It’s awards season, so I’d like to nominate Sam Smith for Best Celebrity Cameo of 2022 in a Magazine Profile. The post was New York magazine; the subject was Joel Kim Booster, the writer and star of last year’s soft-hearted show Pride and Prejudice to return to Fire Island. Booster and his friends are returning from a gay bar in Silver Lake when he leans into the bathroom and emerges to announce, «Sam Smith is coming.» Smith is introduced to the reader as «the first gay person to think they were the first gay person to win an Oscar in an acceptance speech», and upon their arrival they inform the party of their intention to visit the grave of Anne Boleyn at the tower. from London as a little birthday present. This unexpected appearance in Booster’s world also expresses Smith’s strange mix of true pioneer and cultural conservatism. They are a proud and shameless non-binary pop star and an old soul with a taste for maudlin. Who else would ‘defend the girls of English history’ while partying with queer Hollywood royalty?
You can hear both freedom and restlessness on Gloria, an album that feels assertive and diverse when confronted with a career so close to the pop milieu. Smith described Gloria as being defined by “emotional, sexual, and spiritual release,” and if you’ve followed Smith over the past decade, you understand that kind of unrepentant self-love was hard-earned. The histrionic powerhouse who once begged for a one-night stand to stick around has transformed into a playful lover and queer history student, sampling RuPaul, Divine, Paris is burning, and sound clips from the first Pride parades. But those authentic expressions of self share space with a closing track that’s essentially Ed Sheeran’s «Same Love,» and it’s their career conundrum: Smith’s level of taste and songwriting. haven’t kept pace with their comfort in their own skin.
Gloria Well delivers the core enjoyment you’d expect on any Sam Smith album: the thrill of a gifted vocalist exploring and subverting his material phrase by phrase. Here, it’s the confidence of Smith’s delivery that puts the album at a slightly higher echelon within their catalog. Sometimes it’s a chorus or verse that knocks you back on your heels: the graceful, flowing strokes closing the muted «No God» or the viscous, throaty pre-chorus of single «Gimme.» In other spots, we feel the same shock that we could feel when hearing a singer like Adele put her talents to the service of rock or the song of lovers: «Who knew they or they could do that?» Gloria oscillates between hyperpop, country, dancehall, disco, 2-step and intimate, Kehlani-esque R&B, though the range covered by the material ends up being more remarkable than any glittering example of genre tourism.