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Review: Sam Smith shifts from heartbreak to healing on “Gloria” tour

The Gloria tour brilliantly utilized costumes to address themes of religious guilt and shame around sexuality while maintaining an air of joy and celebration.

Sam Smith has left behind the pure heartbreak of their previous eras for something new — something shiny, prosperous and even otherworldly. 

The British singer brought their “Gloria” tour, showcasing their recent album of the same name, to Capital One Arena this past Friday.

The show was divided into three acts, each with a different theme — love, beauty and sex. Bright, warm lights shone down onto the stage as Smith rose from behind the main set piece on a lifted platform to open the show. The piece was a large, golden female figure with accentuated curves, similar to the famous Venus De Milo or Aphrodite Knidos sculptures which depict the Greek goddess of love, laying seductively on her side. The sculpture ran the length of the stage and acted as an interactive prop on which Smith sang on top and dancers slid down.

Smith said at the beginning of the concert that the show was about “freedom,” a sentimental message that reflects their journey of self-acceptance. In 2019, the singer came out as nonbinary in an Instagram post, where they announced they use they/them pronouns. “After a lifetime of being at war with my gender I’ve decided to embrace myself for who I am, inside and out,” they said in the post.

Juxtaposing the colorful lighting scheme and sensual golden statue, Smith opened the show with the heartbreaking ballads that put them on the map, like “Stay With Me” and “I’m Not The Only One,” but the chronological placement of these songs proved strategic. Heartbreak and romantic devastation had its moment in Smith’s career and life, and while it is worth acknowledging, now is a time for celebration.

The backup vocalists delivered strong performances throughout the concert, as they swayed in unison on an elevated platform to the side. One of the singers, LaDonna Young, joined Smith for a duet of the hit song “Lay Me Down,” during which their voices blended together in a seamless harmony. 

Despite a vast genre shift from soulful ballads to club hits and a new era of musical experimentation, Smith’s performance of their older songs once again showed the vocal prowess that made them famous in the first place. They looked at the audience with awe as the voices of hundreds of concertgoers filled the arena, singing in unison, “You say I’m crazy / But you don’t think I know what you’ve done.” A communal moment like this is only possible for an artist whose songs have stood the test of time. 

Smith delivered a standout vocal performance to open the second act with “Kissing You,” a cover of the song by Des’ree that was made famous in Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 film “Romeo + Juliet.” Their rich voice contrasted with the slow, soft falsetto written into the song’s chorus.

The transition from “Love Goes,” a soft, melancholic song about romantic loss into “Gimme,” a flamboyant club hit, marked a stark shift in the show’s vibe—Smith said they wanted to turn the arena into “one big gay bar.” The backup dancers performed provocative choreography that incorporated moves like twerking, bringing lots of excitement and dancing among the crowd. 

Smith also brought a chill vibe to “Latch,” the 2013 song by Disclosure they are featured on, during which they wore baggy blue jeans with heart-shaped cutouts and, fittingly, a long-sleeved Washington Capitals hockey jersey, which I thought was a smart way to engage with the D.C. audience. Subsequently, during their performance of Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love,” they took off the jersey — which they threw into the pit of people — marking the shift from the “Beauty” act into the “Sex” act.

The singer closed the show with a flashy performance of “Unholy,” the 2022 lead single of “Gloria” which took TikTok by storm with viral videos of people singing along or creating dance choreography to the song. They wore a black corset with gold embellishments, black fishnets and a black top hat with protruding red devil horns, all while holding a bedazzled red pitchfork, creating a devilish image to round out a show filled with religious imagery.

The “Gloria” tour brilliantly utilized costumes to address themes of religious guilt and shame around sexuality while maintaining an air of joy and celebration. The transition between outfits of white and gold — Smith at one point wore a thin white veil which went over their entire head and body over a golden crown as they sang the album’s title track — to the darker, more sultry colors to show confidence and self-acceptance. Religious imagery is woven into the aesthetic of the show, with dancers wearing what appeared to be black clergy robes and walking around Smith, glaring judgmentally to create a message of sexual shame.

R&B singer-songwriter UMI opened the show and brought ethereal, carefree energy to the stage, setting a positive precedent for the rest of the night. Dressed in a long white gown with draped long sleeves, she frolicked barefoot across the stage while interacting with a member of the audience by shouting “I love your hair!”

UMI said it was her first arena performance, but I wouldn’t have been able to tell by her ability to command attention from the audience and create so much energy all on her own. She led a swaying motion among the audience during her anthemic song “whatever u like,” devotedly singing, “I wanna be by your side / I wanna love you right.” 

At one point during her set, UMI played sounds on a singing bowl, an inverted bell, into her microphone, and said she includes “healing frequencies” in her songs, leaning into the spiritual aspect of her art. 

The feeling I had leaving the arena was akin to leaving a movie theater after witnessing a work of art you know will stick with you for a long time. Smith’s ability to balance vulnerability with confidence and euphoria brought their album to life, allowing fans to bask in their glory.

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