“I’m ... myself,” Smith said during his two-song set at the Ace Hotel for Universal Music Group Chairman and CEO Lucian Grainge’s artist showcase Saturday afternoon. “It’s good to keep my mind off tomorrow by singing.” And sing he did, running through early cut “Nirvana” and breakout hit "Stay With Me” to rapturous response.
Sunday, whatever nerves he felt seemed to cease when he took to the red carpet. He wasn’t feeling the pressure.
FULL COVERAGE: Grammy Awards 2015
"I'm actually weirdly relaxed about the whole thing. I think people forget it's an award show,” he said before the awards. “This is supposed to be a celebration of music and -- the year that I've had and I've had the most incredible year -- whether I get an award or don't, nothing can take that away. I feel like I've already won."
The 22-year-old British soul singer cleaned up on Sunday, taking three of the four top awards, record, song and new artist -- he scooped four trophies overall -- and delivering a highlight performance of “Stay With Me” alongside Mary J. Blige (it was one of the night’s few standing ovations).
Smith also solidified his place in history by becoming the first openly gay man to win a Grammy (he winked toward it by thanking the guy who broke his heart).
Ahead of Smith’s Grammy run, we profiled the singer for a cover story that ran on Grammy Sunday. Here’s more of that conversation, including new album plans, guilty pleasures, handling fame and whether or not he’s still lonely.
You’ve talked at length about the loneliness that inspired the album. Its success has taken you around the world and made you a household name. Has some of that loneliness subsided in the wake of everything else that’s happened?
I’m still lonely. I’m always going to be lonely ... [but] everyone’s lonely. Even if you're married with seven children there are going to be nights when you’re away from them and you’re going to miss them or there's going to be nights where you’re with them and you miss being single and having no responsibilities and that’s loneliness. You’re always going to feel that at certain times in your life. But I’m less lonely now, because when I was in love with the person I wrote the record about it was a constant loneliness all day every day. Now it’s only once every two days [laughs].
The man who the album is about. What are those conversations like now?
I find it funny. Now, it’s more like there’s a beautiful relief to it where I don’t feel that way anymore. It’s just like anything in your life. I don’t like when artists say they don't like their first records. Because you’ve gotta respect in that moment that it felt right. It’s the same with falling in love or your career or any decision you made in your life. It’s part of the reason that you’re OK. I have no regrets and falling in love with that person I really don’t regret because it got me six Grammy nominations.
A lot of artists don’t get the opportunity you did, making their first album on their own terms.
It is forever going to be me, and it takes the pressure off my next album because that’s what you’re going to get. I don’t have to create another character. I'm documenting my life. I'm constantly doing it. I wrote a song two days ago about a breakup I just had. It’s a documentation and I listen back and it feels like it’s me. That settles my mind a little bit. If people don’t like my next record, I’ve been myself and I’m going to carry on doing that.
You once told me that the music is sometimes difficult to listen to. Has traveling the world singing these songs over and over made it easier, or more difficult?
Easier in some respects. I went through a breakup a few weeks ago and I always thought I was only going to be able to relate to this album once … and I’d move on. That’s what I thought. I listened to things like “Leave Your Lover” and “Not in That Way” and I didn’t feel the same feeling as when I wrote them. And then the other week I had to go onstage the day of the breakup and I sang “Good Thing.” Every lyric suddenly came alive and I’m singing the songs in my set and they’re coming alive again. It’s a really beautiful experience. Instead of turning to a Beyonce song to help me, I was turning to my own songs, my own shows, my own fanbase and an arena of people to find comfort in hurt.
How has fame changed the way you date?
I’m very lucky because I have nothing to compare it to. I wasn’t in a real relationship before I got famous. So anything that happens now is very new to me. I learned a lesson though … that I’ve got to deal with posting pictures and stuff like that in a certain way. Maybe I’ve gotta keep that to myself. I feel like I should share everything. But I was wrong. I don’t regret it, but I was wrong. I shouldn't have showcased something that wasn't cemented.
Do you think maybe you should guard one aspect of yourself and keep it just for you?
Yeah, but at the same time I don’t want to keep anything to myself. I don’t want to be a pop star who is calculated or hidden. I want to be human and the human thing is I’m 22 and I went for my first relationship and it ended very briefly because … have you ever been in a relationship before and you realize that you just weren't compatible? It was nothing malicious and there was no drama. We just realized it wasn't working. And that’s it, that’s the story.
How did collaborating with Mary J. Blige influence your artistry?
Working with Mary was incredible. It highlighted how special it is to work with artists that have been around for a long time. And I'm very honored to be learning so much from people like her and Chaka Khan and Elton John. They’ve been very parenting and that’s very nice.
Where is your head at with album No. 2?
Gosh. First of all I want it to be the most honest thing I’ve ever written in my life. It’s going to be even more honest than “In the Lonely Hour.” The one thing I can say is it’s going to be a broader project. There’s so much in my life that I want to talk about. I wrote a song about my mom and dad [getting divorced] and stuff like that. It’s going to be a broader experience. I’ve been writing and recording. I’ve been given two week-long breaks this year and I’ve already put in writing sessions. I haven’t taken a holiday. I’ve got things to say.
What are some of your guilty pleasures?
Food. I can’t stop thinking about food. I’m on a health kick -- raw foods -- and I feel amazing but I’m craving fried chicken. Dancing to Beyonce. “Avatar,” when I get sad I watch it. Maybe I’m attracted to blue people? I sat through it 10 to 12 times. There’s loads of things I love. Going out for meals, going out for walks. And candles -- I’ve become a diva.
Since we are averaging about a year when we sit down, a year from now where do you hope to be?
Sitting with you. If we could do an interview every year that would be amazing, if you’ll have me. Every year, like an update, that would be beautiful. In a year from now, I hope that I’m going to be towards the end of writing another project and be proud of it and excited to get back on the road. I hope that I have a boyfriend, that would be nice. I hope my family are healthy and happy. I hope to have the same team as I’ve always had. I hope I’m still grounded and aware of everything that’s going on. And how crazy and ridiculous my life is.
Times staff writer Nardine Saad contributed to this report.