But there’s one exception to the rule. Gay men.
OK, not all gay men. But enough of them. Most I know roll their eyes at the mere mention of his name.
We see it every time we write about him on Gay Star News. The hostility is fierce.
‘Pathetic attention whore,’ said one non-fan when we reported on Sam’s new new romance this week.
‘I can’t stand this ex-fat and his “sad declarations,”‘ elaborated another. ‘He only wants attention, and believe[s] he’s the only gay guy in the world. When he doesn’t understand, even gay guys we can’t stand him.’
Sam’s believed to be dating 13 Reasons Why star Brandon Flynn. I must admit, he’s picked a convenient time to speak about it for the first time – the week before his new album comes out. And on Ellen’s sofa no less.
The news coincides with his – I think, brave – revelation about gender fluidity, that he’s ‘as much a woman as I am man’, in the Sunday Times.
Once again, there were negative reactions. Some were disbelieving. Others were misogynistic, transphobic and abusive.
At this point I ask: how much more of this is he meant to take?
He’s one of the most talented and successful gay men of his generation, but his peers want to take him down. Why? The inconvenient truth is, we’re jealous of him.
‘I too have struggled to warm to him – he annoyed me when he waited to come out’
Of course, there are legitimate reasons to not like him. I too have struggled to warm to him – he annoyed me by waiting a few years into his career to come out publicly, surprising absolutely no one. (But as I always remind myself, I’ve no right to dictate when someone does, even if they’re rich, famous and privileged.)
That same year, he deigned to question app culture. ‘No offence to people who go on Tinder but I just feel like it’s ruining romance, I really do,’ he said.
‘We’re losing the art of conversation and being able to go and speak to people and you’re swiping people. […] Stop Tinder and Grindr!’
His comments prompted the still-irresistible Gawker headline ‘Sam Smith’s fucked up gay conservatism‘ and the pulverising line: ‘I wonder if Smith leaves his shirt on during sex because he needs to keep his heart on his sleeve.’
Worse still was the fall-out from that acceptance speech. Last year, he referred to himself as the first gay man to win an Oscar, inspiring the wrath of Dustin Lance Black and many others. (The song itself, a middling Bond theme, Sam wrote ‘in about 20 minutes.’)
‘He risked everything by disappearing for a staggering 18 months’
He swiftly apologised, temporarily quit Twitter, and risked everything by disappearing for a staggering 18 months – almost unheard for a star of his stature. For some it wasn’t enough.
OK, he’s made some mistakes. But it’s easy to forget just how young Sam Smith is, old soul or not. He was 23 at the time of the Oscars gaffe. Who hasn’t said something as stupid, or worse, aged 23 and beyond?
We drag Sam like we drag Tom Daley for not living up to expectations. But there’s no ‘correct’ way for a gay man to be, famous or not. All Sam has to do is sing. All Tom has to do is dive. Not everyone has to be endlessly politicized and outspoken – there is such a thing as free will. (Although to his credit, Sam spoke out in support of Australian marriage equality recently).
Furthermore, while we dismiss elements of Sam’s image as ‘safe’ and straight-baiting, misogynists might condemn the same as traditionally feminine and overly emotional. Most notably in his biggest hit Stay With Me, in which he desperately begs his one night stand to be tender with him. (Who hasn’t been there? More to the point, who’s willing to admit it?)
But he isn’t compromising. His new songs Too Good At Goodbyes and Pray are as emotional and navel-gazing as ever. Millennial gay men were all over it when Adele took the same course two years ago.
‘He’s finding he doesn’t need the gay community’s support to be a star’
There is something subversive about Sam’s femininity. It’s not a parody – he’s not ‘sashaying away’ – and it’s not a huge political statement, either. He’s just being himself. And in doing so, selling millions of records, making millions of dollars and the cherry on top: he’s found a boyfriend.
He’s rich, famous and, ironically, quite happy, and he’s not had to feign masculinity, invent an activist persona or in any way change who he is to get there. In fact, he’s evolving, speaking out about tricky gender questions in an entirely personal way. And that, I think, is a tough pill for some of his peers to swallow.
But what does it matter? Evidently, Sam doesn’t need the gay community’s support to be a star.
It’s a shame gay men aren’t more behind a member of their own tribe. But conversely, maybe there’s a silver lining there. We’ve long idolized straight pop stars and claimed them as our own. Maybe the opposite being true of Sam and his straight fans indicates a levelling of the playing field.
I say good luck to him.