A couple of days ago, one of Britain’s most boring pop music exports, Sam Smith, posted a cryptic photo to his social media accounts hinting that he was set to be the voice behind the next theme song for the James Bond franchise. What followed were countless blog posts unpicking the message of the photo, which depicted Smith’s hand with a ring emblazoned with the Spectre symbol. The question they all asked some form of the same question: was he teasing or was the Stay With Me Singer actually going to be singing the next theme for Spectre? My question: Why does everyone seem to care so much? It’s not as though Sam Smith is particularly exciting.
Honestly, none of the acts rumoured to be viable options for the song were too desirable (they included Lorde, Ed Sheeran and Ellie Goulding), but Sam Smith was perhaps the least appealing of the bunch. Over a career that has been astonishingly decorated with awards and accolades that have included four Grammy awards and two BRIT awards, Smith has been praised beyond measure for being consistently banal.
First gaining popularity as the voice behind Disclosure’s Latch, this ‘pop-soul’ singer had promise. When the brother-duo behind Disclosure, Howard and Guy Lawrence, first heard a recording of Smith singing, they mistook his voice for that of a woman. Lending his vocals to the track once deemed “too weird” for radio, Smith added honeyed, full-bodied and emotive layers to the song. It was no doubt in part due to Smith’s voice that Latch become such a fantastic sleeper hit it. Relatively unnoticed or cared for upon initial release, it blew up as across commercial and alternative radio alike. A true (and perhaps surprising) crossover hit the video for Latch, to date, has racked up well over 150 million views on YouTube.
Sadly, what followed was far less inspired: for both the parts of Disclosure and Sam Smith. The electro duo had one of the most anticipated albums of 2013, but aside from a few standout tracks, Settle fell short of the mark. Smith followed with an album of his own in early 2014, but for all its praise and hype, In the Lonely Hour is a boring compilation of songs that rely on Smith’s (somewhat confusing) status as a soulful pop singer without actually injecting any sense of soul into the music and ignoring the significant cultural history of soul music which is embodied throughout the music.
For all the praise Smith’s music receives for being honest and truthful about love and hook-up culture, it is not soul music. But perhaps even more disappointing, it isn’t even good pop music. As Sam Smith’s singles were released, they proved increasingly lacklustre. For all his vocal prowess, Sam Smith doesn’t use the tools available to him. For all his discontent with the lack of romance and class in popular music, he is missing something perhaps much more important: vigour. Listening to Sam Smith is tiring and irritating. Romantic, classy pop music, which is what Smith yearns for, does not need to be brash or fervent, but its so disappointing to realise that the only other option presented to us is for it to be pedestrian and plain. Perhaps if we keep lapping up the mundane pop music forced upon us, then we don’t really deserve more interesting pop stars, but it would be nice if some more diversity was offered throughout the charts.
Sam Smith is not an electro artist and while that is easy enough to respect, what is unfathomable is the lack of depth to the music Smith and his contemporaries (Ed Sheeran in particular is equally plain) offer. The lyrics are vapid, middle-of-the-road at best though they’re often received as though they’re something more. The music is formulaic and safe and this is only one of many points where comparing him to soul musicians, past and present, is offensive. Sam Smith is not interesting; for all intents and purposes he is a fan of Frank Sinatra who falls so incredibly short of making music with depth and dimension. Comparing him to the crooners of the 50s and 60s he so admires, is also not a respectable option though people continue to do so. His long list of awards only reinforces the notion that the powers in music continue to play things safe.
This leads us back to the most recent bit of Sam Smith related news. He has overnight confirmed that he will be singing the theme-song for the new James Bond film. The track is called Writing’s On The Wall and despite Smith denying any involvement in the project just last week, the song was recorded in January. It’s the first Bond song recorded by a British male solo artist since Tom Jones’ Thunderball in 1965. Disclosure have added to speculation about the track, tweeting they they have been involved in additional production of the song since. Smith joins a list of artists ranging from Dame Shirley Bassey to Adele (another singer to whom Smith is consistently compared) upon whom the supposed honour has been disposed. With a few exceptions, most Bond theme songs are forgettable. Sam Smith is a fitting (but boring) and safe choice for a formulaic franchise. Still, where Sam Smith is paraded around as being much more than he is musically, the Bond films at the very least never pretend to be something other than exactly what they are.
The question of why we should care about Sam Smith and his involvement with the Bond franchise remains unanswered: perhaps because everyone knows that we shouldn’t.
Sam Smith? “See you later, alligator. Mamase mamasa mamakusa.”