- 17 Apr 20
The new single by Sam Smith, featuring Demi Lovato –entitled ‘I’m Ready’ – is a joyous, uplifting, pop classic. Here, the singer gives the background to what is a startlingly powerful record – one that may yet become the ultimate anthem of a coronavirus-stricken world – and talks about gender boundaries, mental health and artistic identity.
The world is in a state of anxiety and loss and grief. As a result, there is a growing awareness of the societal systems that do not work for us, do not care for us, systems that could be changed for the better. If we all demanded it, that is.
The coronavirus has caused chaos and havoc and loss – but it will end eventually. And when it does, we need to decide if we will simply return to a way of being that was hurting us, or if we will fight for something different, something better.
This isn’t an entirely new idea: the concept of turning a time of pain and loss into one of learning and growth: the setting of new boundaries, the decision to take care of ourselves by demanding other people do, too. We do it on a personal level all the time. Anyone who has had their heart broken or been in a bad relationship has faced this question: will I keep going back to people that hurt me? Will I remain afraid? Or will I embrace the truth that I am worthy of love and respect and care?
This is the theme of Sam Smith’s new single ‘I’m Ready’, featuring Demi Lovato. It's a gorgeous, uplifting, empowering pop song that announces that the two singers are ready to love themselves – and surround themselves only with others who do, too.
During a time where album and single releases are being pushed back, it is a much-needed mood-lift to have such a fun, joyous song released. There was a concern, nonetheless, that it might seem inappropriate right now.
“I feel weird bringing out a song like this in this climate, because of everything that’s going on”, Sam Smith acknowledges. But the hope is that the song might provide some respite from the stress and fear which is plaguing just about everyone right now.
“One thing I do love about this song is that it brought me so much joy,” Sam riffs, "and I know that it brought Demi joy too. And when we did the video, I can’t express how much love and happiness and good vibes were on-set. And this song for me is just – my Britney dreams are coming true!"
There is a smile.
"I wanted to not take myself too seriously,” they add. "I reached a point where I was in America, earlier in the year, and I was feeling so ready to fall in love. To me, falling in love means showing your most vulnerable self to someone else and falling in love is a huge risk that we all take – but I felt ready. I feel ready to get back on the dating scene and throw myself in there and commit.”
Which is, on a personal growth level, wonderful. Though this is not exactly the best time to want to go on dates.
“I know!” laughs Smith. “Then Covid-19 happened! So I’ll have to wait! But it’s a song about opening your arms up and being yourself, and loving yourself for who you are. I think that’s what I want the song to portray.”
It’s an important theme for both Sam Smith and Demi Lovato. Both singers have used their music to share their individual vulnerabilities and their struggles. Smith came out as gender non-binary last year (and uses they/them pronouns), and has also spoken openly about their struggles with OCD, disordered eating and body image issues.
Over the past few weeks, Smith has been using Twitter to speak about mental health too, as the coronavirus has left many people feeling anxious and isolated. Sam is determined to break down the stigma that surrounds mental health struggles.
Last week, Smith spoke to Hot Press about OCD, saying “It manifests as obsessive thoughts; I’ll see a picture or a film and I’ll obsess over it for days to the point where I’m crippled by it. OCD as an illness is very misunderstood. People claim to have it when they’re just cleaning their rooms and they’re tidy, and it’s actually a little more intense. It can turn into violent imagery, violent sexual imagery, so it’s a mountain to climb, constantly.”
Demi Lovato has similarly used her status as a major star to speak about her own struggles with mental health, including depression, an eating disorder, addiction and being diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Her music has often addressed these issues, as in her heartbreaking song ‘Sober’ – in which she sings about relapsing – and her recent Grammy Awards performance of ‘Anyone’, where she sings about feeling abandoned at her lowest point. It's a feeling that has been an unfortunate mainstay of her life.
During an interview with Ellen Degeneres in March this year, Lovato revealed that she felt controlled and neglected by her former management team, who would monitor what she ate, triggering her eating disorder. She also revealed that her attempts to get support for her deteriorating mental health were cruelly rebuffed, saying: “I sent a message out and I reached out to the people that were on my team and they responded with, 'You're being very selfish, this would ruin things for not just you but for us as well'."
