Sam Smith on Sirius XM

Back when people actually watched American Idol, one of the classic mistakes a contestant could make was covering Whitney Houston. The judges would always caution singers, tell them that there was no way their versions could stack up to the original. (Maybe they still do this? It’s been a while since I watched that show.) So credit Sam Smith with having a lot of balls. The British soul singer, who has already gone head-to-head with Mary J. Blige, covered Whitney’s 1985 single “How Will I Know” during a recent Sirius XM session. And Smith fared well, mostly because he switched up the uptempo song into a soft dirge, with his tender voice accompanied only by piano. Watch Smith’s version below.

Smith’s album In The Lonely Hour is out now on Capitol.

Comments (21)
  1. This is really, very great, but as a queer dude it’s really disappointing to see Sam constantly use gender-neutral pronouns in his songs/interviews.

    • Oh, please. Sam is a gay man and the song uses a male pronoun in the original, there’s no reason for changing just to avoid disturbing straight people, and people shouldn’t defend a gay men feeling the need to downplay an aspect of his to please mainstream audiences. I have nothing against Sam, but it was clear there was an agenda behind this decision: to make him as inoffensive and non-threatning as possible.

      I also disagree with the false equivalency you bring up. I’m not offended by your post and your opinion because it’s clear you are giving a respectful and short response, but I still disagree. Yes, we are all human, but there’s a difference between downplaying the specificities that makes us human in the first place in favor of majority-minded driven acceptance rather than the majority really being able to see universality in the differences and diversity without having to change or ignore them, people would just be able to enjoy and identify with Sam without him needing it to be so neutral about the gender he desires. While people complain about how everything is sexualized these days, I also worry about asexualizing gay people in name of accessibility. And I can’t help but feel the way he is promoted is at least partially built on this.
      It’s the old “He’s gay, but you won’t even notice!”, as if being noticeable that someone being gay or someone truly owning that aspect of their lives is somehow less admirable, or as if there something special about having that aspect more or less removed from your general identity (which is NOT to say that a gay men always needs to be outspoken about his sexuality, as that’s too personal to judge based on). And I’m really not judging Sam’s sexuality or anything, just how it has been handled by his people and the label so far, and I have to say, yeah, it bothers me a bit. He still has a great voice though, of course, even if his album is a bit underwhelming.

      (And yes, I recognize that I wrote a long ass post for someone who posted casually and probably never thought someone would say all this, and also never got to elaborate further before getting this reply. What I can say? I have strong feelings about this).

    • Perhaps he wants to keep his sexuality out of the equation. Would it make him a coward if he wanted his music and voice to be the thing people think about when they think about him?

    • I don’t think it’s about that though. Bo Burnham has a great bit about love songs staying as neutral as possible so the masses can think it is about them.

  2. Not much different than hearing Whitney sing about her love for a man. Straight, gay, bi…it’s music…FEEL it, and leave agendas in the parking lot.

  3. this guy could sing mein kampf and i’d tear up

  4. ugh,,, not getting the sam smith craze. I honestly find him distasteful.

  5. I don’t think it’s right to expect a queer artist to use gender-specific pronouns. Maybe he just wants to keep things vague so that everyone can sing along.

    • I don’t think anyone had a problem singing along with Whitney’s much catchier, gender-specific version.

      The use of “you” instead of “him” is really annoying in this version because the song is already being sung to a different “you”. The whole point of the lyric is that the speaker is talking to a THIRD person about the man the speaker is in love with. The last line of the chorus — “I’m asking you because you know about these things” — makes no sense if “you” is the man the song is about.

    • But why should/would a gender-specific version in anyway deprive people to identify and sing-along with him? If people can’t correlate that the themes of love and desire of the song are universal even if he is singing about a man (and making that clear), than well, it just comes to show there’s still a lot of progress to be made in how people view homosexuality if they would make an issue out of that, or even simply feel distanced by that aspect. I also think the best way to build equality is to expose all people to all kinds of experiences and worldview, so they can truly get used to and understand other perspectives, but you won’t get that by instead opting to be so neutral, so guarded about it.

      But of course, I also don’t think there should be pressure on Sam about this, as it is (and right now, really hope it’s based on) ultimately about his choice. But at the same, it still feels a bit like a cheat. Maybe Sam just doesn’t feel comfortable creating exposure based on that aspect. But that doesn’t change the thing about neutrality – it doesn’t necessarily causes harm, but it also won’t necessarily bring any good either. Hopefully with time, people will learn how to deal with it, and/or he’ll finally feel comfortable let this side of him come through naturally, but at some point, someone has to take the first step for that to happen.

  6. Bit breathy at points- needs to pronounce his words a little clearer. Not amazing- just good in my opinion.

  7. Jack Osborne got really good at singing.

  8. I’m a straight male and this is one of my favourite songs to sing in the shower or at karaoke, and “there’s a BOY! I know”is the best part of the song. The way whitney sings it with such excitement. It’s the hook that stays in my head anyways. It doesn’t make since to remove it. Good singer otherwise, he’s got a bit of a Boy George meets Anthony (and the Johnsons) thing going on.

  9. I agree that changing to an ambiguous pronoun is sort of annoying when you know that he is gay (or at the very least attracted to men, I don’t actually know what his sexual orientation is but he has talked about relationships with men). In any case, while I absolutely adore him, and his album is my favorite so far this year, this cover is weak, the song is not suited for him. It’s really just sort of a bummer to hear all the fun taken out of it.

    • Yeah, this is in the unfortunate tradition of taking a great pop song, turning it into a constipated downer, and thinking that somehow imbues it with more meaning. (cf. Chvrches’ “Tightrope”, Coldplay’s “Fight for Your Right”, Obidiah Parker’s “Hey Ya”, Final Fantasy’s “Fantasy”, etc etc etc)

      It’s literally never been done well and there’s really no excuse to keep doing it.

  10. I just had the coolest thought I think I’ve ever had

    “That was a really neat take on that song that I had completely dismissed as fluff”

    Oh….and I don’t give a shit if he’s gay or not. Nor do I give a shit about his gender pronoun procedures.

    I just really liked the song.

    Imagine that.

  11. He has the talent to make a bouncy, catchy tune sound really depressing. Suitable for a funeral.
    Please stop.

  12. He has a good voice, but I don’t find this rendition to be particularly riveting.

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