Sam Smith navigates heartache with class

The charismatic British pop-soul singer balances the anguish in his songs with uplifting and empowering messages

With his easy charm, singer Sam Smith got the 8,500 crowd warmed up and singing along with him by the second song.
With his easy charm, singer Sam Smith got the 8,500 crowd warmed up and singing along with him by the second song. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE



Singapore Indoor Stadium/Tuesday

British pop-soul singer Sam Smith is acutely aware that his music can get a bit bleak, considering the heartbreak and anguish that he tends to linger on in his songwriting.

The 26-year-old, who has been touring the world under the title of his sophomore album, The Thrill Of It All (2017), said: "I am very aware that my music is depressing sometimes... I was so scared that everyone would leave the room feeling like s***. But I want to make sure you leave here feeling good."

It was like a rousing call to the crowd of 8,500 at his debut show in Singapore on Tuesday - the first of two nights. And the audience responded with enthusiasm for the next hour and 45 minutes.

While it usually takes the Singapore crowd a while to warm up, Smith got them belting on the second song I'm Not The Only One, making full use of the gangway that extended from the stage to get closer to the fans.

The show was equal parts emotional as it was uplifting and empowering.

Too Good At Goodbyes, a song about moving on from a failed relationship, was an exercise in catharsis as he told the crowd to "sing this to your ex".

His brand of soul-baring music was on full show on the track Him, in which he addresses his sexuality openly. "I wrote this song to send a message to whoever is listening and the message is 'love is love'," he said in a moment that was defiant and triumphant.

The singer, who was decked out in a powder blue Dior suit for the first half of the show, was a master in executing drama as well.

His flawless tenor shone on Lay Me Down, where the music by his backing band, comprising a pianist, guitarist, bassist, cellist and drummer, quietened to let his rich, honeyed vocals fill the vast Indoor Stadium.

Then there was the perfectly timed confetti shower on the Grammy Award-winning number Stay With Me and the magical moment when the entire stadium lit up their phones on the acoustic version of Latch.

The man knew exactly what he was doing but none of it felt disingenuous.

His charming self-awareness came to the fore on the James Bond theme song Writing's On The Wall, which was accompanied by dramatic lighting that matched the peaks and troughs of the sweeping number.

There was also a warmth in the way he interacted with his four background singers. Their genuine camaraderie showed - whether they were executing groovy two-step choreography on Restart or singing gospel number I Sing Because I'm Happy.

More upbeat numbers like Omen, a track with British electronic duo Disclosure, and his latest single Promises, a collaboration with Scottish DJ-producer Calvin Harris, were a welcome reprieve between the heavier numbers.

While there was plenty of stirring emotion, his winsome personality meant his show never turned into a cry fest. Instead, he navigated heartache with class and polish.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 04, 2018, with the headline 'Sam Smith navigates heartache with class'. Subscribe