The song ‘I’m Ready’ and its message of loving yourself thus feels so vital for these two young singers. Smith says that it was a dream for them to work together, as they both love pop music – but also embrace vulnerability and honesty.
“It’s always been a dream of mine to work with Demi Lovato,” they say.
"I could sit and talk to you for hours and hours about Demi,” they add admiringly. “She and I are the same age. We were brought up in a pop world. Britney Spears’ first album came out when I was six, the Spice Girls’ first album came out when I was four. My only memories of pop music are all real, unapologetic, bubblegum pop music.
‘"That’s where I come from, and that’s where both of our passion stems from. And what I’ve always loved about Demi is that she’s always been a pop star. But she’s always been a pop star that’s human, and she’s never worried about being cool all the time. She’s willing to put her heart and soul out there, to put them on the line every time.
"I’ve watched her career as a fan, from the very beginning when she was in Camp Rock and I finally got to meet her about five years ago, and slowly we formed this beautiful friendship and love for each other. Earlier this year, we wrote this song and started spending more time together, and I just feel blessed to have her in my life. Honestly, she’s the epitome of strength and honesty.”
The decision to focus on pop music didn’t come easily to Smith, who is known for their wrenching, soulful ballads. Speaking on The Zach Sang Show in October 2019, Smith spoke about their upcoming album, which marks a tonal shift towards pop music, saying: “I‘m more proud of this album than anything I’ve ever done. I’ve really set myself free the last two years whilst writing this…I feel like I have recently shown a side of me which I normally keep to myself or for my family and friends.”
Was Smith feeling stifled or limited by the music they were making, and public perception of what a Sam Smith record “should” be?
“I love all the music that I’ve made and I look back at all of it like it’s a family album and cherish it all,” says Smith. “But I think what happened is after my first album In The Lonely Hour did so well, my life changed so drastically, I can’t even express how much it changed. And I think I started to make music almost as a bit of a character, thinking ‘What would Sam Smith do?’ Because I’d never written music before with a fan-base waiting for it – I’d always just made music for the sake of writing it. So I started to get a bit too caught up with what people thought of me.
"And that spiralled, into not just music, but into my queerness, my gender, my weight, my mental health, all these things. I was just so concerned about what people would think of me and how this future looked and all these things. So I just sat back with myself one day and said ‘What music do you actually love, what music do you actually listen to?’ And it’s all female pop stars. And I just want to do that! A lot of the people I have around me, they’re all musos, they look at some of the music I love and think of it as a joke. So it took a bit of courage to stand behind what I like and what I want to do. I’m still struggling to do that now, it’s a challenge I’m going to have forever. But it’s my passion, you know? I love powerful, honest songs. So that’s what I’m going to do.”
‘I’m Ready’ is such an effervescent, empowering introduction to the new era of Sam Smith. When we are finally allowed to go out socialising again, it’s going to fill the dance floor. But for now, we can enjoy the video, which is a beautiful display of unabashed, embodied joy, featuring a glorious cast of drag queens, trans artists, and gender non-conforming and nonbinary models and influencers.
Gigi Goode from the current season of RuPaul’s Drag Race makes an appearance, just a week after Goode came out as gender fluid on the show. Valentina, another Drag Race star from Season Nine, who is gender non-binary, also features, as does gender nonconforming, transfeminine artist Alok Vaid Menon; trans singer and activist Shea Diamond; queer artist Karis Wilde; and fashion designer Jeffrey C. Williams.
The video sees the cast redefine sports in beautiful, artistic, unapologetically queer ways. Wrestlers and swimmers don sparkling, glittery outfits, corsets and sky-high stilettos; wrestling turns into dancing, running turns into a rainbow display, cheerleaders and gymnasts twirl and leap and contort around podiums that declare that when you love yourself, everybody wins.
“The moment the director came to me with the treatment, I just fell in love, because as a queer person, sports for me is just really, really triggering,” reveals Smith. “My memories of doing Sports Day at school and being in the locker room with boys and them bullying me are horrible, and sports is just something I’ve always been scared of.
"So for me, to make a Queer Olympics is the most amazing release for a queer kid! And on the day, it just made me smile. I’ve never, ever done wrestling, but I’m learning to wrestle in stilettos! It was the most amazing, exciting experience, and I’m so glad it looks so good!”
• Sam Smith’s ‘I’m Ready’ featuring Demi Lovato is out today, April 17.