Sam Smith music video: I’m Not Here to Make Friends controversy explained - what does non-binary mean?

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The backlash around the I’m Not Here to Make Friends music video comes after the singer revealed they experience ‘abuse on the street’ in the UK for being non-binary

Fans of Sam Smith have taken to social media to defend the singer following controversy sparked by their newest music video for I’m Not Here to Make Friends. Smith released the video for the song from their latest album Gloria on 27 January, and has since racked up nearly 3 million views.

This is everything you need to know.

Why is Sam Smith’s new music video controversial?

Smith’s new music video for I’m Not Here to Make Friends has been criticised by some for its supposed sexual nature. In the video, the singer can be seen arriving at a luxurious estate via helicopter before kicking off a variety of scenes wearing flamboyant outfits surrounded by backing dancers.

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The criticism comes shortly after Smith admitted that they face more transphobic abuse in the UK than they do elsewhere in the world.

In an interview with Apple Music’s Zane Lowe celebrating the release of their fourth album, Gloria, Smith talked about the downsides of being openly non-binary in the UK.

Sam Smith attends iHeartRadio Power 96.1’€™s Jingle Ball 2022 Presented by Capital One at State Farm Arena on December 15, 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images for iHeartRadio)Sam Smith attends iHeartRadio Power 96.1’€™s Jingle Ball 2022 Presented by Capital One at State Farm Arena on December 15, 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images for iHeartRadio)
Sam Smith attends iHeartRadio Power 96.1’€™s Jingle Ball 2022 Presented by Capital One at State Farm Arena on December 15, 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images for iHeartRadio) | Getty Images for iHeartRadio

They said: “I think the only negatives and the struggle[s] has been in my public life, and my job. Just the amount of hate, and s**tness that came my way, was just exhausting. And it was really hard.”

They continued: “What people don’t realise, with trans non-binary people in the UK, is it’s happening in the street. Like I’m being abused on the street, verbally, more than I ever have. So that was the hardest part, I think, was being at home in the UK and having people shouting at me in the street.”

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Smith added: “If that’s happening to me - and I’m famous, I’m a pop star - can you imagine what other queer kids are feeling? It’s just so sad that we’re in 2023 and it’s still happening. It’s exhausting.”

What have fans said?

While Smith’s music video has been criticised by some, many others have jumped to the musician’s defence on Twitter. It has been repeatedly pointed out that the backlash against Smith and the video appears to be steeped in both homophobia and fatphobia.

One person wrote: “If Sam Smith were thin, cis, and straight, they wouldn’t be ridiculed for how they present and dress. If Harry Styles wore the same fits on a magazine cover, y’all would be screaming YAS QUEEN. Anyway, support fat queer people.”

Another wrote: “I was going to ask “What has Sam Smith done to deserve this amount of hate directed at them”, but it’s quite literally that they’re queer and fat isn’t it. That’s what it comes down to.”

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Sam Smith performs on stage at iHeartRadio Hot 99.5’€™s Jingle Ball 2022 Presented by Capital One at Capital One Arena on December 13, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for iHeartRadio)Sam Smith performs on stage at iHeartRadio Hot 99.5’€™s Jingle Ball 2022 Presented by Capital One at Capital One Arena on December 13, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for iHeartRadio)
Sam Smith performs on stage at iHeartRadio Hot 99.5’€™s Jingle Ball 2022 Presented by Capital One at Capital One Arena on December 13, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images for iHeartRadio) | Getty Images for iHeartRadio

“So women artists can make explicit music videos, as can straight men, for decades there can basically be soft porn in mainstream music & that’s all harmless hetty fun but now Sam Smith does it & suddenly it’s perverted grooming filth. HELLO HOMOPHOBIA & TRANSPHOBIA,” wrote another.

Owen Jones, writer and podcaster, wrote: “Sex has always been a running theme in modern pop music, and music videos often flaunt it. But Sam Smith has made the criminal offence of being a) queer and b) not skinny, and in an increasingly anti-LGBTQ culture, that can’t be tolerated.”

What does non-binary mean?

In 2019, Smith announced that they were non-binary, and said that they would be going by gender neutral they/them pronouns.

At the time, they wrote on Instagram: “I’ve decided I am changing my pronouns to THEY/THEM after a lifetime of being at war with my gender I’ve decided to embrace myself for who I am, inside and out.

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“I’m so excited and privileged to be surrounded by people that support me in this decision but I’ve been very nervous about announcing this because I care too much about what people think but f**k it! I understand there will be many mistakes and misgendering but all I ask is you please please try. I hope you can see me like I see myself now. Thank you.”

Sam Smith performs onstage during the 2022 iHeartRadio Music Festival at T-Mobile Arena on September 23, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for iHeartRadio)Sam Smith performs onstage during the 2022 iHeartRadio Music Festival at T-Mobile Arena on September 23, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for iHeartRadio)
Sam Smith performs onstage during the 2022 iHeartRadio Music Festival at T-Mobile Arena on September 23, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images for iHeartRadio) | Getty Images for iHeartRadio

Non-binary is a term used to describe someone who feel that their gender “cannot be defined within the margins of gender binary” and instead, experience their gender “in a way that goes beyond simply identifying as either a man or a woman” the LGBT Foundation says.

LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall defines non-binary as “an umbrella term for people whose gender identity doesn’t sit comfortably with “man” or “woman”.

“Non-binary identities are varied and can include people who identify with some aspects of binary identities, while others reject them entirely.”

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While some non-binary people prefer the use of they/them pronouns, not all non-binary people use those pronouns exclusively. Some might use she/her or he/him pronouns (or a combination of both, or something else entirely), but they are still non-binary.

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