Sam Smith on His New Album and the Trauma of Fame

Photograph by Alasdair McLellan

We caught up with the Grammy Award-winning artist ahead of the release of their new album, Love Goes, today.

Sam Smith is on his last interview of the day to promote his new album, Love goes, in a London hotel and was awarded a vodka martini. It arrived, however, with an olive instead of the requested twist. Many stars, especially of the Oscar-winning and Grammy-winning variety, reportedly fired her, maybe even had a little hissing fit. Not Smith. They shrug and sip contentedly as we chat with Zoom to talk about the album, which releases today with a live performance from iconic Abbey Road Studios at 4 p.m. EST.

The album is Smith’s most varied work to date – poignant acapella Young leaping Diamonds, which was released in September.

“I was in the studio pretending to be a really, really rich woman whose husband had left her and taken all of her diamonds and possessions in a nasty divorce,” Smith describes. “She was left alone in a mansion, in her wedding dress, drinking wine. That’s what I imagined when I wrote the song. This disco character, Diana Ross came out of me.

How realistic are the lyrics?

“I only have these diamonds that they will have to tear out of my ear to get,” they say, pointing to the two solitaries in their right lobes. On the other, a vintage pearl, worn at the suggestion of stylist Ben Reardon, who dressed Smith for the album cover taken by fashion photographer Alasdair McLennen. “I never really liked pearls, but I wear them every day,” Smith says of their new signature jewelry. “Now I want a pearl that has a deep, dark history.” Among the jewelry on their fingers is an 1837 Tiffany & Co. gold ring purchased in New York. “I was really sad after my first long relationship broke up,” Smith recalls. “I was so, so low. To cheer me up, my three beautiful queer friends and I pretended that we were Gender and city and I got dressed, I went for cocktails, I took a walk, then I went to a vintage store and I got this. I think it’s my independence ring.

Love goes to work.

There is a lot of love angst on this album, some of it coming from this breakup. And Smith bemoans that it’s harder for someone who isn’t cis to find love.

“It’s difficult, not because there is a lack of people who want to love these wonderful people. It’s hard because we are taught not to love ourselves. So having successful relationships can be incredibly difficult because we can destroy ourselves. To be honest, it takes a lot of therapy, help, communication, and practice to love.

Smith finds listening to American author and therapist Brené Brown to help. “She says vulnerability is the cradle of joy and courage. For my queer life that really, really struck me deeply. Smith was released as non-binary in March 2019 and advises others considering the same thing to accept that there are things they cannot control. “You have to put your hands up and step into the moment knowing sometimes that it’s not right. This message helped me a lot.

Being genderqueer has also resulted in developmental delay in the romance department, Smith believes. “My 20s are like my teenage years when it comes to love because I was cheated on in school.” They used fashion as a weapon to cope with this difficult time. “From 15 to 19, I wore feminine clothes and full make-up throughout school. It was my way of saying “f … you” to all the bullies. And I felt amazing.

new sam smith album
Photograph by Alasdair McLellan

Fame has also been difficult to manage, Smith reveals.

“Becoming famous is one of the biggest traumas in my life so far,” they say. “I found it such a shock to the system. I was brought up quite normally. I didn’t go to performing arts schools or anything. I left school and worked in a press agent in a local train station and in a bar in London. And when I was 20, I was put in this machine that turned my life upside down in eight or nine months. Everything I knew has changed. Everyone treated me differently. My financial situation went from 0 to 100. I began to have to take responsibility within my family and my work circle. I did not have the knowledge to take on this responsibility. I was still a child. And as a queer person, you already feel inexperienced.

Smith’s new reality also has an impact on family, friends and colleagues, they point out. “And that’s all because I wanted it so badly. So there is this strange mixture of guilt, pride, sadness, happiness, freedom, trapping. All of those things that you feel at the same time that you just have to work out and ride the wave.

Letting Smith enjoy their martini, one last question comes to mind. Did they ever go back to dressing in this flamboyant and more feminine way?

“I think I would,” they reply. “As I get older, I just want to wear kaftans, diamonds and jewelry.”

Buy tickets to watch the show live at Abbey Road Studios at 4 p.m. ET today here. You can also purchase tickets for a reminder of the live broadcast at 8 p.m. ET / 8 p.m. PT today through this link.

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