Sam Smith has built a reputation on his falsetto, lovelorn ballads, and saying the wrong thing at the worst possible time. In his 2016 Oscars acceptance speech for his Bond theme, Smith repeated a quote from Sir Ian McKellen that he’d misunderstood to mean that no openly gay man had ever won an Oscar, seemingly applauding himself for making history. Except, oof, McKellen was talking only about the acting category. Previous openly gay winners like Dustin Lance Black did not take kindly to the gaffe; Smith then tweeted a correction and an apology. Prior to those Oscars, Smith also tweeted his account of experiencing racism up close for the first time while out with a friend who received verbal abuse. “I never ever ever ever thought that would happen here. Absolutely speechless and hurt,” he said, expressing further disbelief that the police were unhelpful and how Nina Simone playing on the radio when he got home was a sign of … something. His mentions quickly filled with accusations of his ignorance and privilege; Smith later quit social media.
Just when you’d gotten used to Smith’s silence, he’s back to saying not great things. Smith tells Billboard that his Oscars flub was an error of his youth, and that he is now a changed, more worldly man who’s no longer sheltered. Sam Smith traveled to Iraq for charity work and had a revelation. Sam Smith, sigh, got woke:
I spent five days in Mosul and came back embarrassed that I had known so little about the world and other people’s lives. I went back to that great Nina Simone quote, that it is important to speak about the times you live in. I hadn’t done that; I’d just written a bunch of songs about love. So I wanted to write about how I’m now starting to open my eyes, at 25, to what is going on in the rest of the world, and that it’s not always pretty.
Woke Sam Smith has seen some stuff. Woke Sam Smith won’t limit himself to love songs when there’s so much more to discuss. Woke Sam Smith, like Sleeping Sam Smith, won’t leave Nina out of this.