On Sunday, the 65th Grammy Awards show transpired. Unsurprisingly, so did controversy. Pop stars Sam Smith and Kim Petras’ performance of their song “Unholy” drew the most backlash. In the brief lyrical fashion of a pop song, it graphically talks about a father cheating on his wife with a prostitute.
“Unholy” is ambiguous. It’s provocative, explicit, sexually graphic, and distasteful, but whether the song implies we should celebrate the father’s infidelity seems open to interpretation. The song isn’t exactly exploring any deep message at two minutes and thirty-six seconds.
But the song’s themes, taken together with the Grammy performance that stoked the fires of controversy (with literal flames), have wider-reaching cultural importance.
Who are Sam Smith and Kim Petras?
Sam Smith is a massively popular London-born pop singer who came out as gay and then “gender-queer,” meaning Smith does not fully identify with either sex. The singer’s voice, showcased best in the (not explicit) song “Stay With Me,” is rich and vibrant. The vocal performance is like smooth butter spread on heartfelt lyrics. We should mourn when deeply talented artists use their gifts to further sexual promiscuity and the culture’s unbiblical ideologies.
The singer felt bullied, ostracized, and rejected as a youth in a catholic school. Smith rejects a biblical understanding of sexuality and doesn’t believe in God.
But in “Pray,” it seems that Smith still yearns for him. “I have never believed in You, no / But I’m gonna pray /. . . I am still your disciple. / I’m begging You, please. / I’m broken, alone and afraid. / I’m not a saint / I’m more of a sinner / Maybe I’ll pray / Pray for a glimmer of hope.”
Kim Petras is an electronic dance music (EDM) pop artist and less well-known as Smith. Petras is transgender, identifying as a female, and the first transgender woman to win a Grammy. Petras gave the acceptance speech on Friday night.
Was “Unholy” devil worship?
Smith and Petras won the award for “Unholy” as the best pop duo song. Their performance at the Grammys included demonic costumes, a sharp contrast to Smith’s yearning for God in “Pray.” Just as disturbing (but more common in the music world), the performance included provocative dancing, and darker, more twisted sexual themes were scattered throughout the raunchy performance.
While “Unholy” might not be about devil worship, CBS tweeted before the event, “We are ready to worship!”
They have since deleted the tweet.
As is often the case with promoting satanic imagery, the people spreading it use it to disdain Christianity. In other words, whether it’s The Satanic Bible or Sam Smith donning a top hat with horns while wearing all red, satanic themes are usually more about rejecting Christianity than actually promoting the worship of the very real adversary from the Bible, Satan.
Many who promote satanic imagery, Smith included, do not believe in the existence of Satan. Aside from this, nowhere in the Bible are horns or red tights ever mentioned. That rather comical picture of the devil with horns, hooves, and a pitchfork was cobbled together from the images of Greek gods, like Pan and Hades. (For more, read “Is there really a creature named Satan?” or watch the video below.)
All of this doesn’t mean people can’t be influenced by the devil through such performances, or that Smith and Petras weren’t themselves.
But they were probably influenced in a more underlying, subtle way.
Why satanic themes reveal something deeper
The explicit promotion of immoral sexuality in “Unholy,” coupled with the satanic jab at Christianity, shows our culture’s lack of biblical values. This deconstruction of the Bible primarily comes from relativism, the belief that there are no absolute moral standards and people can live how they please (unless it harms someone else).
A relativistic culture can represent its value of no values by challenging prevailing morality. In this case, to them, satanic themes represent a rejection of Christianity’s “constraining” understanding of sexuality.
Yet Petras cannot maintain a relativistic framework. Petras placed value on Smith’s kindness, as well as others’ love and support. This infers a clear distinction between one moral value and another.
The irony was apparently lost when Petras called Smith an “angel” in the acceptance speech.
American philosopher and linguist Noam Chomsky (not a Christian) put this succinctly: “There are no moral relativists. There are people who profess it, you can discuss it abstractly, but it doesn’t exist in ordinary life.”
Demonic activity is real
None of this commentary on the culture takes away from the real power of demonic influence. Read the gospel of Mark if you want to witness Jesus’ life at a cinematic-like pace, fighting the powers of darkness at every turn.
People can follow Satan without pretending to worship him. In fact, Satan usually seems to work in subtler ways. He prowls, schemes, and tempts (1 Peter 5:8).
Paul summarizes the spiritual war that wages today: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:10–12).
He also writes, “For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3–5).
We fight against dark powers all the time as believers, sometimes by subverting cultural darkness through love and prayer, sometimes (though less commonly in the West) through exorcism. If you “submit to God” and “resist the devil,” then “he will flee from you” (James 4:7). We need not fear an enemy whom Christ has already defeated, but we should respect that he exists.
While it’s easy to see Smith and Petras’ performance as demonic—in a sense it literally is—the values and cultural movements behind their performance are just as “demonic.”
How are you tempted?
Here’s the idea, put succinctly: don’t miss the forest for the trees.
The satanic themes are deplorable, sure, but don’t be distracted from the real power of darkness: the demonic influence through the ideas and values themselves, aligned against Christ’s purpose.
And don’t fall into temptation by the real Satan to become vitriolic against two lost singers expressing the common views of our time. Satan is ultimately a deceiver (Revelation 20:10). Which means people falling into the powers of darkness are deceived and need the light of Christ.
Never forget Smith and Petras are hurt people in need of Jesus—like you and me.
Our love should always extend to the people under the power of darkness. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t condemn the culture’s praise of satanic imagery (though we should perhaps expect it at this point). It’s a tired old trick that sells records and shoes, in the case of Lil Nas X. It’s meant to cause articles like this one to be written to get publicity (I guess I fell for it).
But just remember, Satan can tempt you to hate people who represent the culture like Smith and Petras. They are both beloved image-bearers of God, and remember, “There but for the grace of God go I.”
Where is Satan influencing your life?
What temptations arise for you?
Looking past an overstated song (you likely wouldn’t have listened to anyways), where are the more hidden influences of Satan in your life?