Yesterday's artist was known to few - they didn't even have a Wikipedia entry. Today's artist is known to practically everyone who follows today's Pop. Along with Adele, One Direction and Ed Sheeran, he's Britain's most successful international star of the last 5 years.
Sam Smith was born in London, England, in 1992. He had good musical training. He was an alumnus of Youth Music Theatre UK and starred in their 2007 production of "Oh! Carol". Before entering the musical theatre, he had been in jazz bands. For a number of years he studied singing and songwriting under jazz pianist Joanna Eden. He attended St Mary's Catholic School in Bishop's Stortford. He was a member of the Bishop's Stortford Junior Operatics and the Cantate Youth Choir.
Smith grew up in the tiny Cambridgeshire village of Great Chishill, where he had an “amazing” childhood with a loving, supportive (and well-off) family, “But I was out in the middle of nowhere, where there were no other gay people, and not a lot of people with the same kind of mind that I had.” He came out when he was 10 years old and he wasn't afraid to speak up for equality at his Catholic school. "From what I can remember, they believe that you can be homosexual, but you just can't practice it, which is ridiculous," he says. "I would just say, 'I am proof that it's genetic. It has to be, because it wasn't a choice.' And that's it. That's my only argument, you know? You love who you love, and I can't help that I like guys." He made his coming out public shortly before the release of his first album. Here he is, explaining why to Ellen:
For a person who's been out for all these years, he’s only had one real relationship, with the American model Jonathan Zeizel, which ended about a year ago. (Smith has “commitment issues” he’s trying to work out.) Here they are, when they first met:
We were first introduced to Sam in 2012 through Latch, a single by Disclosure where he was the featured artist. The single went 3x platinum in Canada, 2x platinum in the US, platinum in the UK, Australia, Sweden and Denmark and gold in New Zealand.
His next hit was also as a featured artist: La La La by Naughty Boy. It was an even bigger hit: 2x platinum in the US, the UK (also a #1), Australia, Sweden and Denmark, and platinum in the Netherlands, Germany and New Zealand.
Between the two collaborations, in February 2013, Sam Smith released his first personal single: Lay Me Down was a minor hit at first (UK #46), but when it was re-released two years later it was a proper hit, peaking at #2 in New Zealand, #3 in Australia, #8 in the US, #10 in Canada, #14 in Ireland, and #15 in the UK.
The music video for the re-release, which replaced the original, was recorded in St Margaret's Church, Lee, South East London, with the permission of the Rector the Revd. Dr. Alan Race. It was shot in one sequence. It depicts Smith at a funeral in the church standing in front of the deceased's coffin, then a flashback reveals that Smith actually married the man in question in the same church. The video then returns to the present day, some time after the funeral, with Smith mourning the loss of his husband in the empty church.
On 9 March 2015, it was announced that Smith and John Legend had joined forces for a new version of Lay Me Down to be used as the official Red Nose Day charity single. This version was released the same day and all proceeds from the track's sales benefit the charity. It made #1 in the UK, #4 in Ireland, #8 in Belgium, and #18 in the Netherlands.
In October 2013, Smith released his first (and so far only) extended play called Nirvana. The opening track was Safe With Me:
The second song on the EP was the title track:
The single that firmly established Smith was Money On My Mind, released in the end of 2013. It peaked at #1 in the UK and was certified gold or platinum in most major markets.
The song that really made him a superstar though, was his next single, Stay With Me, released in April 2014. The song has become Smith's most successful single to date, peaking at number one in the UK Singles Chart (becoming his third chart-topper there, second as a solo artist), topping the charts in Canada and New Zealand, and reaching number two on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. It has also reached top 10 status in over twelve countries worldwide. At the 57th Annual Grammy Awards ceremony, Darkchild's remix version of Stay with Me won two Grammy Awards for Record of the Year and Song of the Year.
According to Smith, "the song is about the moment in the morning after a one night stand, where the person you are with leaves your house, and you are left by yourself, and it's just a second, where you are just like: 'I wish, I wish'. You don't even love them, you don't really fancy them that much, it's just nice to have someone in the bed next to you."
In January 2015, it was revealed that a settlement had been reached with Tom Petty's publishing company to add Petty and Jeff Lynne as co-writers, and that they would receive a 12.5% songwriting credit. Petty's publisher contacted Smith's team after he noticed a likeness between Stay With Me and the melody of Petty's 1989 song I Won't Back Down. Petty clarified that he did not believe Smith plagiarized him, saying "All my years of songwriting have shown me these things can happen. Most times you catch it before it gets out the studio door but in this case it got by. Sam's people were very understanding of our predicament and we easily came to an agreement".
A month later his first (and so far only) album was released. It was called In The Lonely Hour. It's a sad album, and Sam explains that making it so was a conscious decision: “I don’t have any problem with being the guy whose album people put on when they’re feeling sad,” he says. “In three years’ time, that might completely change, but right now, I don’t mind being the go-to CD when you’re having a glass of wine and feeling a bit sorry for yourself. I like that my music can be this kind of crutch for people.”
