As told to John Walker
MTV has officially named Sam Smith our 2014 Artist Of The Year. To commemorate this hugely successful year for Sam, we spoke to the 22-year-old British singer about the past twelve months of his life. The following is a firsthand account of his journey, reconstructed from our conversation using his own words. -- JW
New Year's Eve last year, I was at my family's home in Cambridge, the house I grew up in. I was there with my sisters, and I was drinking with my friends, trying to distract myself for the time being.
I had finished my debut album, In The Lonely Hour, but I didn't know where my journey as an artist would take me next.
When you write a song, everyone says, "This hook's amazing! This hook's a big song!" But, you can't help but think, "God, maybe everyone at the label is just guessing. Maybe it isn't as big as we think it is, and it's going to be a failure." And I wasn't just afraid of commercial failure; because my album is so insanely personal, if someone were to say they didn't like my record, it would be as if they said they didn't like me as a person.
I remember being scared about releasing "Stay With Me." In the U.K., I had found success with "Latch," "Money On My Mind" and "La La La." Unlike those pop tracks, "Stay With Me" was a gospel song. It was slower, mid-tempo and more honest than anything I'd released previously. Considering the whole album sounded more like "Stay With Me" than "Latch," this moment felt pivotal.
If people didn't like "Stay With Me," I was screwed.
In my wildest dreams, I hoped I would get a #1 record in the U.K. America wasn't even on my radar at that point. I also wanted to sell at least 75,000 copies in my first week. Those were my two goals, and I was nervous that, if I didn't accomplish them both, my label would not be very happy with me.
Still, I knew that even if everyone hated the album, nothing could take away from the incredible experience I had recording it. The record gave me strength. I was heartbroken when I started In The Lonely Hour, and the process saved me from going completely mental -- although I did, at times, go a bit mental.
The album was a form of therapy for me, and so having such a positive response from critics and listeners alike -- not to mention those six Grammy nominations -- feels incredible.
And, needless to say, my label is very happy with me now.
My album aside, there are many moments that stick out in my mind when I look back on the year. Meeting Ellen DeGeneres the other week was an incredible moment for me, because she's such a beautiful human being; I was so honored to have met her. Finding support after talking about my sexuality in the press was huge, and I'm thankful just to have met Mary J. Blige, much less worked with her on her new record, The London Sessions. Meeting Beyoncé was also incredible, and so was being able to buy my sister a car.
Above all, the thing I'm most proud of from this past year is that I've been able to remain the same person with the same morals and the same beliefs. I still have the same hunger and dreams that I had a year ago.
That becomes challenging at these awards shows, where everyone's walking around, sitting in their chairs, pretending what's happening is totally normal -- like this is a normal part of life. I've got to remind myself that what happens at these events is weird, because I don't want to get used to them. When I'm at one, I like to feel like an outsider who has gotten a special pass for the day, because not a lot of people live like this. It's surreal, and I don't want it to become my normality. That's partially why my main aim for next year is to keep my head on my shoulders and not get ahead of myself.
It's true that I'm already writing music -- I can't stop writing music, actually. I feel like I've found the title and the concept for my second record, which I'm really excited about, and I feel like my music grows more and more honest every day.
But, 2014 has been a very intense year, and I've worked very hard. So, 2015 will be my year to sit back, reap in the rewards a little bit and just be 23 years old, which I will be next May.
I do look back on the heartbreak that inspired In The Lonely Hour, but not with any bitterness. I never thought that I would ever be able to truly, 100% heal from it, but I have healed so completely. I look back on that love in a really nice way; being heartbroken has done me a lot of good.
In interviews, people always ask me, "What's the highlight of your year?" I think the highlight of my year is getting happy again, because I wasn't happy at the beginning of 2014. The past 12 months have been my journey to becoming happy again. And now, I am.