I’m sitting at my desk in a gap between lessons, bored, as is often the case. At the reception desk they always play Top 20 billboard radio, and the stuff is torturous. I do my best to block out Taylor Swift’s ‘Shake It Off’, again. The track seems unremarkable to me, and yet it’s yet another number one.
Oh well, that’s popular music.
Every other song is about the usual. Big booty. Making money. Being popular, cool, fashionable, the same old stuff everybody sings about which the mainstream devours these days.
Then suddenly, there’s a change in tone. The sad melancholy strains of an undoubtedly black singer come wafting through the airwaves. I strain to hear it from down the hallway.
What is that? I can definitely make out some kind of gospel choir. It doesn’t sound like the usual stuff, even from this distance.
I put it out of my mind and go about my day. But as I’m doing some task or another, I hear it again. What is that? Eh, forget about it.
But, you know the radio. The song is played again, and again and again and again. Eventually I’m near enough to the reception desk to actually make out what the singer is saying. ‘Stay With Me’. Definitely a black singer
Eventually, it reached critical mass and I had to find out who this person was, but not before I heard ‘I’m Not The Only One’, which was even more interesting. In fact I like it more than ‘Stay With Me’. There’s a melancholy to the melody, and the understated, minimalist production is simply irresistible.
I get on YouTube and hunt around. ‘Stay With Me’. Wait…wtf? It’s a white dude? He certainly doesn’t look like how I expected, with that thick, soulful voice.
I watch and read more. ‘Sam Smith’…he talks about how his album was inspired by his loneliness in London after a breakup and feeling unloved.
His music is informed by his heartbreak and sadness. No bitches and booty here. No fast cars or bank accounts. No boasting. The opening track Money On My Mind’ makes a clear statement: it’s about the love for what I do.
He talks about struggling with OCD and his weight in a soft voice, and seems humble and self-effacing to a fault. It’s a different tone than anyone I’ve seen in mainstream music in a long time.
This humbleness belies a massive voice and awesome debut album, but if it helps to keep him grounded that’s a great thing.
We’ll have to wait and see his career trajectory. He says he is writing his follow-up album now, and it will be fascinating to see how his exploding popularity will impact the music.
Many artists seem arrogant, but Smith is really down to earth. I hope this doesn’t change about him, as it is refreshing.
Sam Smith is gay. Normally this would be unremarkable, after all, what is so amazing about that? Being gay is not a strange thing. Does it matter if his love songs are to a man instead of a woman? Of course not.
But it has revealed deep strains of homophobia in many listeners (I dare you to read YouTube comments), and recently Smith was attacked by Howard Stern, who called him ‘fat, ugly motherfucker’, that ‘looks gay’: Howard Stern Attacks Sam Smith.
To me Stern usually attacks people with a reason, for being a jerk, or disliking what they do or say, etc. But this was a case where he attacked Smith based solely on his appearance and sexuality. I thought it was classless and disgusting and beneath even Stern.
He also called Smith a one hit wonder, which is interesting because already at least three of Smith’s songs have been hits. So…no.
To round out the story, two days ago Smith won big at the Emmys, sweeping up ‘best artist’ alongside three other categories. I am glad this happened and I think it is deserved.
It’s tiresome how they have the same tired Kayne West, Beyoncé, Taylor Swift and Justin Bieber celebration every year, but now they are rewarding fresh talent for once. It makes a statement that the music industry can peddle more than just self-glorification.
Why does every song have to be about projecting confidence all over the place, succeeding in everything and gaining success and accolades and esteem, when for most of us, this is nothing like and never will be our reality?
I know people live vicariously through these songs, and live the attitude of material and mental success for as long as the song is playing, so I guess there’s your answer. They are empowering?
Smith, on the other hand, tapped into an inner vulnerability and removed the pretence of what we present to the world.
He opens his heart to the world, much like Adele was said to earlier, and it speaks more to me than anything else I can see in the charts.
Smith seems to be handling it in his typically humble way, and I look forward to seeing where this might lead from here.
Looking forward with hope to the next album.
I also recently covered ‘Stay With Me’:
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