Kim Petras and Sam Smith stunned this year’s Grammys with a killer performance of their release “Unholy,” surrounded by fire and luxurious Valentino wear. Petras sparkled in a red dress—not even the cage could diminish her stellar voice and fanfare from the crown. Smith performed in a bizarre red top hat with devilish horns. In the days following the award show, conservatives criticized the performance “sent from hell.” It’s clear that Petras and Smith walked away from the 65th Grammy Awards leaving an astounded crowd on every side.
On Feb. 5, 2023, high anticipation grabbed at a sitting crowd of nominees and a broadcasting audience of over 12 million. This year marked an increase in Grammy viewership since sharp declines over the COVID–19 pandemic and the end of the secret committee voting system. Following controversy over the choice to not nominate The Weeknd’s After Hours in 2021, the Recording Academy initiated a movement for greater choice of peer voters. For the second year in a row, we can see peer votership in effect in important categories. Perhaps peer voting is the reason why Grammy winners are more diverse in gender identity than ever.
The 65th Grammys mark a major step forward for representation of minority artists in music representation. While Beyonce made history as the winner of the most Grammy awards in history for the Best Dance/Electronic Music Album with 32 recognitions, equally huge accomplishments were being made in representation of artists with diverse gender identities. With their release of "Unholy" at the end of September of last year, Kim Petras and Sam Smith made history as the first openly nonbinary and transgender musicians in the Best Pop Duo/Group Performance category.
Petras and Smith’s “Unholy” had fierce competition in the category. Others nominated for the award included Korean band BTS and Coldplay’s “My Universe,” Post Malone and Doja Cat’s “I Like You (A Happier Song),” Ed Sheeran and Camilla Cabello’s “Bam Bam,” and ABBA’s “Don’t Shut Me Down.” Since the establishment of the Grammy award for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance in 2012, Doja Cat has been among previous winners. On top of that, BTS, Coldplay, Post Malone, and Camila Cabello have all been nominated in the category. Ultimately, the Recording Academy recognized Petras and Smith for their 2022 single, which also took over TikTok as a viral sound. “Unholy” also took them to first place of the Billboard Hot 100, which means that they are the first nonbinary and transgender artists to reach these heights with a single.
Smith has a history of musical excellence, with a singing career starting in their teenage years. Their first hit feature came in 2012 with vocals on Disclosure’s release "Latch". Music fans everywhere recognized Smith for their unique vocals and emotional lyricism. Sam Smith is not new to the Grammy stagefront. In 2015, they won four Grammy awards—including Best New Artist—and were nominated for two, including for the most prestigious title of Album of the Year. What makes this fifth win so special is that this is their first Grammy after coming out as openly nonbinary. They revealed their pronouns to fans in 2019 new pronouns after “a lifetime of being at war with [their] gender.”
Petras’ entrance into the "Unholy" music video radiates with visual appeal, as she descends onto stage from a heart swing. Petras made history as the first transgender woman to win this title; her victory is even more impressive with the context that this is her very first nomination. In recognition of this unprecedented achievement, her partner in the track, Smith, stepped aside to allow her to accept the award. Petras thanked her mother for accepting her identity and the star Madonna for her work in fighting for representation of LGBTQ artists. Petras’ life has not been an easy one. Growing up in Germany, she realized she was a girl at a young age and faced a public transition, making history as one of the youngest people to undergo gender affirming surgery. Petras eventually moved to the United States when she was 19 to pursue her passion for making music.
In her speech, Petras shares the award with “incredible transgender legends before [her] who kicked these doors open for [her]”. Namely, Petras acknowledges her friend, Sophie Xeon, known by her stage name SOPHIE, who died in 2021 shortly after a nomination to the Grammys. Though representation of transgender musicians in the Grammys has been regrettably small, artists and their supporters are demanding fame with high traction albums. '70s triple Grammy-winning musician Wendy Carlos and 2019 nominee for Best Historical Album Jackie Shane are members of this list.
As the first openly transgender woman to win a Grammy award, the world has high expectations for Petras. Petras, who states that she is a woman who is “unapologetic for who [she is],” and Smith will continue to pave the way for future generations of artists on the gender binary, as stars before them did. Tragically, the Grammys and other prestigious music and arts awards have had a past negligence in gender representation. Recognition will only become more competitive as artists are voted to the top based on their musical skill—a feat that has been achieved thanks to alterations to a previously biased polling system. The pair rose to fame and will undoubtedly continue to rise in the charts and in the public eye with future releases.