Sam Smith has hit a new stride. As they prepare for the January 2023 release of Gloria, their newly-announced fourth studio album, the singer has achieved the biggest hit of their career thus far. The project’s lead single “Unholy” — a scandal-driven pop hit featuring Kim Petras that debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 thanks to a anticipation-stirring TikTok pre-release campaign — is the highest-charting debut of their career. Having lingered between the chart’s second and third slots since its release, the record hit No. 1 just four weeks after its release. It’s Smith’s first release to top the chart, surpassing even the success of their 2014 breakthrough single “Stay With Me,” and the first No. 1 single from publicly non-binary (Smith) and transgender (Petras) artists.
Over a decade into their career, Smith is playing hardball in the pop arena in a way that they have never before. Until this point, they have been known for heartbreaking ballads about yearning, unrequited love, and the lasting aftermath of emotional damage — from “Lay Me Down” on their debut album In The Lonely Hour to “No Peace” and “To The Lovers That I Lost” on The Thrill of It All and Love Goes, respectively. Smith’s endeavors into rhythmic pop on singles like “Dancing With A Stranger” featuring Normani and dance pop on their Disclosure collaborations “Omen” and “Latch” have been career highlights for a performer whose evolution process occurs more gradually than many of their peers.
But even as they enter this new era, which thus far has found them playing narrator to scandalous things that go bump in the night, Smith has already constructed an arsenal of hits and deep cuts alike that make a case for their essential placement among the defining musicians and songwriters of their generation. A look back at their discography through the lens of 20 of their greatest songs informs not just where Smith has been, but where they have the undeniable range to go next.
20. “My Oasis” (Love Goes, 2020)
Released as one of the lead singles from Love Goes, “My Oasis” became an immediate stand-out record in Sam Smith’s catalog. Most of Smith’s collaborations appear on ballads, but the single finds them instead teaming up with Nigerian superstar Burna Boy. Together, they whipped up a silky, mid-tempo ode to physical touch at a time when lockdown protocols made that kind of connection slightly difficult. “My Oasis” is rooted in a sense of surrender, finding both Burna Boy and Smith embracing the desire they’ve kept at bay, singing: “There’s nothing I can do when it comes to you.”
19. “Leave Your Lover” (In The Lonely Hour, 2014)
Sam Smith may be a true romantic, but that doesn’t mean that their search for love hasn’t been colored with a few selfish moments. On the somber piano ballad “Leave Your Lover,” they put it all on the line, pleading for the person they want to choose them instead. But they aren’t trying to tempt anyone with promises they can’t fulfill. Admitting that there isn’t much they can offer beyond their deepest devotion, Smith proposes: “I will give you all of me.” If that isn’t enough, they’re willing to walk away knowing they took the difficult step onto that ledge on the unknown.
18. “Unholy” (Gloria, 2023)
Sam Smith hit the ground running with the lead single to their forthcoming fourth studio album Gloria. For most of their career, their massive career-defining hits have usually fallen somewhere in between Adele-esque ballads and mid-tempo rhythmic anthems. But on “Unholy,” Smith made a declaration that they’re ready to enter the competitive ring of pure pop radio smashes. Recruiting Kim Petras to accomplish the feat, they created a theatrical narrative-driven hit that succeeds in its ambitions — showcasing Smith’s unmistakable vocal range while dressing it up in a new sound that pushes the boundaries they’ve comfortably remained within — without swallowing itself whole.
17. “Omen” (Caracal, 2015)
The more Smith and Disclosure work with one another, the stronger their collaborative connection becomes. On their third team-up with the production duo, Sam Smith recounted an ominous story of love doomed to fail over a pulsating dance club beat. As they sing, the moment of realization that their relationship was built to fail comes into focus. “I’m feeling something, something different,” Smith notices, later piecing the puzzle together with newfound clarity: “My mind would rule my heart / I didn’t pay attention to the light in the dark / It left me torn apart / But now I see you tears as an omen.”
16. “One Last Song” (The Thrill Of It All, 2017)
As much as Sam Smith knows how to make the most out of their heartbreak, they also recognize when it’s time to let go and complete the healing process. On “One Last Song,” Smith delivers just that: a reminiscent farewell to a past lover. In a range-showcasing chorus, they recount the ways in which the aftermath of the relationship lingers with them. In their goodbye, they offer a tender parting message, singing: “In case you hear this, then know you’re the love of my life.” Ultimately, they decide it is truly better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.
15. “How Do You Sleep?” (Love Goes, 2020)
On their debut album, Sam Smith penned a song about the struggle of being knowingly cheated on, but unable to let go — almost willing to endure the pain. Fast forward two albums, Smith revisits the topic on “How Do You Sleep,” embarking on a self-assured mission to stand up for who they are and how they deserve to be treated. “Oh no, how did I manage to lose? / I am not this desperate, not this crazy,” they begin to remember. Their growth shines shortly after, when they decide: “There’s no way I’m sticking ‘round to find out / I won’t lose like that, I won’t lose myself.”
