Music

Sam Smith’s most controversial moments

For someone whose music is considered relatively inoffensive, Sam Smith sure does stir up a lot of trouble. Indeed, since bursting onto the scene as the vocalist behind Disclosure’s club smash “Latch” in 2013, the British vocalist hasn’t stopped putting their foot in their mouth.

To be fair to the chart-topping singer, Smith created mostly positive headlines when they came out as non-binary. Not to mention, they fully acknowledge that they are not always equipped to deal with matters away from the stage. “I’m not the most eloquent person,” they told Independent in 2017. “I didn’t get the best grades in school. I mean, I’m just good at singing.”

With four Grammy wins from six nominations, Smith’s vocal abilities are clearly not in dispute, and yet, even their pop-friendly and ubiquitous music managed to spark a swirl of controversy with another lyrical legend. Intrigued? Well, that’s barely scratching the surface of the times when Smith has landed in hot water. Here’s a look back at the “Too Good at Goodbyes” hitmaker’s messiest moments.

Sam Smith vs Tom Petty was actually no big deal

Sam Smith reached number two in the States and pole position on the other side of the Atlantic with their 2014 single “Stay With Me.” And no doubt that the song’s instant familiarity played a part in its massive success.

The second single from debut album In the Lonely Hour was initially credited to just Smith, regular collaborator Jimmy Napes (above left), and William Phillips, aka electronic musician Tourist. But Tom Petty and Jeff Lynne were later given their fair share of royalties after the trio agreed in an out-of-court settlement that the song bore a strong resemblance to the former’s 1989 hit “I Won’t Back Down.”

Smith claimed that they’d never even heard the radio staple in a 2015 interview with CBC News Now, but did acknowledge that the two Traveling Wilburys had a case. “It was a complete accident … It was never a malicious thing. And we [all] tried to deal with it in a very classy way.” Thankfully, Petty didn’t take too much offense at being plagiarized. According to Rolling Stone, the singer-songwriter remarked in a statement on his official website, “All my years of songwriting have shown me these things can happen. Most times you catch it before it gets out the studio door, but in this case it got by. … Sam did the right thing and I have thought no more about this. … I wish Sam all the best for his ongoing career. Peace and love to all.”

Sam Smith vs. Thom Yorke was kind of a big deal

The accolades Sam Smith and co-writer Jimmy Napes were given for their James Bond theme ended up causing all kinds of problems. After picking up the 2016 Best Original Song Golden Globe for “Writing’s On the Wall,” Smith was asked at a press conference how they felt about Thom Yorke releasing the song that Radiohead had put forward for Spectre. And embarrassingly, the singer appeared to have no idea who Thom Yorke was, or what the reporter was talking about at all.

After Napes nudged Smith that Yorke was a member of Radiohead, an unconvincing Smith replied, “Yeah, I was a little bit surprised. Not going to lie, a little bit surprised, but I actually haven’t listened to it personally because I did the Spectre theme song.” Judging by his comments three years later, Yorke didn’t appreciate being snubbed on such a big stage.

In a chat with The Times, the Radiohead frontman recalled how his experience of watching Billie Eilish live had been slightly tainted by who else was in the crowd. He said, “We sat down and what’s-his-name — the guy who did the Bond film we didn’t do? … He stands behind us, and I’m sitting with my daughter, her friends and my girlfriend, when suddenly everyone goes, ‘Saaam!’ I’m, like, ‘Aaaargh!'”

Nothing keeps Sam Smith from karaoke

Following a 2014 gig in the home of country music, Sam Smith took to Twitter to explain why they wouldn’t be mixing with their adoring public at a post-show meet and greet. “Nashville, sorry I can’t come out to say ‘hey’ tonight after the show!! Still not feeling 100% and need to sleep!! So sorry xxxx.” A reasonable enough explanation, you may think.

But instead of heading home for a relatively early night and a mug of lemon honey tea, the “Money on My Mind” singer decided that the best medicine was to hit the town and belt out some Destiny’s Child at a karaoke bar. And Smith would have got away with it, too, if it hadn’t been for pesky social media.

Yes, those fans who hadn’t been able to grab a quick celebrity selfie were no doubt left slightly puzzled when photos of the apparently sick Smith partying the night away popped up on Instagram. Proud Radio host Hunter Kelly managed to capture the singer performing “Say My Name” with various locals at Lonnie’s Western Room, a legendary Nashville karaoke spot. But strangely, Smith appeared to have forgotten all about the earlier excuse and excitedly tweeted about their spontaneous night out — at nearly 4 a.m., to boot.  

Sam Smith was accused of racial insensitivity

Sam Smith was accused of living in their own privileged bubble after sharing a disturbing encounter in their hometown on Twitter in early 2016. “Just experienced my friend getting verbally abused racially in London. I am absolutely speechless, They wrote, adding, “I never ever ever ever thought that would happen here. Absolutely speechless and hurt.” The chart topper went on to explain why they felt the need to discuss the incident on social media, tweeting, “I feel like I have to shine some sort of light on it. The police were so unhelpful in the situation and its deeply shocked me … I feel like I have to say something. I’m just so upset. So upset.”

The “Lay Me Down” singer’s overwhelming sense of shock was criticized by many followers who believed it was a sign of ignorance about the real world. “Sam, you don’t watch the news? It happens everyday,” was just one of the many responses tweeted by a person of color. “Who sheltered Sam Smith all of his life?” was another. Others accused the vocalist of whitesplaining racism, something Matt Damon found himself castigated over when he interrupted Effie Brown, an African-American director, on the subject of diversity while filming Project Greenlight

Is it possible that Sam Smith doesn't know about R. Kelly?

