It’s awards season, so I’d like to nominate Sam Smith for 2022’s Best Celebrity Cameo in a Magazine Profile. The release was New York Magazine; The subject was Joel Kim Booster, the author and star of last year’s Tender-hearted pride and prejudice tip fire island. Booster and his friends are returning home from a Silver Lake gay bar when he ducks 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… be the first gay person to win an Oscar during an acceptance speech,’ and upon arrival they tell the group about their plans to visit Anne Boleyn’s grave in the Tower of London as a little birthday present. This unexpected entry into Booster’s world also articulates Smith’s odd mix of genuine pioneering spirit and cultural conservatism. You’re a proud, no-holds-barred non-binary pop star and an old soul with a penchant for sadness. Who else would “stand up for the girls of English history” while partying with queer Hollywood royalty?
You stop both the freedom and the mustiness glory, an album that feels assertive and diverse when compared to a career so closely hewn to pop’s middle road. Smith has described glory as defined by “emotional, sexual, and spiritual liberation,” and if you’ve followed Smith for the past decade, you’ll understand that that kind of unrepentant self-love was hard won. The histrionic powerhouse who once begged for a one-night stand to stay here has morphed into a playful lover and queer history student who loves RuPaul, Divine, Paris is burning, and soundbites from early Pride parades. But these authentic expressions of self share space with a closing track that’s basically Ed Sheeran’s “Same Love,” and that’s the conundrum of her career: Smith’s level of taste and writing style hasn’t kept up with her comfort in her own skin.
glory offers much of the one fundamental pleasure you would expect from any Sam Smith album: the thrill of a gifted singer exploring and subverting his material phrase by phrase. Here it is the confidence of Smith’s performance that elevates the album to a slightly higher level in their catalogue. Sometimes it’s a chorus or verse that blows your mind: the graceful, fluid runs that close the muted “No God,” or the gooey and hoarse opening chorus on the single “Gimme.” Elsewhere you get the same jolt you might feel when you hear a singer like Adele turn her talents to love rock or chanson: “Who would have thought you could do the?” glory alternates between hyperpop, country, dancehall, disco, 2-step and intimate, Kehlani-esque R&B, although the range covered by the material is more remarkable than any sparkling example of genre tourism.