‘How Do You Sleep?’ and the burgeoning queerness of Sam Smith

sam smithBritain’s premiere genderqueer balladeer dials up the diva for his latest melodic electro-R&B jam. And it’s about time. 

Despite shooting to stardom in 2013 with one of the best dance tunes of the decade – the Disclosure collaboration ‘Latch’ – Sam Smith has never been a terribly interesting artist. 

His repertoire of weepy ballads and breakbeat-inflected toe-tappers has seemingly been developed with the specific intention of bringing a sophisticated ambience to department stores the world over, leaving little room for the openly gay singer’s own burgeoning flamboyance. 

Then came that performance at the Brits this February.

Joining Calvin Harris for his much-hyped medley of hits, Sam let his Pride flag fly in front of four million viewers – including yours truly. The person who showed up to belt out ‘Promises’ wasn’t the coiffed, earnest tenor I was used to. Here was a femme, Lambrini-drunk popstar ready to pose hand on hip, flick his non-existent weave, and just generally let us have it. As a fellow 27-year-old queer person, I felt unexpectedly represented.

A month later, in a bold and laudable move, Sam came out as non-binary

The real Sam Smith

On a musical level, new single ‘How Do You Sleep?’ doesn’t channel the sultry house throb of ‘Promises’. Instead Sam continues down the melodic electro-R&B route he explored on previous single ‘Dancing With A Stranger’, a duet with US singer Normani. But where that single’s presentation was stately and somewhat heteronormative, his latest video doubles down on the unfiltered extraness first glimpsed upon that Brits stage.

The first thing we see is Sam slouched on a chair at what appears to be an uninspired (read: heterosexual) video shoot. He appears depressed and despondent, and yeah, I would too if I were dressed like Homer Simpson. But not to worry! Help arrives in the form of a hunky studio assistant! Sammy the Jammy Bastard is then hauled across the studio, wrapped in the guns of a god (did I mention this man is a zaddy?).

In the next setup, Sam is decked out in a normcore mesh shirt and determined to keep up with his tight troupe of voguers, and is clearly in his element. Could this sequence be a metaphor for how Sam had to drag himself out of his Mother’s Day aisle comfort zone in order to be his authentic (read: fabulous) self? I’d bet money on it. I mean, if he wasn’t attracted to men before being swept up by that assistant…

The question is, does this particular song warrant such fripperies? Not really. Thematically, it’s a strong and refreshingly compassionate reckoning with a deceitful, possibly adulterous lover. But these lyrical pearls are strung together on a standard algorithm-pop structure. The emotional bandwidth that was so hard-earned is somewhat undermined by an inevitable squawking beat drop.

Perhaps that’s the canny sleight-of-hand Sam and his team have pulled off with this release. ‘How Do You Sleep?’ is safe enough musically to keep him afloat in the streaming game – but G.A.Y enough visually to ease the public into an enticing new era. If single #3 manages to sound like – and not just look like – a homosexual bop for the ages, one that gets played everywhere from supermarkets to circuit parties, then Sam can sleep easy knowing he’s well on his way to becoming a future queer icon.

[Music] Markus Feehily – Love Is A Drug (review)

marky mark

Available to buy on iTunes 

For those feeling cheated by British singer Sam Smith’s reluctance to exhume the soulful magnetism that once allowed Disclosure’s “Latch” to reach its zenith of house-garage nirvana from whatever crypt the success of his frumpy debut In The Lonely Hour consigned it to, Markus Feehily may have found the perfect remedy with “Love Is A Drug”.

For his first solo release, the former Westlife stalwart eschews the flavourless pap that remains de rigueur for ex-boyband members – be they Irish balladeers or neutered one-time hit-makers – for a brooding slice of breakbeat-pop. With Feehily’s smooth tenor gliding through swathes of swollen strings from the track’s opening moments, Massive Attack’s trip-hop classic “Unfinished Sympathy” appears to be the obvious exemplar for the track.

The drawing of parallels between love and drugs may be one of the most burnt out lyrical tropes in pop music, but Feehily’s delivery sets an almost overwhelmingly raw and personal tone. Meanwhile, a recurring motif of “looking up at the stars” helps ground the song’s lyrical and aural histrionics – a foreboding choir emerges during the final lap to plump up an already anthemic chorus – in a recognisably dissonant romantic situation.

