I remember joining the chorus of annoyance when I read Sam Smith’s declaration that when it comes to his role as a public figure that just so happens to be gay, “I'm not trying to be a spokesperson.”
He went on to tell Digital Spy: “It sounds awful of me, but I'm really just trying to live my life and write music about it. That's what I do. I'm not trying to heal the world. From a young age I've always been like this, so it's been normal. My family and friends have made it feel normal and I'm not going to stop that now.”
I found this sentiment frustrating, majorly because it came across as selfish and it was a continuation of what writer Rich Juzwiak referred to as his “f--ked up gay conservatism.”
Sam Smith was the gay guy who hated hooking up. The homosexual man who was so concerned being as mainstream as possible, he told The Fader, “I've made my music so that it could be about anything and everybody— whether it's a guy, a female or a goat—and everybody can relate to that. I'm not in this industry to talk about my personal life unless it's in a musical form. The same-sex lover who expressed to Rolling Stone that while it “felt great” to come out, he “had to be careful” because “I want my music to be sung by absolutely everyone.”
Smith’s reluctance to be a “spokesperson” for the gay community seemed more like a cynical ploy to court the masses by essentially being gay, but not “too gay” in a way that’s not too threatening to a public who may not be totally comfortable with gay people. In many ways, Sam Smith appeared to what to be to pop music what Ben Carson is to conservatives who don’t want to own the GOP’s racist fringe.
But even with my frustration, I concluded that he was young and that he would ultimately change his mind.
A year later, he has. Speaking with NME, Smith revisited those controversial comments. "I’m a gay man who came out when I was 10 years old, and there’s nothing in my life that I’m prouder of," Smith explained. "What I was trying to say was that I didn’t want the album to appeal to just one community, I wanted it to appeal to all of them. I wanted anyone, gay or straight, to be able to relate to me singing about men, like I was able to relate to Stevie Wonder or John Legend singing about girls.”
Yeah, we knew that first time. The problem is he’s putting the onus on himself to shift the minds of straight people who can’t wrap their minds around a gay guy singing about another man and not feeling it’s icky or contagious. It appears that maybe he’s learned that.
Smith went on to say: "I want to be a spokesperson. I want to be a figure in the gay community, who speaks for gay men. I sell records in countries where gay men get killed and that’s a big thing for me, because maybe one person in that country will pick up my album, realise it’s by a gay artist, and it might change their opinion."
Some have already seen headlines about this development and proceeded to roll their eyes. Yes, it’s much easier for Sam Smith to say these things now that he is a proven success. And no, this shift in sentiment does not negate some of the more frustrating comments he’s made about the behavior of other gay men.
Still, it’s a good thing. Not to mention, it sometimes takes people a while to embrace such a responsibility. Again, something Sam Smith or anyone in his position owes himself.
I did not decide to write about my sexuality until I was 25-years-old. Two young Black boys reportedly committed suicide in the same month due to bullying and it prompted me to finally step up and share my experience. I did not want to make my sexuality that big a part of my identity for similar reasons as Sam Smith in 2014.
You want to appeal to as many people as possible. You don’t want to always be immediately tossed into the gay category for everything. You want to simply just be, like everyone else. And then some of us realize that in order for that to change, more of us have to take up the mantle.
It may have taken Sam Smith to process the importance of his celebrity in shifting opinions and boosting tolerance, but he’s got it now and it will make a difference. Better late than never at all.