By Lauren Lopez
The Grammys always generate a lot of talk, and there were plenty of things worth talking about after this year–namely, Sam Smith. Not only did Smith take home four Grammys (Best New Artist, Best Pop Vocal Album, Song of the Year, and Record of the Year), but he also said something in one of his speeches that sparked a lot of controversy and conversation. Upon accepting the Grammy for his song “In the Lonely Hour,” he said, “I want to thank the man that inspired me to write this record. You broke my heart, and now I’ve got four Grammys.”
At face value, this was an innocent enough thing to say. The man broke his heart, so Smith wrote about him and gained a lot of success because of it. That’s not what stuck out to me. What stuck out to me was the familiarity of the line. At the VMAs in 2013, Taylor Swift won Best Female Video. In her acceptance speech, according to a US Weekly article, she said, “I also want to thank the person that inspired this song, and he knows exactly who he is, because I got one of these!”
In theory, the two artists should get the same treatment. They’re both talented musicians who have won various awards and have best-selling records. They both write about love and their own romantic experiences. However, Sam Smith’s statement is commended, while Swift’s had people saying that she only writes about her exes and needs to get over it.
A Towlerload article about Sam Smith said, “Accepting his last Grammy of the night Record of the Year, Smith gave a quick shout-out to the man who gave us ‘In the Lonely Hour.’” In contrast, a Daily Mail article from just after the VMA’s in 2013 said, “Taylor Swift is up to her old tricks again. The 23-year-old pop star–known for writing those infamous breakup tunes–dissed One Direction’s Harry Styles.” The same US Weekly article said, “She can’t help but take digs at her ex, Harry Styles, at nearly every awards show. And Taylor Swift continued the trend as she appeared to back-handedly thank the One Direction singer for their failed romance after receiving an award for Best Female Video at the MTV VMAs on Sunday.”
The articles about Taylor are much more critical and judgmental. No one called Smith’s relationship with his ex a “failed romance,” though it was just as much a failed romance as Swift’s was with Harry Styles. The journalists writing about Swift are calling her speech “disses” and “digs,” while Smith’s speech is simply just a “shout-out.” When I first started comparing the speeches, I thought they were very similar. I still believe the are, at least on the surface. But underneath, the circumstances surrounding these speeches contain two key differences.
The first and more prominent one is based on gender. Sam Smith is a man, so people are going to take his speech as a sign of power and dominance. They are going to commend him for that, because by society’s standards it is normal for men to be powerful. Taylor, however, is a woman, so when she thanks Harry Styles for helping her win her VMA, it is taken as a childish dig at him. She is a woman, so how dare she make a comment about a powerful man? Even though it’s the 21st century and we are supposedly more progressive nowadays, Swift’s experiences and opinions aren’t taken as seriously as her male contemporaries’ are. A popular opinion among those who consider themselves progressive is that we don’t need feminism because men and women are treated as equals, but discrepancies like these lead me to believe that may not be the case.
The second one, a little harder to prove since it’s not as visible, is sexuality. Just as with gender, there is an obvious difference in the sexuality of the two artists, so it definitely carries some weight as to why they were treated differently. The only reason I say it’s hard to prove is because it’s hard to say that sexuality has a weight when we’ve only seen two sexualities represented in these situations. What’s to say that a straight man wouldn’t be treated in the same way that Sam Smith was treated? Was Sam Smith treated that way because he is a cute gay boy and people want to be seen supporting him so they can appear progressive? Or is it just because he’s a man? Even further, if Taylor Swift had given her speech and said it was a woman she was in love with, would that have gained her more empathy? Or would she have gotten even more hate because of it?
It’s hard to tell the exact effect that sexuality has on the situation, but it is the combination of both gender and sexuality that has caused these two musicians to be treated differently.