Props: Sam Smith
March 29th, 2014 is a more significant date in the world’s history than you give it credit for. It’s half way to the one month anniversary of a leap year, which is pretty bad ass. Here in Chicago, March 29th meant that we only had to wait one more day to officially have a reason to hate the fact that the city’s collective balls had been frozen together since September (April showers means rain, Mama Nature. Don’t be sneaky, now). However, there is one reason that tops all the others, and he premiered on Saturday Night Live during what many would deem “The Lonely Hour” (which is a HUGE hint, by the way).
Sam Smith, a remarkably unremarkable looking Brit stepped on the famed SNL stage introduced by a clearance rack, powder blue, polo-wearing Louis C.K. (is he funny anymore or just macabre?), and gave himself a 3, 2, 1 count. If I’m being completely honest, I was expecting a drone akin to Bon Iver or some other Portland artist with 6 different patterns on their clothes.
I was wrong.
Sincerely, there is not one voice in the music industry that sounds like Smith, no exaggeration necessary (like that T.I. verse). However, there are many artists you can draw comparisons to: Adele, John Legend, Tracy Chapman, Aretha Franklin, Allen Stone and Brian McKnight first come to my mind. In essence, Sam Smith sounds like a mix between a black woman, black man, white woman, and white man. A Punnett Square of song, if you will.
After I wrapped my head around the voice I was hearing, I decided to go that extra step that very few artists in the music game today have earned: I listened to his lyrics. “Stay with Me,” his current single off his debut album, “In the Lonely Hour”, is a simple song (under three minutes, in fact) detailing the often undiscussed and yet ever-so-prevalent moment between the completion of the carnal one act stand and the painful and inevitable desire for unlikely human connection. “This ain’t love, it’s clear to see, but darlin’, stay with me”, in the most raw of ways, explains the dichotomy between wanting what you want, even though you are aware, consciously or not, that you should not have it. But it’s easier. It’s just easier.
Ok, people. Dry those tears. I know that was tough for all of you to get through, but we are going to keep going. Together. (We don’t have to fill the valleys on this one, its ok guys. Baby steps.)
Any who, needless to say, I became a bit verklempt at the performance, so as any good writer would do, I ate half a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos and went to bed. The next morning, however, I started researching Mr. Smith; born on May 19th, 1992 in London, Smith started studying music at a young age. As a graduate of Youth Music Theatre UK, “the UK’s leading music theatre company for young people”, Smith shared the classroom with fellow Brit pop star, Ed Sheeran and countless other singers and musicians currently gracing stages of The West End (look it up). He is also the third cousin of Lily Allen, which I think is pretty cool (really guys? Seriously?…jeez…look it up again).
In October 2012, he was featured on Disclosure’s premier single, “Latch.” From there, Smith really got the ball rolling, topping the UK music charts with the song “La La La”, only to be dethroned by “Blurred Lines”, which now, with some space, I think we can all agree was a mistake, but a mistake we all made together. Like “Call Me Maybe” or 4 Loko. And before you know it, BOOM – “Lay Me Down”, his first radio release off his album that you heard and really, REALLY liked and actually thought it was John Legend like I did. BANG – “Money on My Mind”, his second single off the album that you kiiinda liked, but also objectively realized it’s the obligatory, upbeat song that artists need to be a radio presence. And before you know it, KAPOW – Jimmy Fallon, Letterman, and finally, Saturday Night Live. His album dropping on June 17th in the United States to unanimous accolades and topping the UK album chart and many US charts just act as the free refill of English Breakfast tea to go along with his crumpet (that’s not just a metaphor, that’s a British metaphor. Look at me).
Additionally, besides his racially ambiguous voice, Smith sets himself apart from the rest of the top 100 with his ability to contextualize in-between moments in our young lives that rarely receive any kind of artistic attention. Sure, he has the classic “I’m done with you” songs like “I’ve Told You Now” and “Restart”, but he balances out that polarity with more intricate and delicate songs like “Not in That Way” and “Leave Your Lover.” He narrates the story of his debut album, saying “In the Lonely Hour is about a guy that I fell in love with last year, and he didn’t love me back. I think I’m over it now, but I was in a very dark place. I kept feeling lonely in the fact that I hadn’t felt love before.” (Fader, May 28, 2014). By rehashing his dark time and living in his vulnerability, however, he let the world and, undoubtedly, a future lover, inside. Happy face.
So there ya go, people! Keep an eye on this one because he is going to be big. And I mean big. Bigger than that guilt that should be there because your parents still pay your rent, but it’s not. Bigger than your attention you’re giving to soccer right now because you think those jerseys are tight, and, hey, you can be culturally relevant too!! Even bigger than all that attention that fine-ass convict is getting (you know the one. It aint his fault he got bonez, honey!) So props to you, Sam Smith! You have brought a bit of poetry back to music for the time being, and I’m looking forward to your chapter two.