By Corinne Coakley
At the 65th Grammy Awards on Feb. 5, Sam Smith and Kim Petras won the Grammy award for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance for their song “Unholy.” Petras became the first openly transgender woman and Smith the first gender non-binary person to win the award. The pair performed their winning song at the show dressed in “devilish” attire: red top hats with horns, leather pants and skirts, capes and whips. The performance sparked controversy among put conservatives, namely Ted Cruz and Marjorie Taylor Greene, who claim it represents the left’s worship of Satan and the downfall of American society.
Of the performance, Greene tweeted, “The Grammys 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.”
Liz Wheeler, a conservative political commentator and host of The Liz Wheeler Show, tweeted, “Don’t fight the culture wars, they say. Meanwhile, demons are teaching your kids to worship Satan. I could throw up.”
Ted Cruz shared Liz Wheeler’s post and wrote simply: “This…is…evil.” Was he buffering during those wholly unnecessary ellipses?
Immediately upon agreeing to write this article, I summoned my friends to my dorm room for a “Socratic Seminar” on Smith and Petras’ fiery performance. We crowded around a single phone to watch. After viewing, we discussed:
“I don’t really see the problem…”
“The song is called ‘Unholy,’ what did they expect??”
“Yeah, there’s a cage and whips, but it seemed pretty tame to me.”
And finally, “I think it’s pretty clear they’re just homophobic.”
While stated rather bluntly, it certainly isn’t far from the truth. Is it really a coincidence that the performance latched onto and bashed by conservatives includes a gender non-binary person and a transgender woman?
A similar controversy surrounded Lil Nas X’s “Montero” music video, released in 2021. In the video, the rapper slides down a stripper pole into hell and gives a lap dance to a devil. Conservative commentators and politicians took to Twitter and Facebook to express their outrage, claiming the artist was embracing Satan. In reality, he was using Satan and other religious imagery to call out the Catholic Church for its condemnation of homosexuality, and its claims that being gay is a sin, one punishable by eternal damnation. He wasn’t embracing or celebrating Satan, but rather using him as a vehicle to portray the oppression of the LGBTQ+ community by the Catholic Church.
Meanwhile, The Church of Satan wasn’t even impressed with Smith and Petras’ “satanic ritual.” David Harris, the magister of the Church of Satan, commented on the performance in an interview with TMZ, calling it “alright” and “nothing particularly special.” Harris also conveyed his frustration with the conservative Twitter backlash, “It’s sad when politicians on a national stage use someone’s religion as a punchline.”
Quite frankly, it seems these Republican politicians don’t even know what Satanism is and what the Church of Satan actually represents. Instead, they throw the terms about to evoke fear and red hot rage from their followers.
Our discussion came to this conclusion: The Satan these conservatives are really afraid of is the gay one, not the stereotypical one who punishes people for their sins and lights things on fire. “Demons teaching your kids to worship Satan'' in the context of their angry tweets means people of the LGBTQ+ community teaching your kids to be gay, transgender or gender non-binary.
This obsession with music videos and performances also highlights the desire that some Republicans have to deflect from the real, important issues — the ones that Americans should actually care about. Instead of addressing gun violence or inflation, they battle in endless culture wars that achieve anything. Lil Nas X tweeted it best, “There is a mass shooting every week that our government does nothing to stop. me sliding down a cgi pole isn’t what’s destroying society.”