Embracing their identity, the artist has found a revitalized creative spirit — and is ready to show the world that soulful songs can be happy, too.
Article written by Stephen Daw, At Sam Smith’s country home in Buckinghamshire, England, there’s a little barnhouse tucked to the side of the sprawling property. A small faux menagerie — turtles, flamingos, even a sloth named Keith — overlooks a patio where Smith’s year-old Bernadoodle, Velma (named for the merry murderess in Chicago), suns herself. Inside, there’s a billiards table, a sparkling crystal chandelier and a full bar; feathered, palm tree-shaped lamps and a 2-foot-tall, stuffed Ewok round out the cozily jumbled decor. It might be the perfect facsimile of the pub in town — well, except for the neon sign hanging in the rafters that reads “Fist Me.”
“I was like, ‘What do we call the pub?’ — I know it’s not really a pub, it’s a little barn,” Smith says, taking in the scene. “My sister actually wanted to call it The Tadpole, which I think is a fabulous name for a bar. But I just think The Fat Fairy beat that.”
A custom-designed spill mat on the bar bears that name, and Smith excitedly rattles off a to-do list for further furnishing: getting a working beer tap, installing wood flooring matching the rustic walls, as a “proper pub” would. After working in London through the week, this is where Smith spends weekends — so it’s nice to have, as they put it, “my own, private queer club in the middle of the countryside.”
“My 20s were my heartbreak years, they were my drama years, I really went through it,” Smith says, chuckling. “I didn’t have a lot of boundaries in place, not just in relationships necessarily, but in life in general.” They pause for a moment, then look up: “Though, you’re not meant to, right? You’re meant to learn what your boundaries are.”Sam Smith
“I think people need to get used to being wrong and making mistakes,” Smith now reflects. “That’s the biggest thing, getting comfortable with that uncomfortable feeling. That’s a hard thing to do, because I think we just strive for perfection.”
That Smith has weathered those missteps with their brand intact is, they say, a credit to the largely unchanged team they’ve maintained since the outset of their career. Throughout the day at their country home, Smith regularly kicks back and chats with Street and co-manager Kara Tinson, as well as creative director Ben Reardon and a few makeup artists.
At the end of 2019, Merriam-Webster announced its word of the year: “they.” Several months earlier, the dictionary had expanded its definition of the word to include it as a singular gender-neutral pronoun for individuals who identify as nonbinary, which in turn led to increased searches for the word online. In Merriam-Webster’s announcement, one name came up as a key reason for that spike in searches: Sam Smith.
Steps away from The Fat Fairy, there’s a building dedicated to a different sort of celebration: a shed-turned-studio space, where Smith has spent the last two years making new music that, as they put it, finally reflects their truest self. Sitting on a turquoise couch inside of it, sporting a Balenciaga T-shirt with two gender-neutral stick figures holding hands, Smith — who came out publicly as nonbinary in late 2019 — radiates a newfound sense of comfort: no more hiding, no more questioning, just living life on their terms. “I can’t express how incredible I feel every day,” they say with a wide grin.
Another small but powerful realization came this year, at a performance of theirs during Pride Month. “I was singing the same songs that I’ve always done, but this time I was just wearing this beautiful lace top,” Smith recalls. “I said to my manager, ‘It’s mad how just those little things completely change my mental health.’ It has been nothing but a positive for me and my body and my mind.”
For decades, coming out in the music industry was considered taboo, not only due to bigotry, but also to a fear that it would diminish an artist’s career prospects. But Marella says Smith’s haven’t suffered; in fact, radio programmers have gone out of their way to properly address Smith’s identity. “Radio has been so good and so supportive of referencing and acknowledging Sam as ‘they/them’ in promos and intros leading into the song, and talking about Sam,” Marella says. “I was, frankly, really pleased that there was so much thought going into it from so many people.”
There’s a lightness to Smith as they sit in their home studio, imagining what the future might hold. “Maybe the music I make in the future won’t sit as well on the radio,” they say with a shrug. “It takes a bit of courage to maybe try something that maybe people aren’t going to like.”
A cheeky smile returns to their face, and their eyes light up. “But I like it,” they say, grinning. “And that’s all that matters.”
Listen Sam Smith Essentials on Apple Music.
You can find the entire article at billboard.com.