As the 21st century entered its teenage years, electronic music was swarming the charts bringing international success to acts such as Disclosure, Rudimental, The Chainsmokers and Clean Bandit.
Whereas the rise of hip hop had opened the doors for 16-bar feature spots in pop for rappers over the previous decades, the popularity of dance music and production groups would create a platform for future stars like Jess Glynn and Becky Hill to showcase their vocal talents.
Grammy-winning superstar Sam Smith was one of the biggest beneficiaries of this scene. Smith’s appearance on Disclosure’s 2013 smash hit single ‘Latch’ was a career launching moment for the young singer.
Whilst showcasing Smith’s soulful vocal chops, which had been perfected singing in choirs, ‘Latch’ was also the first fruits of two successful musical relationships which would sustain Smith throughout their record-breaking career.
‘Latch’ co-writer Jimmy Napes would go on to play a prominent role behind the scenes in Smith’s career, helping them to create some of their biggest hits including the Oscar-winning James Bond theme ‘Writing’s On The Wall’, enduring radio staple ‘Stay With Me’ and smash hit ‘Too Good At Goodbyes’.
While it was clear that Sam Smith had perfected delivering radio-friendly piano ballads, however, between the release of their debut album ‘In The Lonely Hour’ (2014) and its successor ‘The Thrill of It All’ (2017), it was clear that Smith had much more to offer than simply playing the role of heartbroken retro crooner.
‘Omen’, 2015’s collaboration with Disclosure, reminded people that Smith was equally at home delivering dance music. Perhaps it wasn’t until the success of 2018’s ‘Promises’ with Calvin Harris, however, that Smith truly believed they had a full-time future on the dancefloor.
2019’s collaboration with Normani, ‘Dancing with a Stranger’, flagged that the new Sam Smith was here to stay. This new confident Smith was solidified by the announcement that they were non-binary later that year.
Sam Smith’s third album ‘Love Goes’ (2020) was originally called ‘To Die For’ but much like when Kylie Minogue ditched the title ‘Impossible Princess’ following the death of Princess Diana, it was decided that the happy colloquialism ‘To Die For’ was inappropriate during the pandemic.
To help pursue this more upbeat sound, Smith enlisted the help of producers such as Steve Mac (Ed Sheeran), Shellback/MXM (Robyn, Pink, Britney Spears), Stargate (Labrinth), and Disclosure’s Guy Lawrence alongside the ever-present Jimmy Napes.
Smith doesn’t leave their choral crooning style completely behind, however. In fact, they uses it cleverly on acapella opening number ‘Youth’ to introduce their new direction, declaring:
“Can't you see that all I wanna do is get a little wild, get a little high, kiss a hundred boys and not feel like I'm tied to them. If you wanna judge me, then go and load the gun. I've done nothing wrong, I'm young.”
It's a powerful statement from the artist who is clearly striving to move onto a new chapter in all aspects of their life while also being smart enough to not ditch everything that made them so popular in the first place.
The Deluxe version of the album features all of the pre-album singles such as ‘Promises’ and ‘I’m Ready’ featuring Demi Lovato, as well as the album’s originally planned title track ‘To Die For’.
Clearly buoyed by the success of ‘Love Goes’, Sam Smith continued to explore their spiritual and sexual awakening on ‘Gloria’.
Smith’s voice has never sounded more decisive. This is no longer a teenager singing songs of love, and heartbreak; concepts with which they only have a passing acquaintance.
This is a fully-formed human who has first-hand experience of having their heart ripped out of their chest and thrown on the floor in front of them. The effects of this pain and suffering is palpable on Smith’s worldview. They know what they want, they know they like and they know what their limits are.
‘Unholy’, featuring Kim Petras, rewrote the record books with the pair becoming the first non-binary and transgender people to top the Billboard Hot 100. Its theme of a closeted father seeking moments of joy at the local gay bar is about as far from ‘I’m Not The Only One’ as you can get.
It’s Calvin Harris who gets the best of Sam Smith, however, on the ‘How do you like your eggs in the morning’ banger ‘I’m Not Here To Make Friends’, which is blissfully reminiscent of ‘Fastlove Pt.1’ era George Michael.
‘Gloria’ is a further step into pop wonderland for Smith but there are still big ballads such as album closer ‘Who We Love’, featuring Ed Sheeran, and ‘How To Cry’ to snuggle up to.
It’ll be interesting to see where Sam Smith goes next but one thing’s for certain: the world’s most famous fisherthem has the stones and the trousers to go wading in any musical waters. And with a seemingly natural ability to upset Noel Gallagher, perhaps we’ll see them fishing with 2-D and Murdoc and the rest of the Gorillaz on ‘Cracker Island’ in the near future.