Sam Smith talks Gloria, self-love and why queer joy can feel ‘radical’ | CBC Radio

The full conversation with Sam Smith is available on our podcast, Q with Tom Power. Listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

For many artists, the vulnerability required to create a piece that expresses sadness, longing or grief can be terrifying. But for Sam Smith, it’s “the idea of being happy in a song” that feels scary.

“I think as a queer person — and I think a lot of people can relate to this — but to lean into the joy can feel quite, like, radical sometimes,” they said in an interview on Q with Tom Power.

WATCH | Sam Smith’s interview with Tom Power:

In 2014, Smith made a name for themself with devastating songs about love and loss on their debut album, In the Lonely Hour, which earned them four Grammys, including the top honours of best new artist and record of the year.

“I was dramatic,” said the singer-songwriter. “I was [in my] early 20s and I was speaking about heartbreak and unrequited love ⁠— and I loved it. I loved talking about it; I loved singing about it.… Then when I got to, like, 25, 26, it felt easier to go into a studio and be really negative and talk about sadness.”

Now, Smith is trying something new: a commitment to their own happiness. On their latest album, Gloria, they were determined to confront their fears and “write some music that shows different sides” of themself.

For queer folk, self-love can be a risk

In 2019, Smith came out as non-binary, changing their pronouns to “they” and “them.” The decision was met with thousands of supportive comments, but also some detractors and maybe even confusion from fans. To address that and welcome fans into this new chapter, Smith chose to open Gloria with the track Love Me More, which documents their journey with self-acceptance and discovery.

“It’s a chance to explain to people in a kind way where I’m at and ask them to come along because where I take them on this album is a very slutty place,” Smith said with a smile.

“It can be quite a challenging place with some of the songs and the spaces we get to. So I wanted to start the album in a kind way, a welcoming way, a warm way, and say that we’re going to have some fun.”

Smith said they aren’t afraid to talk openly about being non-binary, though there have been some challenges along the way. Trusting their own instincts and focusing on what makes them happy has been paramount to building self-love — and it’s also unlocked new creative potential.

“I’ve really learned to not read comments now, which is fabulous,” the musician told Power. “I’m releasing this album now and it’s, like, I’m not as nervous [as] before because I know I’m not going to be reading what other people think. It really is just about how I feel. Am I happy with it? And if I am, then great.”

As a self-described risk-taker who never sticks to one genre, Smith explores a new sonic direction on Gloria. The album’s lead single, Unholy, became an undisputed smash when it was released in September, but according to the artist, it took a lot of “pushing” to convince people it belonged on the record. 

“It was a risk for everyone,” said Smith. “People didn’t get it — people didn’t understand it.… It was this beautiful moment as an artist where it wasn’t up for debate. And there was just something inside me that was like, ‘This is amazing. I love it.'”

“It was about [the fact that Unholy] makes my body feel different, and it makes me proud of what I do, and it’s a powerful song. So the music was the leader throughout this whole process. And I had doubts, but the music kept dragging me and pushing me.”

As for the album’s title, Gloria, Smith said it points to a return to faith and spirituality in their life.

“I lost faith for a minute, and life felt a little bit hopeless,” they said. “And now I have a bit more faith back in my life — not religion for me, personally, and there’s no judgment at all — but for me, it’s just faith that everything’s going to be OK. And I call that feeling ‘Gloria.'”

While feeling joy is still something that remains outside the artist’s comfort zone, maintaining a daily practice of positivity has helped them “enjoy life a bit more.”

“I just wanted people to know in this album of joy that I’m making, I’m not in a place where I’m, like, happy forever,” Smith told Power. “It’s a fleeting thing and it’s something that I have to work hard on and always will have to work hard on.”

Written by Vivian Rashotte. Interview produced by Vanessa Nigro.

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