There was a time when Sam Smith's talent was uncontested, lauded for their angelic voice. From the heartbreak on "I Know I'm Not the Only One" to their Oscar-winning James Bond theme, "Writing's on the Wall," the British singer stole the hearts of listeners after breaking into the mainstream in the 2010s.
These days, however, it seems like Smith's talent hasn't shielded them from being labeled "vulgar" and "Satanic." At a time when LGBTQ rights are being threatened, Smith is loudly embracing their queerness and putting it at the forefront of their Gloria Tour. And with the tour set to stop at the Kaseya Center in downtown Miami on July 25, Smith is venturing into a state that is actively dismantling the rights of LGBTQ individuals.
Perhaps all this vitriol and bad-faith criticism started after Smith's performance at this year's Grammy Awards, where they sang their hit "Unholy," featuring Kim Petras, a trans woman. Conservative critics quickly jumped on the bandwagon, with blowhards like Dinesh D'Souza calling Smith's performance a "#Santanic ritual."
The conspiracy theories of Smith's flirtations with the occult quickly took hold after that. Dive into the bowls of the internet, and you'll come across videos like YouTuber Black Pegasus' titled "Sam Smith SOLD his soul to SATAN & I have PROOF!" (Spoiler alert: He doesn't.) You'll also find Reddit and Facebook pages pedaling the Satanic conspiracy.
The suspicion that Smith is Satanic became so widespread that Rolling Stone published an article claiming that right-wing conspirators are "using Pfizer's sponsorship to fuel conspiracies that Satan is controlling the federal government and coming for your kids." The article isn't wrong. Just look at Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, both who jumped on the Smith-hate bandwagon, with Cruz commenting, "This...is...evil," and Greene responding, "American Christians need to get to work."
Still, all publicity is good publicity. Despite the conservative backlash, "Unholy" charted at number one in the U.S. and the UK, revitalizing the singer's career after a string of poor-performing singles. Their fourth album, Gloria, also debuted at number seven on the Billboard 200.
After the runaway success of "Unholy," Smith announced they were going on tour this year. The Gloria Tour kicked off in Europe in April, raising the ire of conservative figures. British blowhard Piers Morgan devoted a whole segment to Smith's tour on the UK's TalkTV, calling it "attention-seeking vulgarity," which is rich coming from someone like Morgan, the biggest attention-seeker of them all.
Smith also performed at the Mad Cool Festival in Madrid, after which internet trolls proclaimed that the show was "absolutely disgusting" and that Smith was being a "pervert in front of children."
The Gloria Tour is set to cross the Atlantic and kick off its North American leg in Miami, where conservative pundits will be salivating to give their immediate disapproval. But you know what's the best part of any concert? You don't have to buy a ticket to a show you don't want to attend. Concert-goers have to willingly buy a ticket to see Smith's performance, which feels far from the idea that their "Satanism" is coming for the children. Never mind that a federal judge has blocked Florida's anti-drag bill (SB 1438), meaning Smith won't be in violation of any (unconstitutional) laws during their Miami performance.
Despite Florida's current puritanical wave, seeing sexuality expressed on stage isn't exactly new. During her Circus Tour in 2009, Britney Spears performed blindfolded and with a whip. And in 2019, for her Madame X Tour, Madonna's performance featured overt themes of deviance and sexuality. But it's not just modern performers. Elvis Prestley was known for his hip-thrusting and lavish outfits, and David Bowie pushed the boundaries of male fashion into a queer space — the list goes on.
But whether or not Smith's show is age-appropriate, there seems to be a target on the singer's back that hasn't existed for other performers — and it might have everything to do with the rising anti-LGBTQ sentiments.
Smith's queerness isn't anything new. They came out as gay in 2014, nearly ten years ago, and as nonbinary in 2019. And since then, Smith has gone on tour twice, including stops in Florida, facing little to no backlash. In other words, Smith has always toured as a proud and out member of the LGBTQ population. But now, in the wake of anti-LGBTQ laws and bigoted leaders, their queerness suddenly poses a threat.
Thankfully, the suit-wearing, ballad-singing gay performer of 2015 has flourished into a modern-day pop star, meaning they'll be dancing sensually, wearing skimpy outfits, and producing smash hits regardless of what the conservative pundits have to say about it.
Sam Smith. With Jessie Reyez. 8 p.m. Tuesday, July 25, at Kaseya Center, 601 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 786-777-1000; kaseyacenter.com. Tickets cost $30.25 to $144.75 via ticketmaster.com.