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As it Happened: Harvard Commencement 2023
An entire week after originally scheduled, Sam Smith finally released their already-TikTok-viral single, “Unholy,” featuring Kim Petras. The iconic pop duo first leaked the song on the platform a month ago, in a short snippet of them jamming out in the car, and those few seconds alone reached 193 million views by the time of the drop on Sep. 22nd.
The song is sexy, menacing, and not at all what fans have come to expect from Smith per their last album (“Love Goes,” full of somber piano ballads and heartbreak anthems) and their other 2022 single (“Love Me More,” about overcoming pains of self-hatred and deep sorrow). “Unholy,” entirely out of left field, thus marks the start of their “villain era,” as Smith told Entertainment Tonight. And, baby, it was “time to get sexy.”
For German pop artist Kim Petras, on the other hand, “Unholy” is definitely not far from the mark. Her 2022 album, “Slut Pop,” features tracks “XXX” and “Throat Goat,” which very much fit into this sexy club era. Despite the gulf between their respective genres, Smith and Petras’ sounds complement each other surprisingly well — Smith’s sobering power versus Petra’s femme fatale.
Lyrically, “Unholy” recounts the adultery of a husband who frequents “The Body Shop,” aka the infamous L.A. strip club. The only person without knowledge of his transgressions is “Mummy” — whereas everyone else is “whisperin' 'bout the places that you've been / And how you don't know how to keep your business clean.” The diction also seems to indirectly suggest that one of the kids of said-husband is actually the one singing about the affair: “Mummy don’t know daddy’s getting hot” and “She’d kick you out if she ever, ever knew / ‘Bout all the shit you tell me that you do.” This point of view derails the sexy narrative Smith sets up but makes it more dynamic as far as their storytelling goes. Perhaps there are more layers of cynicism here than one would think.
These dark undertones are beautifully complemented by the music’s composition — intense bass drums, an intense beat, and ethereal background vocals that ring like pipe-organs. In combination with a minor Middle Eastern chord progression, this eerie cathedral effect gives the track such a heavy and full-bodied sound that the listener is enchanted and forced to hit repeat. With such hauntingly mesmerizing production, it’s not surprising “Unholy” managed to become a TikTok sensation before it was even released.
—Staff writer Anaiah B. Thomas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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