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Carleton Reviews: Sam Smith’s Gloria is a Celebration of Personal Joy

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Carleton chapter.

Sam Smith knows how to make an entrance. After a trilogy of albums largely influenced by R&B and soul music, their new album, Gloria, embraces a full pop sound and features a series of upbeat, danceable tracks. 

Released on January 27th, 2023, Gloria shot to the top of the charts in the UK and Australia and the top 5 in Canada. At just over 30 minutes long, the album features 13 tracks and four singles. Listeners are sure to recognize “Unholy,” the collaboration with Kim Petras that went viral on TikTok in September 2022. The song marked historic firsts for Smith, openly non-binary, and Petras, openly transgender, by topping the charts and winning the Grammy for Best Pop Duo/Group Performance.

Though the Grammy performance of “Unholy” and the “I’m Not Here to Make Friends” music video received Internet backlash, the negativity is vastly antithetical to Gloria‘s core. The album’s title refers to what Sam Smith described as a “fighter spirit” on The Tonight Show and explores the themes of confidence, love, sex and queer joy.

My Thoughts on Gloria

I have loved Sam Smith’s music since they released In the Lonely Hour, so for me, the arrival of Gloria was highly anticipated. The album did not disappoint — filled with songs to both dance and sing to, Gloria is an artistic mosaic of empowerment. 

The first song, “Love Me More,” is a ballad that eases the listener into Gloria by hearkening back to Smith’s last album, Love Goes. A similar sound continues into “No God” and “Hurting Interlude,” where they introduce the album’s religious motif and a powerful remark on the emotional isolation of queer people. This theme, no doubt prevalent in Smith’s life, resonates with those who must hide parts of themselves around their loved ones.

After the interlude, Smith begins to explore new sounds. “Lose You” features desperately emotional lyrics set to an upbeat tune. This antithesis, paired with the Smith’s vocal richness and the music’s European flavour, makes “Lose You” one of my favourite songs on the album. It is followed swiftly by “Perfect,” a collaborative self-love anthem with an intriguing lyricism that unfortunately under-uses Jessie Reyez’s voice.

Next, is the bombshell hit, “Unholy.” The track is sexual, liberating, and unapologetically queer. Yes, I still have it on repeat. 

After track six, the album’s sound loses some of its cohesion. The vulnerability of “How To Cry” is a major change of pace, but features Gloria’s best lyricism and gorgeous, unusually raw vocals from Smith. The more sensual “Six Shots” and the dance track “Gimme” follow, both interesting though not the album’s best.

Next, “Dorothy’s Interlude” is a montage of queerness that flickers by quickly before RuPaul introduces the listener to the confident and empowering track “I’m Not Here to Make Friends.” Anyone questioning if Smith’s voice suits pop music needs to listen to this track, as their diva sound makes the song queer pop perfection — bold, fun, and daring. 

A brief pause allows the listener to breathe after a moment of revelry. The following sonic shift to the titular track, “Gloria,” calls the listener into the spirituality of a vocally powerful choir and poetic lyrics. Hearing the symbol of the ensemble represented on a record that highlights the beauty of finding oneself within a community is deeply meaningful. Though the choral vocals embody a traditional sound, “Gloria” is indisputably a modern track.

Sam Smith closes their album with “Who We Love,” in collaboration with Ed Sheeran. Though I didn’t originally like the idea of a collab as the final song, there is no better conclusion to Gloria. The song is both hopeful and self-affirming, and its simplicity creates a finale infused with happiness that is achingly real. 

Carleton Critiques

The emotion of joy is far from universal. Similarly, Gloria’s impact on listeners was diverse, so I talked to three members of the Carleton community to hear their opinions on the album.

“They’re here to make a statement,” said Shash, a psychology and health concentration student. He has long been a fan of Sam Smith’s music, and loves how Gloria makes him feel “unapologetic.” Shash’s favourite tracks are “I’m Not Here to Make Friends” and “Unholy.” 

“I relate to all of it,” he says, highlighting the impact of the album on queer people. He calls the recognition received by “Unholy” at the Grammy Awards a win for the entire community. 

Hannah, a journalism and humanities student, also remarked on the significance of Gloria for queer individuals. She describes Sam Smith as a “comfort artist,” and in her opinion, the songs from Gloria can resonate with anybody. Her only critique is that Gloria’s opulent and luxurious music videos don’t reflect the entire queer community, and are better understood as a “self-reflection of Sam Smith” themself. 

“Unholy” and “No God” are Hannah’s top tracks. She admired the intersection of religion and queerness on the album, highlighting that despite being painted as opposites, both concepts are about “community, and being at peace, and being able to be who you want to be.” 

The album’s religious motif also drew the attention of Isabelle, a journalism and political science student. She is not an avid listener of Sam Smith’s music, but became interested in Gloria after hearing about the controversy surrounding the album’s take on religion, and compared the concept to Hozier’s “Take Me to Church.”

Though she thinks that a few songs on Gloria were “a little slow,” she liked the album, favouring the tracks “Love Me More” and “Who We Love.” Isabelle indicates that the album’s collaborations were particularly effective, as the other pop artists generated a certain “lightheartedness” while still approaching serious topics. 

All three students liked “Gloria” and the interludes, particularly “Hurting Interlude.” Often mentioned was Sam Smith’s shift in sound and style, which the students applauded, saying that Gloria was a deeply personal album that translated Sam Smith’s joy to listeners. 

Final Thoughts

To those who have not listened to Gloria, open up your music streaming app immediately. Though not every song on the album is revolutionary, the complete work is a montage of the queer experience that is sure to inspire an internal dance and external confidence. Sam Smith’s embrace of pop music sacrifices none of their emotional impact or vocal beauty. 

Though happiness is found in a multitude of forms on Gloria, I believe the purest, most impactful joy is revealed in the album’s closing melody, as they revel in the beauty of an introspective sense of peace and self-acceptance. Sam Smith’s new album will infuse you with the spirit of Gloria — encouraging you to move through life by finding joy in your most authentic self. 

Maia Tustonic is HerCampus Carleton’s Events Director for the 2023/24 academic year. She oversees and manages the hosting of social gatherings and philanthropic events designed to engage both HCC members and the greater Carleton community in HerCampus’ mission and values. As a HerCampus Carleton contributor, Maia writes about entertainment, lifestyle, and women’s and 2SLGBTQ+ issues. Beyond HerCampus, Maia has previously worked as a Communications Assistant with YouthWrite Society Canada and a Content Writer for Desserts App. During the academic year, she enjoys engaging with the Carleton University community, and volunteers her time with the Campus Activity Board and as a notetaker for the Paul Menton Centre. Maia is also a reporter for the Charlatan, Carleton’s independent news publication, where she contributes to national and news coverage relevant to the university’s students. Currently in her second year of undergraduate studies, Maia is pursuing a Combined Honours degree in Journalism and Political Science, with a concentration in International Relations and World Politics. She is a 2023 recipient of Carleton University’s Sparks Family Undergraduate Scholarship in Journalism. As both a committed news junkie and pop culture girlie, Maia is happy to get lost in conversations about everything from Canadian foreign policy to the latest celebrity scandal. When not following a story, Maia can be found catching up on her TBR list, watching F1 racing, or humming and dancing to her favourite songs.