Queer artists are oftentimes overlooked when it comes to prestigious awards. However, with the changing times, we are seeing queer artists get their due more often. Let’s dive into one queer artist’s path to Grammys: Sam Smith’s historic wins for Record and Song of the Year still hold up to this day.
Smith’s rise to fame began with famous features on both Disclosure’s “Latch” and Naught Boy’s “La La La.” After that Smith’s own singles started gaining traction in the UK, which eventually translated into American airplay. Off of their debut album, “In The Lonely Hour,” “Stay With Me” stood out as the biggest hit and reached number-two on the Billboard Hot 100. “Stay With Me” served to many as the year’s top ballad, especially in a year without any new song from Adele, who had had hit after hit in the years prior. As such, comparisons between Smith and Adele began surging, so surely “Stay With Me” was going to be in the Grammy conversation. Smith was also open about their sexuality while surging worldwide, coming out as gay in May 2014.
“Stay With Me” is the quintessential Grammy song. The gospel-inflected ballad features a strong emotional core, gentle instrumentation, and is pretty easily accessible to people from different genres and musical fields. As such, it’s no surprise that it received three nominations, while its parent album got into Album of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Album. Smith was also nominated for Best New Artist, which made them only the 10th artist to get nominations in all of the big four categories in one year. Furthermore, Smith’s team submitted the “Darkchild” version of “Stay With Me,” a slightly altered remix by producer Darkchild. This version is even more lush instrumentally, and features more gospel touches.
Come Grammy night, “Stay With Me” was widely considered the front-runner. Multiple outlets like Entertainment Weekly and Paste were predicting victories for Smith in multiple big-four categories. The song also led the odds in all its categories on Gold Derby. For Record of the Year, “Stay With Me” was against Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off,” Sia’s “Chandelier,” Iggy Azalea and Charli XCX’s “Fancy,” and Meghan Trainor’s “All About That Bass.” For Song of the Year, it was the same lineup but with “Fancy” replaced by Hozier’s “Take Me To Church.” While none of Smith’s competition took home awards, most of the songs remain well-regarded 2010s staples.
What made Smith triumph? Besides being Grammy bait as an artist (emotional singer-songwriter with a big voice), Sam Smith’s personal narrative could’ve really helped them go over the finish line. As a gay superstar, Sam Smith was the inspiration of many queer artists who saw themselves represented for once. Paired with the Adele-like sensibilities of their music, voters saw in Sam Smith a full-fledged pop star. A vote for “Stay With Me” was not only a vote for the song, but a vote for Smith’s place in the music industry.
But did “Stay With Me” deserve the love it got? Some might argue that songs like “Shake It Off” or “Chandelier” might’ve made better winners. However, while Sam Smith wasn’t the first queer person to win the awards, they were one of the few to do it while publicly out of the closet, and their success is a testament to the change in culture. On the other hand, Smith’s Grammy success was short-lived; they haven’t earned a single nomination since their four victories that year. Is that due to them being more out with every passing year (eventually coming out as nonbinary)? Their later hit songs like “Too Good At Goodbyes” and “Dancing With A Stranger” were shockingly snubbed in pop categories in favor of some relatively odd picks.
This has prompted the question of whether the Grammys are truly as inclusive as they would like to be seen, with more flamboyantly queer artists getting lost in favor of more conservative-looking LGBTQ+ artists. Perhaps this is also what caused Lil Nas X to miss out on pop nominations this past year and eventually lose all of his five bids, as well as why artists like Rina Sawayama and Troye Sivan have missed Best New Artist despite waves of critical success and industry buzz. I guess we’ll have to wait a couple more years to see complete acceptance from cademy members; still, “Stay With Me” was a solid start.
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