14. “Scars” (The Thrill of It All, 2017)
Until The Thrill Of It All arrived, most of Sam Smith’s songs were pointedly directed at a particular “you” who had broken their heart or was going to. But on “Scars,” the singer speaks directly to their mother and father in a moving dedication to their resilience in choosing themselves. To them both, Smith offers reassurance with a sense that they have also learned from the decisions their parents made that shaped their upbringing. “How you’ve come so far / Your love has fixed all or our broken hearts,” they share warmly. “It’s a lifelong lesson and I’m not pretending then I say, you cleared up my scars.”
13. “I’m Not The Only One” (In The Lonely Hour, 2014)
On “I’m Not The Only One,” the fifth single from In The Lonely Hour, Sam Smith added cheating to the arsenal of relationship tropes presented throughout their growing discography. The record’s narrative is told from the perspective of someone in a relationship who knows their partner is being unfaithful, but begins questioning themselves in the face of not being able to let go. “I have loved you for many years / Maybe I am just not enough,” Smith admits with a sense of sadness, already weighing the aftermath. “You’ve made me realize my deepest fear / By lying and tearing us up.”
12. “Burning” (The Thrill Of It All, 2017)
The first thirty seconds of “Burning” represents one of the most arresting moments in Sam Smith’s discography. “I’ve been burnin’, yes, I’ve been burnin’ / Such a burden, this flame on my chest / No insurance, to pay for the damage / Yeah, I’ve been burnin’ up since you left,” they sing completely acapella, sonically painting an image of a large room empty except for the presence of a lone singer reeling from heartbreak and confusion. Even when the simple piano melody enters and builds throughout the song into a layered choral experience, Smith’s vocal performance remains front and center.
11. “For The Lover That I Lost” (Love Goes, 2020)
Sam Smith initially penned “For The Lover That I Lost” with StarGate and cut a demo that eventually landed in the hands of Céline Dion, who recorded the official version of the song for her 2019 album Courage. Wanting to give it another go, Smith cut another recording of the record for Love Goes. “For The Lover That I Lost,” which essentially hosts a burial for the singer’s past relationships, takes on new life when delivered by its original writer, building a more intimate connection to the music through their personal experience with its source material.
10. “Fire On Fire” (Love Goes, 2020)
Despite their masterful approach to heartbreak, Sam Smith communicates the all-consuming power of love with expert precision on “Fire On Fire.” Particularly when separated from the context of the Netflix adaptation of Richard Adams’ Watership Down, in which the song was featured, it’s an emotionally overwhelming dedication to releasing all inhibiting doubts to allow destiny to intervene, even when a relationship seems unsustainable on paper. “Fire on fire would normally kill us / But this much desire, together, we’re winners,” Smith sings in an orchestral dreamland, never having sounded more deeply in love. “They say that we’re out of control and some say we’re sinners / But don’t let them ruin our beautiful rhythms.”
9. “Pray” (The Thrill Of It All, 2017)
The second single from The Thrill Of It All functioned as an introspective songwriting exercise for Sam Smith. At 25 years old, they became hyper-aware that 99 percent of their discography was about love and heartbreak — and themselves. At the time, in 2017, many artists were turning to music to make sense of the global shifts happening before their eyes. Smith’s own reflection focused on a need for something — anything — bigger than themselves, a thematic narrative elevated by the use of a grand choir. “I’m broken, alone, and afraid,” they admit. “I’m not a saint, I’m more of a sinner / I don’t wanna lose, but I fear for the winners.”
8. “Stay With Me” (In The Lonely Hour, 2014)
Nearly a decade since its release, “Stay With Me” remains the quintessential Sam Smith single. While “Latch” represented most of their audience’s first introduction to them vocally, “Stay With Me” established their foundation as a leading artist. The record reflected their yearning to communicate the individuality of specific emotions with a sense of unspoken relatability — giving form to the feelings that aren’t often spoken out loud. “This ain’t love, it’s clear to see,” they sing on the unmistakable pop ballad, loathing the feeling of waking up alone after a one-night stand. “But darling, stay with me.”
7. “The Thrill Of It All” (The Thrill Of It All, 2017)
If Sam Smith had any deep anxieties about the pressures of sharing their highly-anticipated sophomore album, they don’t show in the music — and especially not in the title track “The Thrill Of It All,” which encapsulated all of the brooding emotions they skillfully communicated across the record. Smith once described the intense piano ballad as a goodbye letter to the era of their debut album and all that came with its success, both their fame and the relationship they immersed themselves in so deeply. They even call back lyrically to “Stay With Me,” the song that started it all: “Even though we weren’t in love / It was far from lust.”
