Things, it's safe to say, have moved quickly for Smith.
Yet he wasn’t alone at Jingle Ball. This sold-out pop extravaganza was packed with acts that were barely more than a blip last Christmas: pint-sized heartthrobs like Shawn Mendes and 5 Seconds of Summer, along with young women such as Iggy Azalea and Meghan Trainor, both freshly anointed like Smith by the Recording Academy.
But all had been there long enough to know they want to stick around like the handful of veterans on the bill.
First among those was
But Swift was most impressive in a radical reworking of one of her earliest (and most wide-eyed) hits, "Love Story," which she presented here as a darkly moody synth ballad -- precisely the type of chance every A-lister should use her position to take.
Pharrell Williams, another of the lifers at Jingle Ball, didn't try anything so risky as he rolled through breezy renditions of "Happy" and "Get Lucky," the 2013
Other surprise guests at Jingle Ball included
And then there was Smith, a beginner in fact if not in bearing. Singing his hyper-emotional retro-soul ballads -- songs about the desperate search for love -- the 22-year-old displayed a contradictory serenity that suggested he'd known all along he'd wind up where he has.
Even as he described how his romantic dalliances "never seem to go to plan," you could picture the tidy progression of his musical career: from a cheap seat at Staples to the arena's stage to -- as we're almost certain to see in February -- two arms full of gold trophies.