Kim Petras and Sam Smith made LGBTQIA+ music history Sunday night at the 65th annual Grammy Awards as they accepted the award for Best Pop Duo/Group Collaboration for their smash hit, “Unholy.” The award made Petras the first transgender woman to win a Grammy in that category. Smith, who is non-binary, won their first Grammy in 2015. Prior to this year’s Grammy awards, “Unholy” was already a history-making release: The raunchy collab reached number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart in its fourth week, making Petras and Smith the first openly transgender woman and non-binary person, respectively, to reach number 1 on the charts. The now-iconic duo walked onstage to accept the award together before Smith stood behind Petras and handed her the mic so she could deliver a powerful acceptance speech.“Sam graciously wanted me to accept this award because I’m the first transgender woman to win this award,” she began, eliciting raucous cheers and a standing ovation from fellow musicians in the audience. The German-born pop star went on to thank those who paved the way for her historic win, including Madonna (“I don’t think I could be here without Madonna”), her mother (“My mother believed that I was a girl and I wouldn’t be here without her and her support”), and her dear friend Sophie, the experimental transgender producer, songwriter, DJ, and pioneer of the hyperpop genre who tragically passed away in 2021 at the age of 34. Sophie received a Grammy nomination in 2018 in the Best Dance/Electronic Album category for her only studio album, Oil of Every Pearl’s Un-Insides.
“I just want to thank all of the incredible transgender legends before me who kicked these doors open before me so I could be here tonight. Sophie, my friend who passed away two years ago, who told me this would happen and always believed in me. Thank you so much for your inspiration, Sophie. I adore you, and your inspiration will forever be in my music,” said Petras.
.@KimPetras thanked the late Sophie for being a transgender pioneer in her #Grammys acceptance speech. Read more about the groundbreaking artist’s legacy https://t.co/1TQbdvt231
— Pitchfork (@pitchfork) February 6, 2023
Later that evening, Kim Petras and Sam Smith set the Grammys stage on fire – literally – as they performed their winning single, “Unholy,” with Petras dancing in a cage surrounded by devilish dominatrixes with whips – who just so happened to be RuPaul’s Drag Race stars Gottmik and Violet Chachki, who also made a red carpet appearance alongside the award-winning duo.
Okay but @gottmik & @VioletChachki performing with Grammy WINNERS @kimpetras and @samsmith is my new religion ?⛓ #GRAMMYs pic.twitter.com/RFuMDhrNLF
— RuPaul’s Drag Race (@RuPaulsDragRace) February 6, 2023
The campy spectacle triggered quite the dramatic reaction from the conservative crowd, going so far as to fuel “Satanic Panic” conspiracy theories peddled by right-wing pundits like Ted Cruz.
This creative rebellion against conservative Christian ideals was intentional. In a backstage interview following the controversial performance, Petras revealed that the inspiration behind it was a lack of religious acceptance for herself and her collaborator. “I think a lot of people, honestly, have kind of labeled what I stand for and what Sam stands for as religiously not cool, and I personally grew up wondering about religion and wanting to be a part of it but slowly realizing it didn’t want me to be a part of it,” she said. “So it’s a take on not being able to choose religion. And not being able to live the way that might want you to live, because as a trans person I’m already kind of not wanted in religion.”
#Grammy winner Kim Petras on the religious inspiration behind her award show performance, “It’s a take on not being able to choose religion. And not being able to live the way that people might want you to live.” https://t.co/JUB36VWZsf pic.twitter.com/SWMyhltZ7R
— Variety (@Variety) February 6, 2023
In the Grammys press room, Kim Petras explained the significance of her win – and breaking into pop music’s mainstream – as a transgender artist. “All these years are going through my head of people saying I’d be a niche artist because I’m transgender, and my music would only ever play in gay clubs – and what’s wrong with that, because I love gay clubs – but now I got a Grammy for making gay club music with my friend,” she said. “It’s the best feeling in the world.”
Kim Petras is the first transgender woman to receive a Grammy award in the Best Pop Duo/Group Collaboration category, and the only other transgender woman to have won a Grammy award since electronic music composer and synthesizer pioneer Wendy Carlos won three in 1969. Carlos is well-known for composing the soundtracks for the famous Stanley Kubrick films The Shining and A Clockwork Orange.
Kim Petras Grammy win was historic.
But lets not forget about the first transgender woman to win, Wendy Carlos.
Without her, electronic music as we know it would not exist – she won 3 Grammys for Switched-On Bach.
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— Erin Reed (@ErinInTheMorn) February 6, 2023
Petras is set to appear at and be honored by the Billboard Women in Music Awards on March 1st, 2023.
Top Photo: Screengrab from YouTube