Sam Smith makes an unapologetic reintroduction on ‘Gloria’
On their fourth studio album, Smith delivers on intimacy and dancy celebrations of self
Prior to the album coming out on Jan. 27, Smith was the musical guest on Saturday Night Live on Jan. 21, and shockingly brought out their contemporary and collaborator, Kim Petras, to perform their fabled song “Unholy.” This performance radiated the essence of what Smith had intended for “Gloria” — a work that has proven to counter expectations of the artist’s typical soulful style. Most people are familiar with the four-time Grammy winner, but on “Gloria,” Smith makes an unapologetic reintroduction.
Back on their third album, “Love Goes,” we were introduced to a version of Smith beginning to celebrate themself, since they had recently come out as nonbinary. With groovy tracks like “Dancing With a Stranger” featuring Normani, we came to know Smith’s newest artistic intentions. On “Gloria,” Smith embraces their queerness, and seems to prioritize having fun with production and writing.
To begin, the album leads with “Love Me More,” immersing the listener into the ethos of this record. “Every day, I'm trying not to hate myself,” Smith sings softly, ending the first verse with, “Maybe I am learning how to love me more.”
Smith’s voice and lyricism pop out as the most rhythmic and luring aspects of the entire album. More importantly, this track speaks to the specific difficulties of learning to love yourself as a queer person in the limelight, where relentless homophobia and hate can feel inescapable.
“I’m becoming the artist of my dreams,” Smith said in an interview with Zane Lowe on Apple Music. Being queer in the music industry and public eye takes a toll emotionally, especially as a nonbinary person who pushes the bounds of gender expectations. From “In The Lonely Hour” to now, we’ve seen Smith come into their own, but as we know, it hasn’t been without tribulations.
Even now, Smith has received backlash after releasing a music video for the disco-pop song, “I’m Not Here To Make Friends.” Throughout the video, Smith owns and displays performances of their sexuality, embracing their queerness through ostentatious fashion choices, among other things. Controversy sparked chiefly among conservative circles, claiming the video was oversexualized, while many analysts have determined these critiques to be homophobic.
Although this album appears to be a celebration of Smith’s identity and newfound self, it does fail to excel in the artist’s typical levels of in-depth songwriting. “How To Cry” stands out as the track that reverts to Smith’s signature soul-bearing lyricism, yet it comes off as insincere placed next to “Unholy” on this record. Similarly, the title-track “Gloria” is a beautiful arrangement of religious church choir, yet it is sandwiched between “I’m Not Here To Make Friends” featuring Calvin Harris and Jessie Reyez, as well as a disappointingly cliche Ed Sheeran feature. Unfortunately, this track falls completely out of place, which is an absolute disservice as it’s the most spiritually composed ode to the constant struggle of achieving self love.
It’s impossible to look at this record and not talk about Reyez’s contribution to Smith’s full body of work. Reyez’ vocals are featured on three tracks, and Reyez has songwriting credits on “Gimme,” which also features Koffee. On Smith’s first track featuring Reyez titled “Perfect,” a slow and low beat brings the audience to a self-acceptance anthem, highlighted by lines such as “I wear my flaws like jewelry.” Much like Smith, Reyez fuses rhythm and blues with other genres in her own music, which proves to be Smith’s symbolic choice bringing her on board this record.
Even though “Unholy” stands out as the most famous song on this record, it still leaves something to be desired. Yet, the yearn for more from Smith means perhaps the artist will sink deeper, reflecting more on their next project. “Gloria” serves as Sam Smith’s scratch at the surface of understanding themself, which is not necessarily a bad thing.
For now, “Gloria” is the artist's first real step into unapologetically loving themself, which is something to be applauded.
Edited by Sara Winick, Kylie Bill and Nina Heller. Copyediting by Isabelle Kravis and Stella Guzik.