Sam Smith’s Music Video Divided the Internet: What the Backlash Means
Sam Smith’s latest music video for “I’m Not Here To Make Friends” seems to have made some enemies for the pop star.
The video – which shows scantily clad dancers twirling on beds and under streams of water – has drawn backlash on Twitter, where users have attacked and defended the singer.
Smith, who identifies as non-binary and uses she/she pronouns, wears an elegant black dress, a fluffy pink dress and a corset with nipple pasties while singing about wanting to find a lover.
Experts say the reaction has less to do with the suggestive nature of the video and more to do with the person at the center.
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After the video was released on Friday, people slammed the singer for flaunting her sexuality.
Most of the backlash consists of derogatory comments about Smith’s body and the video’s risqué imagery. In one scene, Smith appears to be wearing a thong in addition to nipple pasties, a corset and iridescent gloves and hat while surrounded by backup dancers, whose skin-tight costumes have openings that reveal their bottoms.
The backlash also sparked a wave of support from Smith’s fans, who defended the singer’s self-expression.
“To see Sam Smith being targeted for her looks is…really really disgusting,” wrote @GagaManiaUK. “As someone who struggles with their looks, 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 on January 22, Smith opened up about struggling with her body image in the past.
“In my line of work, there’s definitely a question, ‘What should a pop star look like?'” Smith said. “At 25, I came home from the tour exhausted. I looked for role models in the physical world. Every time I went in the pool I felt unsafe, but I forced myself to take off my top.”
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The Sam Smith controversy highlights two key issues, experts say
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 societal expectations around gender and body type, has provoked backlash on multiple fronts.
“There are certain things that are normative and expected in society — heterosexuality and gender conformity are very strong, normative expectations and thinness are something else,” says Saguy. “People monitor that. If you step out of line and behave in a non-compliant way, it often has a backlash and a social cost.”
These social costs are often lower or non-existent for people who flaunt their sexuality while meeting gender and beauty standards, says LGBTQ therapist Miriam Geiger. However, for those who don’t, the social reaction can be brutal. Lil Nas X, for example, was heavily criticized for his music video for “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” in which he danced lewdly with the devil — something the openly gay rapper and singer later said he was playing with Anti-gay religious rhetoric. An outspoken advocate of body positivity, Lizzo also frequently faces backlash for her wardrobe and sexual self-expression.
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Research shows that physical dissatisfaction is widespread among LGBTQ youth
Geiger adds that Smith’s video also addresses the body image struggle within the LGBTQ community. According to a study released this month by The Trevor Project, an LGBTQ suicide prevention nonprofit, nearly nine in 10 LGBTQ youth report dissatisfaction with their bodies, with body dissatisfaction ranking highest among transgender and nonbinary people adolescents is 10% higher.
“As LGBTQ youth in the US routinely consume media and messages related to their bodies, we need to take better care of centering acceptance for a diversity of body types — not just those that mainstream media sees as… apply ‘ideally’. “Myeshia Price, director of scientific research at The Trevor Project, said in a statement. “Historically, media portrayals of LGBTQ people have been monolithic and often do not reflect the reality of how LGBTQ people look and live.”
By violating traditional beauty and gender standards, Smith could inspire LGBTQ people to find more self-confidence, says Geiger.
“People are on all kinds of journeys with their body image, but if you see this[music video]and think, ‘Maybe tomorrow I could feel better about who I am and how I look and how people perceive me,’ or ‘I could caring less about how people perceive me, that could be a really good thing.
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