Troye Sivan’s Rush music video exposes how Sam Smith backlash is rooted in fatphobia

This picture shows queer singers Sam Smith and Troye Sivan against a still of Troye Sivan's new Rush music video.

Queer pop music is in a pretty fantastic place right now. This year alone has gifted us with the debut album of trans superstar Kim Petras, a boygenius reunion, and now, a comeback single from Australia’s head twink and synth pop king, Troye Sivan.

On Friday (14 July), the 28-year-old “Bloom” star unveiled the nihilistic party anthem “Rush”, the lead single from his first album in five years. Alongside it came a not-entirely-safe-for-work music video, featuring one glory hole, two shots of someone urinating, and at least nine bare bums.

The response has been, on the whole, positive. “That is so unapologetically queer,” one fawning tweet reads. “That’s exactly what we need right now.” Others praised “Rush” as the “song of the summer”, and the video as “queer excellence”. 

The adoration is deserved. As some fans have noted, it’s refreshing to see a queer artist making music and visuals that are inherently queer; there’s no assimilating for the purpose of appealing to a cishet audience, or parading queerness as something “brave” or “inspirational”.

“Rush” is about just wanting to have messy queer sex, basically, and that has to be respected. 

Though there is one element of the response to Troye Sivan’s video that is more than a little disquieting. Among the streams of positive reactions are those comparing it to the work of Sam Smith who, since the beginning of the year, has been releasing their own string of explicit, steamy visuals

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One person subtly shared that they “much preferred” Sivan’s “Rush” video to anything Smith had put out recently. Another praised Sivan for releasing something “the gays actually want”, commending the lack of “token fat people” in the “Rush” visuals.

There has, however, been growing criticism levied at Sivan, with many arguing that the “Rush” video doesn’t exactly depict bodies that aren’t slim or toned. In response, one person declared: “You have Sam Smith. Let Troye be for the hot gays.”

It feels like confirmation of what many have known to be true ever since Sam Smith entered an era of reclaiming their sexuality last year: queer people can be sexual, as long as they do so while looking or dressing a certain way.

When Smith debuted their “I’m Not Here To Make Friends” video back in January, the uproar was instant. The 31-year-old singer appeared at first in a huge, ruffled pink coat with a trailing train. Then, in a black gown, with matching feather coat and headpiece. Finally, in a white corset, dripping jewels and diamante nipple tassels.

Smith’s body was on show, and the social media comments decrying them as “disgusting” came thick and fast. In the UK, breakfast news show Good Morning Britain ran an entire segment on whether the music video was appropriate, considering children might watch it. 

Sivan, obviously, has faced no such criticism – at least not to the horrific extent that Smith did.

Some clutched their pearls watching Smith emulate being urinated on and pretending to ride their backing dancers. Little has been said by those same pearl clutchers about the “Rush” video, which, while having very similar themes, is arguably even more NSFW.

Similarly, when Sivan announced his new record Something To Give Each Other alongside the “Rush” video, there was instant, almost unanimous praise for the album’s artwork, which shows a topless Sivan laughing into the nude thighs of another man.

Yet, when Smith appeared in a semi-nude photoshoot for PERFECT magazine earlier this year, they were widely ridiculed. In one image, they were decked out in a corset with string accentuating their body fat; in another they held their stomach, wearing a denim miniskirt and matching codpiece.

The comments were largely the same: in effect, the social media timeline didn’t want to see it. Regularly, social dwellers will pull up photos of Sam Smith from earlier on in their career, when they were slimmer and masculine-presenting. “See, this is what Sam Smith used to look like,” they shout into the abyss. “Where has that Sam Smith gone?”

Sam Smith wearing a black corset with white writing on it, against a pink background featuring other images of Smith from their Perfect Magazine photoshoot.
Sam Smith is unapologetically playing with gender identity. (Perfect Magazine)

Of course, there’s a whole other discussion about why Smith may endure more criticism than other queer musicians, aside from issues of body policing. Smith is one of few non-binary celebrities, and they are almost certainly the most notable.

They’ve faced merciless mocking because of it, from the trolls in the depths of social media, and from fellow, high-profile celebrities. Being both gender non-confirming and having a bigger body places a double target on their back.

Also, none of this is new. The queer community has long had a troubling history with body image, with those who aren’t super toned usually being put down by one corner of the community or another.

The fact Sivan has been praised for doing what Smith was condemned for isn’t really a surprise. It simply shows that, still, sexual liberation is only OK when the person being liberated looks as they’re expected to. 

The Sam Smith criticism has never been about what they do on stage or in videos – it’s about how they look.

2023 truly has given us some of the rawest, horniest and most brazen queer music visuals to date, and at time where queer media is needed most. It’s just a shame they aren’t all celebrated as equal triumphs.