Sam Smith and Kim Petras won the Grammy for Best Pop Duo Performance for their 2022 hit “Unholy.” Petras was the first transgender woman to win this award, and Smith, the first non-binary person to win, graciously gave her the floor to deliver a heartfelt acceptance speech, in which she honored the trans artists who came before her.
"Sam [Smith] graciously wanted me to accept this award, because I'm the first transgender woman to win this award." Watch Kim Petras' acceptance speech from the #Grammys: pic.twitter.com/jQ52Sq0t6f
— Variety (@Variety) February 6, 2023
The duo sported matching red ensembles, and later performed the song during the show. The song is famously a departure from Smith’s more introspective ballads, and discusses the notion that homosexuality is still viewed as a sin by several world religions. With this theme in mind, Smith and Petras delivered a tongue in cheek performance wearing devil horns and the inclusion of a Hell-ish backdrop.
The performance was announced by Madonna, who has had several performances receive public criticism, notably for her 1984 MTV VMA’s performance of “Like a Virgin.” The veteran performer was sure to remind audiences that artistic controversies are only meant to spark deeper conversations. Madonna is also an avid supporter of the LGBTQ+ community, and was likely referring to their shared criticism of Christianity’s homophobia problem.
.@Madonna: "Are you ready for a little controversy?" #GRAMMYs pic.twitter.com/uvwduBhaHg
— MTV NEWS (@MTVNEWS) February 6, 2023
The performance drew comparisons to Lil Nas X’s 2021 hit “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)”, which featured similar imagery. Lil Nas X has spoken about his childhood in Georgia, at the heart of the Bible Belt, and the role it has played in his artistic journey. Some music critics called out the ongoing religious rooted homophobia that inspires the same performances that primarily Christian communities condemn.
Quick note for the "'UnHoLy wAs DeMoNiC" crowd:
If you want queer artists to stop doing performances involving hellish imagery (Lil Nas X, Sam Smith, Kim Petras, etc), maybe stop taking literally every opportunity to tell them that they're "going to hell." Food for thought!
— Stephen Daw (@StephenRDaw) February 6, 2023
Christian media personalities were surprisingly divided on the performance. Amid mounting criticisms of several sects of Christianity promoting homophobic beliefs, some Christians understood where the performance was coming from. Moments like these tend to distract from the progress that some churches have made towards more inclusion of LGBTQ+ people, notably Pope Francis’ recent comments condemning the criminalization of homosexuality.
I’m a literal Christian minister. Sam Smith’s song is called #Unholy and they created a piece of performance art around that theme. They weren’t saying we should all be satanists.
Know what is evil? Kids being killed in schools, families living in poverty, racist hate, etc, etc https://t.co/oJNrpJTcuD
— Rev. E. Carrington Heath (@echeath) February 6, 2023
While some Christian media personalities cited the much larger world issues to be concerned about rather than a Grammys performance, others took to social media to describe what they perceive as Hollywood’s “evils.”
If as a Christian, you think we are reaching when we talk about the dominance and normalization of Satan worship in pop music, you need discernment. Sam Smith’s performance at the Grammy’s last night was satanic, gory. No, it’s not art; it’s symbolic of who they serve. pic.twitter.com/7pz2BlE9ei
— Solomon Buchi (@Solomon_Buchi) February 6, 2023
One TikTok creator went as far as saying that she believes Sam Smith and Kim Petras sold their souls for fame and success.
not the devil horns #samsmith #kimpetras #unholy #grammys2023
Several Republican politicians were quick to condemn the performance, including Senator Ted
Cruz and Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene.
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) February 6, 2023
Sam Smith’s satanic performance at the Grammy’s ended with a Pfizer commercial. You can’t get it more on the nose than that. Pfizer and Hollywood deserve each other. pic.twitter.com/4HhFQemiCi
— Robby Starbuck (@robbystarbuck) February 6, 2023
Greene specifically returned to her roots, citing conspiracy theories that the COVID-19 vaccines are tied to “satanic rituals.”
The Grammy’s featured Sam Smith’s demonic performance and was sponsored by Pfizer.
And the Satanic Church now has an abortion clinic in NM that requires its patients to perform a satanic ritual before services.
American Christians need to get to work.
— Marjorie Taylor Greene 🇺🇸 (@mtgreenee) February 6, 2023
Other onlookers pointed out that the performance was relatively tame in comparison to 80s awards show performances from rock and metal bands that portrayed similar themes.
Maga is flipping the fack out about Sam Smith’s Grammy performance. Clearly these numbnuts weren’t alive in the 80’s when we had real satan in music, like Motley Crue’s Shout at the Devil and Iron Maiden’s Number of the Beast. 🤣😂🤘pic.twitter.com/6Bo6kvhrNz
— MM (@adgirlMM) February 6, 2023
Despite its controversies, Sam Smith and Kim Petras’ song and performance still made history, and fans of the pair applauded their dedication to being unapologetically themselves.
Sam Smith Sam Smith
2014-2018 2019-2023 pic.twitter.com/xawJc0EXep
— gil (@groupiexcx) January 27, 2023
Kim Petras thanking Sophie during her winning the first ever Grammy won by an openly transgender woman (Wendy Carlos was closeted at the time she won) in the year that trans rights are under attack more than ever in history…
Yeah, I cried.
You deserve it. pic.twitter.com/ncsa2CWUTa
— Erin Reed (@ErinInTheMorn) February 6, 2023
In the words of Madonna last night, artists who push boundaries in the name of positive progress for marginalized communities are still “seen, heard, and appreciated”, no matter what critics have to say.