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Sam Smith Gloria Tour review: The next chapter in their voyage of queer liberation

Throughout all of Gloria, there is an ongoing sensation that Sam is on a path of reclamation.

5.0 rating

By Jack Pengelly

Sam Smith
Sam Smith has shared his support for the trans community (Image: Alamy)

“This show is about many things, but at its core it’s about freedom,” opens Sam Smith on their second night at London’s O2 Arena.

Sam came out as non-binary in 2019, and has since then embarked on a public journey toward freedom. Freedom in their gender identity, their fashion, their music, and freedom of expression.

The Gloria tour represents the next chapter in this voyage in liberation, demonstrating both Sam’s history and their newfound direction in a glittering display of unabashed queer pomp and circumstance with a strong core theme of amalgamated community, far from the siloed coteries that detractors – from within and without our initialism – are attempting to impose on LGBTQ people.

The show opens with arguably Sam’s most well-known song, ‘Stay With Me’ – the Grammy-award-winning track that took their career stratospheric and earned them international acclaim. As they step on stage in a white shirt and glittering gold corset, their soaring vocals filling the arena, we’re instantly reminded of Sam’s raw talent and why global audiences fell in love with them just over a decade ago.

To be queer is to be multifarious, to exist at the intersections of trauma and joy, freedom and persecution, love and hatred.

Sam goes on to perform two more beloved tracks from their debut album, In The Lonely Hour, engaging the audience into hand-raising, friend-hugging, joyous ballad participation.

Sam performs from atop an enormous golden statue of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of sex and love. This imposing set piece complements Sam’s entire set; ethereal and angelic during their emotive ballads and sensual and confident in Sam’s newer, more sultry numbers.

The deity is the perfect representation of the queer experience and an experience that Sam embodies proudly and without remorse. To be queer is to be multifarious, to exist at the intersections of trauma and joy, freedom and persecution, love and hatred.

“What do you think of my big green dress?”

The most arresting moment of the entire night comes as Sam sings their cover of Des’ree’s ‘Kissing You’. They emerge in a blazing green gown (custom-designed by Valentino’s Creative Director Pierpaolo Piccioli) and a headdress featuring the name of Brianna Ghey, a trans girl who was murdered earlier this year.

The song, already deeply moving, achieves new meaning with this reference and serves as a stark reminder of the casualised violence and brutality that trans people face. After wiping away their tears at the conclusion of the track, Sam brings levity back to the crowd asking “What do you think of my big green dress?” and doesn’t dwell in the sadness for too long.

The show builds with natural momentum towards the crescendo that is the final act, as Sam invites us to “turn this arena into a gay bar!”. Here, Sam treats us to more fast-paced tracks. Within this is ‘Latch’ – the song that put them on the map. Throughout all of Gloria, there is also an ongoing sensation that Sam is on a path of reclamation.

The body that Sam has is secondary and beside the point

They are occupying space unapologetically, and in this segment occupy the gay bar: historically an area with rigid ideals of beauty and sexuality. Sam de-radicalises their expression of self-love – this isn’t quote-unquote “body positivity”, it’s purely an expression of happiness. The body that Sam has is secondary and beside the point: which is joy.

The fact that so many of Sam’s critics choose to focus on their appearance is indicative of perpetuated societal issues surrounding body types and ‘health’ – especially among cis gay men, who are some of Sam’s loudest disparagers.

In Sam’s clubbing segment, they reclaim the club from the cis gay Muscle Marys and also reinstate its original purpose: to be a safe space for queer people to congregate and express themselves free of shame. This culminates with a cover of Madonna’s ‘Human Nature,’ as Sam questions why they’re not permitted by society to express their sexuality because of how they look: drawing an organic comparison to the persecution Madonna endured during her career.

Sam Smith is in a renaissance.

Closing the show, Sam dons thigh high boots and a black corset directly referencing the outfit they wore at the show’s beginning. Up-and-coming designer Ed Marler designed both outfits.

This visual callback shows Sam’s evolution: from gold and white, a safe-for-work and easily digested version of themselves; to red and black. They express themselves without fear and deliberately goading the conservative voices that would seek to censor them for who they are and who they love.

Sam Smith is in a renaissance. Their music has evolved as they have while keeping the raw and cutting emotionality that drew worldwide audiences to them in the first place. In Gloria, they show off this evolution in costume, dance, as well as expressions of joy.