9.5/10

[Music] Top Tracks of 2014, Part Two (#30 – #16)

Part One:

#20 – #11 // #10 – #1

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Thanks in no small part to Beyoncé’s still-legendary surprise album drop last December, music lovers spent most of 2014 in anticipation for a similarly strategised blockbuster release that never really came. U2 were brave to test the novel idea of occupying your digital library pretty much by force; the reactions were mixed, with some Apple users describing the move as a violation, although we can only hope the subsequent iCloud-hacking scandal helped put things into perspective for them.

Despite the vaguest hint of a popstar working on new material sparking a raft of paranoid articles detailing an imminent midnight release, Beyoncé’s influence reaches beyond this palpitation-inducing phenomenon. The success of her self-titled record seems to have coaxed labels away from archaically prolonged release dates and woken them up to the lucrative realities of the instant gratification sought after by the internet generation. For this we are grateful, as it was such spontaneity that allowed a strong portion of our Top 30 to fall into our laps. And of course we extend our thanks to you, the music-buying public, for demonstrating the demand necessary for a competitive and stimulating industry. Happy New Year.

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30. Charli XCX – Boom Clap, Sucker

charli-xcx-bella-howard

Available to buy on iTunes

After owning the airwaves this summer with her inescapable Iggy Azalea collaboration “Fancy” – following on from her work on Icona Pop’s 2013 smash “I Love It” – Charli XCX bagged herself a well-deserved solo hit with “Boom Clap”, an old-fashioned power pop love song that’s as warm and light as cappuccino foam. Thank heavens Hilary Duff’s team turned it down; whatever heft “Boom Clap” has comes courtesy of Charli’s smoky Cambridge intonations and punk spirit.

See also:Breaking Up 

29. Mariah Carey – You Don’t Know What To Do [feat. Wale], Me. I Am Mariah… The Elusive Chanteuse

me-i-am-mariah-review

Available to buy on iTunes

Smothered within the often soporific mood of Mariah Carey’s latest album, the piano-led intro to “You Don’t Know What To Do” initially sparks fears of more mid-tempo mediocrity. Thankfully, it’s a sonic red-herring; a quick tribute to Gloria Gaynor’s infamous “At first I was afraid, I was petrified…” before launching into a sassy, disco-infused strut.

See also:#Beautiful” [feat. Miguel]

28. Game – Or Nah [feat. Too $hort, Problem, AV & Eric Bellinger], Blood Moon: Year of the Wolf

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Available to buy on iTunes

Chart-chasing pop-rap tracks don’t get any more shameless than “Or Nah”, a Frankenstein’s monster of a jam that stitches catchy but disparate parts – spoken word come-ons (“You gon’ let me hit it, or nah?”), Eric Bellinger’s Usher circa 2005-aping chorus – to the same sticky synths that made Iggy’s “Fancy” so addictive. Game turns in a fun verse (“Tell her hop in my bed, tell her hop off my roof / My baby mama trippin’, and that bitch can shoot”), and while healthy use of the B-word may be off-putting to the some, props to the boys for literally giving the modern, sexually-assured woman a voice on that hilariously blunt pre-chorus.

See also: “The Purge (Year of the Wolf)

27. Lana Del Rey – West Coast, Ultraviolence

Lana-Del-Rey-Ultraviolence

Available to buy on iTunes

The hypnotic “West Coast” reroutes Lana Del Rey’s trademark idealisation of volatile love affairs from the glamour of 1960s Hollywood to a 1990s San Francisco crack den. The scuzzy, psychedelic production fits Del Rey’s new whisky-bathed voice as well as the string-heavy, hermetically-sealed stylings of her debut, particularly whenever the chorus’s bracing shift in tempo kicks in.

See also: “Ultraviolence

26. Ergo Phizmiz – Consequences, The Peacock

jilted_gen

Available to buy on iTunes

Although his name may very well have been generated on a website frequented by wannabe rappers, Ergo Phizmiz is not an up-and-coming hip-hop sensation but a maddeningly prolific purveyor of eccentric chamber pop. The lively “Consequences” blends his gentleman drawl with gloriously nonsensical lyrics and a musty organ shuffle, like your favourite Divine Comedy number with a Britpop swing.

See also: Open Artery Surgery

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