When Satanic Cosplay Becomes Trendy: A Christian Response
Satanism is the trendy party trick of the moment. As has become increasingly evident, a devilish aesthetic is the simple “just add water” recipe for performers who wish to appear provocative and garner attention. This formula was once again on display during Sam Smith’s performance at the Grammy Award Ceremony (you can read more about it here). As a Variety headline summarized, Smith and collaborator Kim Petras “Bring Satan, Cages and Whips to Grammys.”
The performance was the talk of the night, but we shouldn’t be shocked. After all, Lil Nas X was several years ahead of Sam Smith with his 2021 music video for “Montero (Call Me By My Name),” which featured a similar satanic motif to symbolize sexual liberation (but it had the added element of novelty). The adult cartoon Little Demon mined hell for humor (and has not yet been renewed for a second season, so perhaps such humor is in short supply). Even atheist organizations with no seat at the spiritual table have adopted Satanic branding to the extent that they must constantly explain to confused people that the Church of Satan and The Satanic Temple are not, in fact, the same group.
Satanism is the trendy aesthetic of the day. But like any party trick, the act becomes tiresome with overexposure. Ironically, even the Church of Satan has given the performance a muted response, dismissing it as “nothing particularly special.” Thus, rather than dutifully ride the outrage wave, feigning shock and awe every time someone pulls out the trick, perhaps Christians should reflect on whether our concern is best directed elsewhere.
Beyond the Costumes
Christians shouldn’t be flippant toward demonic forces. According to the Bible, evil spiritual powers are real. Yet, the devilish aesthetic on display in Sam Smith’s Grammys performance seems to be inspired more by a trip to a Spirit Halloween store than by any communion with demonic forces. It’s simply cosplay, adult dress-up intended to produce cheap shocks and manufacture attention.
Should the church sit up and take notice when an influential celebrity performs in a stage outfit that makes him look like he’s about to take his position on a cartoon character’s right shoulder, opposite to the harp-wielding angel on the left? Sure. And yet, it seems as though many Christians are far too outraged by the cosplay and not concerned enough about what lurks beneath the red-hazed surface.
In Scripture when Jesus declared, “Get behind me, Satan,” he was not rebuking a diminutive red man with horns and a pitchfork. Rather, he was indicating that anything contrary to his heavenly father’s divine will is of the devil: “You do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns” (Matthew 16:23). In other words, everything that is opposed to God’s designs is “satanic,” forked tail or not. Furthermore, the work of the devil is typically more seductive when disguised as something good, such as words coming from a beloved disciple’s mouth. The real danger is perhaps not in an entertainer partaking in Satan cosplay but in the church mistaking cosplay for satanism, too busy being outraged by a costume to recognize Satanic thinking when it appears in subtle ways.
Christian Pity, No Outrage
All of this brings us back to Sam Smith and to the Satan cosplayers who have paved the trail for him. While much of the outrage directed toward the performance has focused on the visuals, perhaps the more concerning elements were auditory. The lyrics to “Unholy,” the song Smith and Petras performed, tell the story of an unrepentant husband who repeatedly leaves his unsuspecting wife and children behind to indulge in promiscuous sexual behavior.
In an interview following the performance, Petras explained the artists’ motivations: “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.” The song—and the performance—are about rebellion against religion and the church. Smith may have represented the “satanic” in his performance, and not just because he put on some devil horns in a desperate attempt to be provocative.
By all accounts, Smith is a deeply broken man who is harboring much pain. Anyone compelled to go on a nationally broadcasted awards show dressed up like the devil to obtain attention and belonging should, above all, be pitied. He is searching for something, and his misguided attempts to find it are a public spectacle. Christians can criticize his method, but we should also lament, since we understand that no amount of spectacle or attention compares to the peace that is found in Christ alone.
In the end, Christians should be concerned about displays like the Grammy performance, but not because of cheap devil cosplay. Beneath the costume, Sam Smith is emblematic of a confused and hurting world that has embraced a destructive, satanic mindset that inner peace and satisfaction is found in empty sexual pleasure and shock value rather than in a God who loves us and knows the number of hairs on our head.
Trends come and go and outrage fades into lost memory, but eternity is forever. If Christians feel heightened emotions in response to the Grammy performance, let it be pity for a broken world that is lost in sin. Let us pray, “forgive them, for they know not what they do,” and continue to proclaim—in word and deed—God’s love to a world that desperately needs it.