The Hasty History of Sam Smith's Rise to Superstardom
  • SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 08, 2015

  • Posted by: David Moffly

We love Sam Smith. His vocal range is stunning and he can sing the pants off of any song, from Whitney Houston's "How Will I Know" to "Latch", his breakthrough single with the Disclosure boys. When he dueted with vocal deity Mary J. Blige, he wasn't overmatched. We love that he isn't skinny, he isn't a prototypical pin-up pretty boy, and he can't really dance (well, to be honest I don't think we've ever really seen him try). He is somewhat unlikely, living through his voice and his songs. In that way, he's a lot like Adele. 22 months ago we didn't know who he was. I'm more than certain you didn't either. So let's examine where he came from. Like a host of pop stars before him, Smith appeared out of thin air — an overnight success at the young age of 22. If you ask him, he'll assert that he started his career at the age of eight years old, but the express bus to his current fame arrived less than two years ago. The Sam Smith Express left the station when Annie Mac of BBC Radio 1 unleashed Disclosure's single "Latch" on the airwaves in the UK on September 7, 2012. At the time, Smith had been working in a bar, co-writer Jimmy Napes was looking for a hit, and the Lawrence brothers were looking for a lead single. Sam's vocals for the track were recorded during a lunch break. The official video for the song came out a month later on October 9, 2012. His first solo effort hit YouTube on January 18, 2013. The dark moody performance gives us a taste of Smith's style and range. We were stopped in our tracks by the authentic power and range of his voice for the first time. British super producer Naughty Boy then grabbed him for a feature in "La La La", which hit the web on April 18, 2013. This video becomes a viral sensation and to date has played more the 340 million times on YouTube. In another solo performance, he showcases his style with the release of "Nirvana" on August 21, 2013. My own daughter emailed me the audio sharing her amazing discovery. Again, we were hypnotized. That same month in New York City, Smith played his first live gig at the Mercury Lounge in front of a handful of in-the-know spectators. In an interview with the New York Times he was quoted saying how special this particular performance was. It was the first time he ever had a crowd sing the lyrics back to him. Even through their poor quality, iPhone videos from the event captured his charm and voice. Somewhere in the second half of 2013 Sam signed to Capitol Records. The incredibly powerful major label money and promotion machine injected nitrous oxide into the bus and it picked up some serious speed. Clearly uncomfortable in his first major label video, Sam is paired with a heavy weight video production team and set loose in the sadder parts of Las Vegas to film "Money On My Mind." The video was released on January 12, 2014. The second video stayed closer to home in London. Clearly more comfortable, Smith delivered a compelling video performance. Around this time the endorsements started to accumulate. On February 14, 2014, he enjoyed a critical, career-launching cameo at a Taylor Swift concert. Forever in her high-waisted, super-tight shorts, Swift proclaimed Smith her "absolute favorite new artist." Taylor and Sam perform a duet of "Money on My Mind" at the O2 Arena. In a rare misstep the bus blew a flat at SXSW 2014 during his performance at the Fader Fort. He seemed miscast in this event, though the audience appeared to try and play along. However, the appearance could be described as a rubber-neck-worthy disaster. Nevertheless, late night fell in love with Mr. Smith and the bus was back in gear. Sam owned Letterman, Kimmel and triumphed on Saturday Night Live. The third and final pre-release video, "Leave Your Lover" was released on May 22, 2014. The popular buzz around the video surrounded the significance of it being his official coming out party. Please — we all knew and no one cared. To make sure the fame bus was firing on all cylinders, musical mecca The Apollo Theater was booked and Mary J. Blige was tapped for a duet...a little overkill, but money in the bank. If you managed to miss out on one of his songs during the preceding 22 months you were either blind, deaf or dead. But of course Mary J's been known to raise the dead — see her performance of "One" with U2 The final bit of fuel to the fire was his Whitney Houston cover of "How Will I Know", shredding us emotionally. So now we're in the last days of June and Sam Smith has smashed US records with the announcement that In The Lonely Hour is the biggest selling debut album by a male British artist in the first week of release, with sales of 166,000, entering the Billboard Top 200 at the #2 slot. 22-year-old Sam Smith skyrocketed from zero to hero in 22 months.
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