Sam Smith and Kim Petras have become the first out nonbinary and transgender artists to have a number one song on the US Billboard Hot 100.
“Unholy”, the collaboration between Sam Smith and Kim Petras makes history this week, taking the coveted number one slot on the Billboard Hot 100 after a three week climb. The feat comes after topping the UK singles chart for the last four weeks.
Sam Smith is a British singer/ songwriter that rose to international prominence with their 2014 release In the Lonely Hour which featured the smash singles “Stay With Me” and “I’m Not the Only One”. They went on to win four Grammy awards for the album including Best Pop Vocal Album, Best New Artist, Record of the Year and Song of the Year (for “Stay With Me”). Smith went on to cowrite “Writing’s on the Wall”, the James Bond theme for Spectre, in 2015 with Jimmy Napes for which they won the Golden Globe and Academy Award for Best Original Song.
In 2017 Smith released their second album The Thrill of It All which spawned the hit single “Too Good at Goodbyes” and in 2020 they released their third album Love Goes featuring the hits “Promises” and “Dancing with a Stranger” as bonus tracks. “Unholy” was the anxiously awaited first single released from their upcoming album Gloria set to debut in 2023.
Sam Smith has never shied away from their queerness, being out since virtually the beginning of their career. They came out publicly as gay in 2014. In 2017 they revealed that they were genderqueer, before identifying as nonbinary in 2019 and adopting they/them pronouns.
Kim Petras, from Cologne, Germany independently released her debut international single in 2017, “I Don’t Want It at All”, which went on to top several viral music charts on Spotify. The song was followed by the Billboard-charting singles “Feeling of Falling” (with Cheat Codes), “Heart to Break”, and “1, 2, 3 Dayz Up” (featuring Sophie). Following these initial successes, Petras released a collection of digital singles which would later comprise her unofficial body of work known as Era 1.
Her official debut album, Clarity, was released in June of 2019 and received critical acclaim, landing at number 7 on the Heatseekers Chart. She followed this up in October of 2019 with her second album Turn Off the Light. In 2020 she found success with the songs “Malibu” and “Broken Glass” (a collaboration Kygo), leading to a record deal with Republic Records in 2021. Slut Pop, her massively successful 7 track LP was released earlier this year much to the delight of queer dance music fans everywhere. Her collaboration with Sam Smith is an extension of her hard-won success and has helped to give her even more international and mainstream exposure.
Kim made headlines in Germany for becoming the youngest person to have sex reassignment surgery at 16 years old. According to her parents she began identifying as female at the age of two and began appearing on the national news shows, talk shows and documentaries discussing her identity and wish to medically transition starting at age 13.
The momentousness of the occasion cannot be overstated as “Unholy” stakes its claim as the number one song in the United States, a country divided on issues regarding gender identity and gender confirmation surgery. Whether its impact will help foster a conversation on gender and identity remains to be seen but in the meantime, we can enjoy the very prominent visibility afforded to nonbinary and transgender folx thanks to Sam Smith and Kim Petras’ success.