Sam Smith suggested once again that their knowledge of pop culture perhaps isn’t particularly strong when they sported a T-shirt emblazoned with the face of an alleged abusive cult leader. The singer may well have just been paying tribute to R. Kelly as the one-time king of R&B when they attended a Saturday Night Live afterparty in 2017. But for many, it was a tone-deaf sartorial choice which appeared to be celebrating one of the music industry’s most disturbing figures. 

The man born Robert Sylvester Kelly hadn’t actually been charged with any offenses relating to his reported sex cult at the time. But after years of allegations, a BuzzFeed News article published months before Smith donned the tee had explicitly stated that three sets of parents were desperately trying to rescue their underage daughters from the musician’s lair.

Kelly was later indicted on 18 charges, with child sexual exploitation, forced labor, and the production of child pornography just some of the offenses involved. The disgraced chart topper has been holed up at Chicago’s Metropolitan Correctional Center since July 2019 while awaiting trial. Interestingly, Smith has never discussed the reasons behind their controversial t-shirt or the subsequent backlash.

Sam Smith appeared to shade Taylor Swift

Hell hath no fury like Taylor Swift stans scorned. In 2017, Sam Smith got on the wrong side of the Swifties after BuzzFeed reported that they liked a derogatory tweet about the “Shake It Off” singer (before quickly unliking it).

The message in question featured a GIF of Stanley from The Office in hysterics at his desk that was captioned, “When someone thinks Taylor Swift is a better artist, singer, and song writer than Sam Smith.” The Academy Award winner appeared to agree with this sentiment judging by their use of the like button, but they then seemed to backtrack by also retweeting a follower who argued that Smith could have pressed it accidentally.

However, the singer’s appearance on Watch What Happens Live with Andy Cohen several months earlier added weight to the theory that they weren’t a Swifty. When asked by the Bravo host about which side they were taking in the famous Taylor Swift versus Kim Kardashian feud, Smith answered that they didn’t know the former “too well.” This was despite the fact that they had once attended the former country favorite’s birthday party. And when pressed even further, the “Omen” singer remained entirely non-committal: “Well, there’s no teams, is there really.”

Michael Jackson fans weren't feeling Sam Smith's opinion

Not content with incurring the wrath of Swifties, Sam Smith then did the same with arguably one of the most fervent fan bases in all the land, Michael Jackson’s. The “How Do You Sleep” singer caused yet more drama in 2018 when they were holidaying with American Idol and part-time Queen frontman Adam Lambert.

In a video clip taken during a boat trip with several other pals, Smith — according to USA Today — can be heard saying, “I don’t like Michael Jackson, but this is a good song.” This admission appeared to audibly shock some of their gang and downright enraged many social media followers. One disgruntled Jacko fan tweeted that there was a certain etiquette to which Smith failed to adhere: “Yes Sam Smith can have his opinion, of course. But you can’t just say ‘I don’t like Michael Jackson.’ You have to say ‘I’m very sorry but Michael Jackson’s songs aren’t my fave.'”

But not everyone joined the pile on. In fact, Lambert, who eventually took the offending footage down, later came to Smith’s rescue during an interview with People, telling the magazine, “The poor guy — now people are jumpin’ all over him! And it’s like, look: The guy is entitled to his opinion. And also: It was a sliver of a fuller conversation that was actually quite interesting. I think people need to give him a break.” 

Sam Smith was accused of fat-shaming

Of course, it’s not just other celebrities that Sam Smith appears to like shading. In 2018, the vocalist was accused of fat-shaming a civilian simply enjoying her breakfast at a Los Angeles eatery. According to the Daily Mail, the furor began when the Brit posted various video clips of themselves dining at Millie’s Café with then-boyfriend Brandon Flynn.

In one clip captioned “Good going,” they zoom in on a nearby woman tucking into a mountain of blueberry and syrup-covered French toast. In another they show the diner just about to finish her meal with the caption, “Going gone.” Following criticism that Smith had apparently made fun of a stranger’s appetite, their rep told DigitalSpy that they were merely “jealous of her fabulous breakfast.”

However, the lady in question, Lauren Brooks, was having none of it. She told Daily Star, “It seems as if he is fat-shaming me for having such a big breakfast. He has 9.5 million followers — and anyone who knew me and followed him would recognize me right away. Imagine if I was a girl who was even slightly insecure about her weight. To have a celeb mock her for eating a meal would be horrendous.” 

Sam Smith posted a self-pitying quarantine meltdown pic

Sam Smith didn’t exactly endear themselves to the general public in 2020 when they showed what many considered to be a blatant display of self-pity during the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak. As reported by the Daily Mail, while holed up at their sister’s home during the first British lockdown, the singer posted a series of Instagram snaps where they appeared to be throwing a tantrum.

Captioned “stages of a quarantine meltdown,” the photos were said to be in bad taste considering Smith is a multi-millionaire celebrity and all. And for once, an enraged Piers Morgan had most Good Morning Britain viewers on his side when — according to Mirror — he told the vocalist to “get a grip” for their “attention-seeking behavior.”

Following this backlash, Smith appeared on Heart Radio’s breakfast show where they told hosts Jamie Theakston and Amanda Holden that it was all just a joke: “Everyone else was posting pictures — it was probably bad timing of me, but I use my social media as if it’s just my friends on it. I posted with my humor and stuff, but it just didn’t get picked up very well, but I didn’t mean any malice by it at all.”

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