exhausted. I looked to role models in the body world. Every time I went to the pool I felt self-conscious, but I forced myself to take my top off.”
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Gender identity, sexuality and body image “are all interconnected,” says Abigail Saguy, a sociology professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. As a result, Smith’s video, which rebels against social expectations of both gender and body type, has provoked backlash on multiple fronts.
“There’s certain things that are normative, expected in society – heterosexuality and gender conformity being very strong, normative expectations and thinness being another,” Saguy says. “People police that. When you step out of the lines and behave in ways that are nonconforming, there’s often a backlash and social cost to that.”
That social cost is often lesser or nonexistent for people who flaunt their sexualities while fulfilling gender and beauty standards, says LGBTQ therapist Miriam Geiger. For those who don’t, however, the social response can be brutal. Lil Nas X, for instance, came under intense criticism for his music video for “Montero (Call Me By Your Name),” which saw him dance suggestively with the devil — something the openly gay rapper and singer later said was a play on anti-gay religious rhetoric. Lizzo, an outspoken advocate for body positivity, also frequently faces backlash for her wardrobe and sexual self-expression.
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Body dissatisfaction rampant among LGBTQ youth, research shows
Geiger adds that Smith’s video also speaks to body image struggles within the LGBTQ community. According to research published this month by The Trevor Project, a non-profit dedicated to LGBTQ suicide prevention, nearly nine in 10 LGBTQ youth report feeling dissatisfied with their bodies, with rates of body dissatisfaction 10% higher among transgender and nonbinary youth.
“As LGBTQ youth across the U.S. regularly consume media and messages related to their bodies, we must do a better job of centering acceptance for a diversity of body types – not just those that have been deemed ‘ideal’ in the eyes of mainstream media,” Myeshia Price, director of research science at The Trevor Project, said in a statement. “Historically, media portrayals of LGBTQ people have been monolithic and often fail to represent the realities of how LGBTQ people look and live.”
By violating traditional beauty and gender standards, Smith could inspire LGBTQ people to find more confidence within themselves, Geiger says.
“People are on all sorts of journeys with their body image, but if you saw this (music video) and thought, ‘Maybe tomorrow I could feel better about who I am and how I look and how people perceive me,’ or ‘I could care less about how people perceive me,’ that could be a really good thing.”
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