Although it has become the punchline to metal’s big joke over the years, the Satanic panic of the ‘80s and early ‘90s had a lot of very serious real world consequences. Unchecked moral panic led to a number of arrests based on meritless claims of ritualized sexual abuse in the Mcmartin preschool case. The subsequent three year trial didn’t yield a single conviction. A few teenage psychopaths blamed Slayer’s use of satanism in artistic license for inspiring them to assault and kill a teenage girl, causing the band to be taken to court by the victim’s parents numerous times. The West Memphis Three were scapegoated as satanists and underwent years of unthinkable abuse at the hands of the legal and penal system for a crime they had nothing to do with.
In more recent times, QAnon adherents have breathed a horrible new life into conspiracy theories about widespread satanic sexual abuse. It’s one thing to write these lunatics off as simple kooks, but elements of their doctrine have slipped into the right wing mainstream. The target has migrated away from heavy metal, though. These days, satanic moral outrage in contemporary culture is aimed squarely at queer pop artists.
On February 5th, Sam Smith and Kim Petras made history when they became the first non-binary or transgender artists to take home the Grammy for best pop duo/group performance. It’s a victory that has sadly been overshadowed by elements of the right, who latched on to what they perceived as satanic imagery in their performance of “Unholy” that evening. In a tweet, Senator Ted Cruz called the performance “evil.” Representative Marjorie Taylor-Greene echoed the sentiment when she tweeted that it was “demonic” and claimed that the production was sponsored by Pfizer.
Allow me to describe the performance: Sam Smith, clad in a red outfit, is encircled by a group of backing dancers, also clad in red. They sing for a while. The performance shifts to Kim Petras singing in a cage. Pyro starts to go off. The focus shifts back to Sam Smith, who is now wearing a comical red tophat with horns on it and a collar. That’s it. Anyone but the dumbest dipshit in the world can see that Sam and Kim’s tongue is firmly in their cheek.
Now, these accusations of satanism have followed Sam Smith on their tour. In a recent tweet, right wing media personality Oli London said of a performance: “Last night Sam Smith performed a satanic show filled with sexual references, fetish gear, a strip tease and a grotesque imitation of sex acts on stage while children were in the audience.”
As reported by Billboard, GLADD president and CEO Kate Ellis is not surprised by the current backlash, saying: “LGBTQ people are not aligning with Satan, we are people of faith and anyone who uses some stage costumes or a music video to make generalizations about LGBTQ people is falling into outdated and debunked fear tactics that are rooted in inaccuracies and anti-LGBTQ animus.”
Given the current hysterical pearl-clutching going on around Sam Smith, it’s high time they are welcomed into the shock rock pantheon. Their stage show isn’t too far off from what Motley Crue were doing back in the day. Sure, Sam is openly celebrating their sexuality and identity, but why the fuck not?
Some conservatives would say their show is exposing children to adult behavior at too young of an age. To them, I say what they are so fond of saying whenever a personality that they like is taken to task: Just change the channel. Don’t watch. It really is that easy, isn’t it?
@cristinacosmad Sam smith in Sheffield last nice for gloria tour . #samsmith #gloriatour #sheffield #holy #concert ♬ original sound – Cristina