It's been an incredibly formative year for singer-songwriter Sam Smith. Earlier in 2019, Sam came out as non-binary and, a short while later, revealed their pronouns as they/them. In the process, Sam's fans have watched as they've begun speaking fearlessly about their identity with the world.
As part of the Out 100 issue, the magazine crowned Sam with the superlative "Evolution of the Year." In the interview, Sam chatted with their close friend ALOK about their big milestones from the past year and how Sam is not only erasing binary lines in their daily life, but in their music and creative work as well. Early on, ALOK remarked, "I feel like you’re playing with binaries more generally — like the one between fine art and pop. We’ve spoken a lot about how you don’t feel like you have to compromise artistic integrity while existing in a pop space."
To this, Sam replied, "It’s something that’s been a fight within me for so long because I love all types of music. When I say that Britney Spears basically saved me as a kid, I’m not saying that lightly. Britney, Christina, Madonna, and Beyoncé — I believe their art is fine art. Pop music is fine art…I love the muse side of each of those genres as much as I do the commercial, but I’ve been made to feel ashamed throughout my career for loving pop so much. This album [Sam's third album] is me basically telling everyone to fuck off. I’m trying to fly the flag a little bit and say that simple music isn’t simple."
Interestingly, when ALOK notes that Sam's comment hints at a very non-binary way of approaching their music, Sam reveals they've been trying to erase any kind of binary or cishet thinking around their music since their first album, In the Lonely Hour, was released in 2014. For Sam, their music has always been queer; the public has simply failed to recognize it as such.
"I had that with my first album, In the Lonely Hour. I’m in a suit and in that suit, I was channeling Judy Garland. I look back on those videos of me when I was 20, and I see a feminine energy," they said. "I was singing songs about a married man I’d fallen in love with, and we did not kiss, nothing happened between us, but I was so in love with him, and I was tortured. I remember releasing the album thinking that it would be heard in that way — that it was a queer record — but it wasn’t taken like that. I’ve realized now that people weren’t understanding me."
They also expanded on the role of music in their life now, and how it's deeply entwined with their identity and has been a source of solace in the past.
"I feel like my voice is genderless, and I’ve trained it to be that way," Sam said. "If you go into my library of music, I only listen to women. Music was that escape for me. When I was a child, I put in my earphones and I became the woman of my dreams a little bit. I came out when I was 10 years old, and music was my safe space. It was my sanctuary. Even in the playground, I would take myself off and just sit and listen to songs, and they would give me the courage to walk back into those classrooms. And music still plays that role in my life today. I still get bullied, and it’s still a sanctuary for me."
Let us slide into your DMs. Sign up for the Teen Vogue daily email.
Want more from Teen Vogue? Check this out: Sam Smith Discusses Gender Identity and Body Image With Jameela Jamil
Originally Appeared on Teen Vogue