A Journey To Unapologetic Queerness With Sam Smith

It was the year 2014 when Sam Smith rose to fame for their pop ballads Stay With Me and I’m Not The Only One. They were suddenly everywhere: their music was vulnerable, passionate and raw, making the coldest of people feel something.

In a powerful move, Smith came out as gay in the same year, right after the release of their debut album In The Lonely Hour. They didn’t want their sexuality to be the subject of speculation, or leave it up to rumour. After seeing preceding queer pop stars such as George Michael go through the same guesswork for years, Smith had no intention to suffer through it too.

Despite being publicly out, references to Smith’s queerness in their first album were few and far between — you only found them if you knew where to look.

Slowly, this began to change.

In their follow-up record The Thrill of It All, the singer began to be more explicit in references to their sexuality, singing to and about men openly, with tracks like HIM and Pray.

Such changes are seen in the music scene quite often — as with Troye Sivan’s transition from Blue Neighbourhood to Bloom — and are always a good sign, reflective that the queer community and the mainstream media, with it, is moving in the right direction. Confidence and pride in one’s identity takes time, and is especially harder when the world is watching and judging your every move. Just by being out and proud, and fairly public with their relationships, artists like Sam Smith make hundreds of young queer people feel more normal and accepted.

In 2019, Sam Smith came out once again, embracing their gender as a non-binary person, and asking people to address them using they/them pronouns.

Gaining support and love from the LGBTQA+ community and expected backlash from conservatives, Smith continued to shine a light on queer issues, highlighting their own white privilege and supporting BIPOC queer folks as well.

Smith’s newest album Love Goes is perhaps the freest and queerest of all their records. “A celebration of youth and music”, the album has 17 tracks, and is surprisingly, Smith’s first real breakup album. The twist, though, is that it is a feel-good break up album. Although there are a few classic, heart-wrenching Sam Smith ballads, most songs on Love Goes are poppy and catchy, with contrastingly deep poetic lyrics.

This, in itself, is a testament to how much Smith has changed in the last six years. In their early years in the music industry, Sam Smith was often criticised for making music that was repetitive and monotonous. While a lot of these criticisms were unnecessary — it is not Smith’s music that is monotonous, but their voice that is unique enough to make everything sound similar — Smith seems to have grown as an artist, and experimented without hesitation on Love Goes.

The album opens with Young, a classic slow Smith-style ballad about how they want to live their life unapologetically. Young captures Smith’s experience as a queer person, and the pressure they feel due to fame. The song is honest and real, the perfect opening track and the most appropriate introduction to an album that goes on to be unabashedly queer. With lyrics like “If you wanna judge me, then go and load the gun. I’ve done nothing wrong, I’m young” that resonate especially with the LGBTQA+ community, the song is a powerful one.

The track that follows is Diamonds — arguably one of the best songs on Love Goes, and also one of the singles dropped before the album’s release. Darker and moodier than most of Sam Smith’s discography, Diamonds is fast-paced and sings of a material love that was not real. The tune is catchy and fun, setting the pace for the following songs on the record.

Another One, the third track on Love Goes, starts off slow and downcast, before transforming into a more energetic, electronic production. Along with the music, the lyrics also go from a state of dejection to acceptance, becoming less and less bitter as the song progresses.

The fourth track, featuring Nigerian superstar Burna Boy, is My Oasis. A brilliant mid-tempo love song, My Oasis is hypnotic and catchy, with lyrics that deal with the initial stages of love and how scary this time can feel. Described by Billboard as “vastly different from anything else you’ll hear today”, the song is one of the more popular ones on the album.

So Serious and Dance (‘Til You Love Someone Else) are both equally fun and infectious tunes, with deeper lyrics that juxtapose this lightness. While So Serious talks about how Smith often finds it hard to get out of their mind, Dance (‘Til You Love Someone Else)  is like a more sorrowful and honest sequel to the acclaimed Dancing With A Stranger.

A gentle, sweet song, Breaking is one of the most vulnerable tracks on Love Goes. It is a reflection inward, as Smith looks back on their relationship and the difference in power dynamics. “I was giving all my love, you were busy taking,” they sing softly on the track that shows that they broke things off for good reason.

The following Forgive Myself is a simple ballad, similar to Smith’s early style. The song is one of the more traditional break-up songs on the album as Smith sings about an old relationship that they remember often, even as they try to let it go. They ask their partner questions that will never be answered, and sing of how they can’t love someone else until they forgive themselves. The track highlights Smith’s powerful vocals and is impactful with just a simple instrumental backing of the piano and the cello.

The title track of the album, Love Goes, comes next. A collaboration with Labrinth, the song is about the inevitable end of a relationship on good terms. It track is almost peaceful and comforting, starting off slow and quiet before ending with a fuller sound including stunning trumpets.

Much like the album’s name, Smith has explained that Love Goes is meant to be ambiguous in its title. It could have negative connotations — love leaves — or a positive acceptance — love goes on — depending on the listener.

Another fan favourite is the closing track Kids Again. An emotional, nostalgic song looking back on a previous relationship, the song has won listeners’ hearts with its poetic, sweet lyrics: “Do you even think about it? The way we changed the world. And don’t it make you sad that we’ll never be kids again?” It also has a retro sound, reminiscent of the 70s and Fleetwood Mac, and Smith described it as “a bridge to my next record.”

The track is, in a way, a summary of the nostalgic, reflective nature of the entire record, and the perfect ending.

There are also bonus tracks — most of them previously released and well-received. Dancing With A Stranger and How Do You Sleep are arguably some of Smith’s best works. In addition to this, there are collaborations with Calvin Harris (Fire on Fire) and Demi Lovato (I’m Ready) that change the mood of the record. To Die For, originally meant to be the title track of the album, is another remarkable song in which Smith sings about the loniliness they feel without someone to die for.

Love Goes is undoubtedly one of Smith’s best and most diverse works. The sound of it is similar to pop music in the 2000s and 2010s, and it is comforting in this familiarity. In a way, it feels like this album has always been in your life, through love and heartbreak. Smith’s feelings of freedom and eagerness to experiment and create is apparent just after one listen. It is clear that Love Goes is something the singer poured their heart and soul into, and the result is that it holds a piece of the listener’s heart as well.

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Saachi Gupta is an LGBTQ+ activist, animal lover and the author of 'With Love, or Something Like That.' She is a strong believer in equality amongst mankind.
Saachi Gupta

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