Let's get straight to the point first, pun intended. Even casual fans of music can't help but notice the drastic change in the public image of Sam Smith. The multiple-crown award-winning British singer-songwriter has gone from a clean-cut melancholy crooner to an unholy provocateur with body-positive attitude, gender-bending attire, non-binary identity and unapologetic messages.
[*All photos courtesy of Madison Phipps]
Although Smith is far from being the first artist to court and cause controversy by reinventing their own image — Smith's idol Madonna is the queen of self-reinventing — their current persona caused an uproar. Piers Morgan called an on-stage performance of Smith vulgar and coincidentally Smith released a single in June called Vulgar which they collaborate with the Queen of Pop. For their second concert in Thailand, Smith didn't tone it down and the audience seemed to wholeheartedly embrace Smith for being themself.
Smith kicked off the Asia leg of their world tour Gloria on Tuesday at Impact Arena, Muang Thong Thani, the same venue where Smith made their Thailand debut five years ago. A few Thai Sailors showed up and showed out in elaborate and glittering costumes. One, in particular, cosplayed Smith's ruffled pink outfit from I’m Not Here To Make Friends music video down to the tee.
A spotlight slowly shows a huge golden female sculpture sultrily lying on the stage's floor, sending the audience into a screaming frenzy. Then a golden figure with a long cave glided across the stage while musicians and back-up vocalists assumed their positions.
Video screens on both sides of the stage showed glimpses of Smith in black and white before the bearded Smith finally appeared on the stage donning a gold corset to start the show with soulful Stay With Me, which is from their debut album In The Lonely Hour. The show was off with a high note, literally and figuratively, as Smith showed their vocal prowess while fans sang along to his best-known song. Smith continued down memory lane with two more hits from their debut album namely ballad I'm Not The Only One and powerpop Like I Can before concluding the introduction part of the concert with Too Good At Goodbyes, which Smith impressively belted while standing between their back-up vocalists. FYI, the first three songs of the night were performed in the same order that they were released as singles in 2014.
A short video intro preceded "Part 1: Love" of the show which Smith, after a costume change, kicked off with a performance of Perfect, a collab with Jessie Reyez from Smith's latest album Gloria. Smith then followed it up with three dancier pop songs namely Diamonds, How Do You Sleep? and Dancing With A Stranger (a collab with Normani), all of which are from their third album Love Goes. Too bad Smith didn't fully recreate the iconic and sassy choreography from How Do You Sleep? music video.
"Part 2: Beauty" contained many memorable and the most emotive moments of the night. I knew a cover of Des'ree's Kissing You was coming next but I was still floored by Smith's beautifully heartbreaking rendition of the theme song from the 1996 film Romeo + Juliet. It was totally spellbinding as Smith, in a fairy-tale gown, longingly belted the big ballad standing in the middle of the stage while being framed with purple light. Smith then introduced LaDonna Burns, one of their back-up vocalists whom Smith has worked with for 10 years, to join them in performing Lay Me Down and they both slayed the house down. Patrick, a male back-up vocalist, joined Smith for Love Goes as a team of background dancers appeared for the first time on the stage, signalling a vibe shift for the rest of the show and a time to get up on your feet.
The dancers twerked and busted their moves to Gimme before Smith returned in a cowboy getup, complete with rhinestone hat, as you do. Smith continued to turn the arena into a dancefloor with Lose You and Promises, the latter being a collab with Scott DJ and hitmaker Calvin Harris.
Towards the end of Promises, Smith got help to get into the iconic pink ruffled gown from two dancers, which could only mean I'm Not Here To Make Friends was next. The first single from Gloria incited the most enthusiastic singalong of the night from the Sailors before non-binary artist Jeffrey C. Williams, who vacayed with Smith in Koh Samui last December, led a dance showcase containing the "Right Here, Right Now" quote by Angela Bassett from the film Strange Days to keep up the high-spirited vibe.
Smith then performed Latch, a collab with Disclosure, as a penultimate number of the second act, before ending it with a cover of Donna Summer's I Feel Love during which shirtless Smith did a choreography with their dancers as the stage was bathed with iridescent beams.
Smith wasn't there to make friends and they made it very clear with "Part 3: Sex", sending fans off with a big and provocative finale. It started out with an awe-inspiring and almost religious performance of Gloria before Smith shed their white cloak to reveal that they didn't wear much underneath to perform a cover of Madonna's Human Nature before capping off the night on a naughty note with Unholy while wearing a horned top hat and holding a red trident. Smith took a final bow as the Sailors showered them with applause and cheers. No encore but it was not needed.
Smith's 20-song setlist took the audience on a journey to witness Smith's evolution while, your Christian values notwithstanding, showing their versatility as a performer. The night was a true compilation, covering Smith's early hits, memorable collab songs to new materials. Had Vulgar been on the setlist, the night would have been even more memorable. Smith let their true colours out and proudly and you can either embrace them as of now or not.
[*All photos courtesy of Madison Phipps]