Melancholy, he continues, is second nature to him. “I’ve had an amazing life, but I think I was born with a little bit of sadness in me. I’ve always been attracted to those things, whether it’s sad movies, sad music… when you’re sad, you feel everything in a greater way than you do when you’re happy. I’m a vulnerable, sensitive person. I overthink everything. I’m insanely self-conscious about my body, about my music, about everything in my life, and that self-consciousness is what’s keeping my feet on the ground at the moment. If I didn’t have it, I’d become a bit of a pr*ck. I’m thankful for my sadness.”
The sadness didn't stop the album from becoming a commercial success worldwide, reaching number one in Australia, Ireland, New Zealand, South Africa, Sweden and the United Kingdom. It was the second best-selling album of 2014 in the UK, and the third best-selling of 2015 in the United States. It was nominated for Album of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Album at the 57th Annual Grammy Awards, winning the latter and losing to Morning Phase by Beck in the former. In the Lonely Hour also received a nomination for Best British Album at the 2015 Brit Awards; the accolade ultimately went to Ed Sheeran for x. It sold over 2m copies in the US and as many in the UK.
In The Lonely Hour was spawned by a not-quite relationship. During his fourth and final acceptance speech at the Grammys in February, Smith thanked “the man who this record is about”, a casual remark of huge significance, considering the occasion. “I read an article saying I was one of the first openly gay men to do that on TV,” he says proudly. “I thought it was an impactful thing to do: to treat being gay as the new normal, on live TV in front of millions and millions of people across America. I’m trying to make it a non-issue, even though I’m fully aware that it is one.”
Next personal single (he also appeared on charity singles God Only Knows and the 2014 edition of Do They Know It's Christmas?), was I'm Not the Only One. A piano soul ballad, anchored by orchestral strings and a gospel structure, I'm Not the Only One deals with themes of infidelity in a relationship and was inspired by a marriage of someone writers Smith and Napes knew. It received a positive response from critics, who praised his emotional vocals and its instrumentation. Commercially, the song was another success for Smith, becoming a top-three hit in the United Kingdom, a top-five hit in the United States, and a top-ten hit in over ten countries. A music video featuring actors Dianna Agron and Chris Messina was released on 1 August 2014 and it features content similar to the song's lyrics.
Next single Like I Can peaked at #9 on the UK Singles Chart, giving Smith his fifth UK top 10 single. It was the 100th biggest-selling song of 2014 in the United Kingdom. It has also charted at #19 in New Zealand, #20 in Australia, and #99 in the US.
It was during the filming of this song's video that he met his soon to be boyfriend Jonathan Zeizel.
Sam once again collaborated with Disclosure and in July 2015 they released a single called Omen. The single was a hit in several countries.
He was now a bona fide megastar. As a result, he was asked to write and sing the theme song for the James Bond movie called Spectre.
“In my first meeting with Sam [Mendes, director] and Barbara [Broccoli, producer], my pitch was that I wanted to create something genuinely timeless and classy,” he explains of the track. “Sam was talking about how a lot of Bond songs are love songs, and how love is an underlying theme in all the films. I write love songs – that’s all I do! – and I felt that was something which could play to my strengths. So that’s what I set out to create, an epic love song.” Becoming the first British male solo artist in 50 years to front a Bond theme, winning a Golden Globe and then an Oscar for Best Song and making history by being the artist behind the first Bond theme to go to Number One in the UK, are just few of the things that he accomplished with this song.
Sam Smith has already began recording fro his second album, which he wants to be more personal than his first. "I'm very passionate about being relatable. On my second record, instead of looking like I have more money, more airbrushing, I want to actually be more raw and more honest on my second album than my first," he says. "I want to be a pop star that isn't really skinny, a pop star who doesn't have a perfectly even face, where in my music video, I don't look my best, [but] I look raw and human. I want to change what a pop star is. I think that's deep down what I really want to do in music. I want to change that whole idea of, 'When I'm older, I want to be perfect.' I want to change people's idea of what perfection is. That's what I really want."
One of the new songs - called Scar, which deals with the subject of his parents’ divorce – he describes as “the saddest thing I’ve ever written”. Another is about the pressure he feels to conform to an industry standard of what pop stars, male and female, should look like.
Smith has struggled with negative body image since childhood, and even though he’s shed almost 50lb in weight over the past year, “I still feel pressured to look a certain way. For women, the pressure in this industry is horrendous and it’s got to stop. But it’s the same for guys, even though they won’t speak about it. I want to be a voice for that: just because I’ve lost weight doesn’t mean that I’m happy and content with my body. Because of the media, and because of what I feel I should look like, it’s always going to be a battle in my head.”He’ll later call that song “the happiest I’ve ever written”, before immediately qualifying the statement: “Well, at least it’s not too sad.” Either way, he says, “My first album was called ‘In The Lonely Hour’, so people shouldn’t be expecting anything too joyous from the next one. When I write sad songs, I feel like I’m sewing up a scar in me, and the outcome always feels so much better than when I write happy ones.”