6. “Too Good At Goodbyes” (The Thrill Of It All, 2017)
Three long years after the release of their Grammy Award-winning debut album, Smith returned with “Too Good At Goodbyes” — an introduction to their highly-anticipated sophomore record and proof that they hadn’t lost their golden touch in the time they were away. The track’s minimal production knows the precise moments it needs to swallow the space — stacking vocal harmonies, layering strings, and snapping its rhythm into place — all while centering their vocal performance without distraction. Becoming an instant classic in Smith’s discography, the single acknowledges the singer’s deep familiarity with heartbreak. Over the course of their romantic endeavors, they’ve wrapped themselves in rock-solid armor and it’s going to take an incredible amount of effort for them to bring it down.
5. “Dancing With A Stranger” Feat. Normani (Love Goes, 2020)
In the past, Sam Smith has been hyper-vocal about their love for the now-disbanded girl group Fifth Harmony. While recording their sophomore album The Thrill Of It All with StarGate, Smith ran into Normani at a recording studio where she was working with the production team and invited her to sing on “Dancing With A Stranger,” the sultry R&B duet about letting go and moving on. Having listened so intently to the body of work the group released during their time together, Smith developed an understanding of the ins and outs of their vocal performances — including where Normani was underutilized — and made a point to tap into her wealth of talent alongside their own. When her voice enters on the second verse, it soaks into the track like melted butter. All the while, Smith wields faux blame and resentment with ease: “Look what you made me do, I’m with somebody new.”
4. “Lay Me Down” (In The Lonely Hour, 2014)
Sam Smith released “Lay Me Down” first in 2013 as the lead single from their debut studio album, then re-recorded and shared it again two years later as the record’s sixth single release. The song as we know it now is a representation of Smith at their best, feeling all of the complicated and weighted emotions of love all at once with a sense of pleading that borders on obsession. “Yes, I do, I believe / That one day I will be / Where I was right there / Right next to you,” they breathe out at the start of the song, almost like a mantra they’re repeating to themself. The orchestral backdrop of the track builds like the climax of a film, exploding into the introduction of a deeply intense string session and marching drums. “Lay Me Down” in its final form remains a gold standard within the realm of modern pop ballads.
3. “Love Goes” (Love Goes, 2020)
The title track on Sam Smith’s third studio album begins with a dazzling piano progression dotted with percussive undertones that persists for an entire minute. When a voice finally does emerge, it isn’t their own. Rather, the first lyrics are uttered by singer, songwriter, and producer Labrinth: “I hope you understand that I have to send you away.” He’s one of two narrators in the song, countered by Smith as they deliver a conversational manifesto that reflects the lessons they have learned about love, loss, and sacrifice up to this point in their life. “You’re broken, we know that / And if you knew it, you won’t fight me when I say farewell,” Smith delivers in their grand send-off to a doomed relationship. The instrumentals on “Love Goes” tell a story all on their own, one that communicates freedom by way of a final departure culminating in an ethereal trumpet fanfare.
2. “No Peace” (The Thrill Of It All, 2017)
Leading the second half of Sam Smith’s sophomore album, “No Peace” sets the bar exceedingly high. The hauntingly beautiful ballad recruits powerhouse singer Yebba for a duet of epic proportions. Over an anguished piano melody, Smith and Yebba plead for any sense of release from flashbacks of the past that haunt their every waking moment. When they ask, “Will you show me the piece of my heart I’ve been missing / Won’t you give me the part of myself that I can’t get back / Cause I’d kill for you / And darling you know that,” the pair sounds genuinely held hostage by their emotions, but they aren’t pleading with desperation. There’s a mature sense of resolve and familiarity with the pain that they’re communicating, adding layers of depth to the unspoken elements of the lyrical story driven forward and contextualized by the enveloping production.
1. “Latch” (Settle, 2013)
Sam Smith had been working as a bartender in London when they were first introduced to the EDM duo Disclosure by songwriter Jimmy Napes in 2012. Locked into their first session together, they struck gold beyond measure with “Latch,” the R&B and pure pop-infused dance track that set itself apart in both the EDM and pop scenes that it catapulted its leading artists into after a two-year slow burn on the charts. Much like the commercial success of the song itself, “Latch” takes its time, embracing a smooth simmer in place of a rush to a major drop. With tiny details hidden beneath their voice, “Latch” achieved a sense of timelessness by leaving something new to discover with each listen, even a decade later. The richly atmospheric production on the track wraps itself within layers of pristine vocals as Smith delivers an intoxicating account of falling in love, dragging out its sentiments: “Feel so enamored, hold me tight within your clutch.”