Tuesday, July 30th, 2019

Sam Smith – How Do You Sleep?

Sam asks, Iris answers…


Iris Xie: Quite well, actually, after hearing this song. 

Wayne Weizhen Zhang: A friend recently sent me a powerpoint presentation handed down from another friend entitled “Your Fave is Problematic: Why I Forbid You From Stanning Sam Smith” (sam-smith-is-cursed.pptx), 10 slides which methodically detail why his music is boring and shallow, and his celebrity status is problematic. At the time we weren’t even talking about his music — the conversation was started by a meme — but I couldn’t help but argue back that “Latch,” “Omen,” and maybe even “Dancing with a Stranger” are classic bops which prove he has at least some artistic merit. When I saw the release of “How Do You Sleep?” I had hoped that it might be a tiebreaker proving me right, but Sam Smith seems determined to make me look a fool: this is listless, sleepy mid-tempo filler which puts the “dull” in “adultery.”

Nortey Dowuona: Sam Smith’s work has been easy to forget, especially since his music without producers like Disclosure, Calvin Harris and Naughty Boy has been mostly mediocre. But here, he does the James Blake/Hudson Mohawke move of adopting the now easily copied trap drum patter and buries it underneath a sea of grainy, barely noticeable synths and pulls out some of his best singing for a while. The song is pretty dull, still.

Joshua Lu: When Sam Smith dropped a video teaser for “How Do You Sleep?” a few weeks back, I was instantly on board. The prospect of Sam doing choreography was exciting for many reasons, chief among them the fact that a music video with dancing probably necessitated a song that could be danced over, which aside from his EDM collaborations would’ve been new for him. Imagine my reaction, then, when not only did the song turn out to still just be moderately paced, Sam and his languid vocals didn’t seem to be aware that he wasn’t on a ballad. The choreography in the video might’ve made up for my disappointment, had the part where Sam actually got up from his chair and danced not been laid over that bizarre goose honk in the chorus. 

Michael Hong: While the video for “How Do You Sleep?” feels like a response to everyone who criticized Sam Smith for not being queer enough, the track itself is far too carefully curated and too safe. Sam Smith may sound just as lovely as he does over those twinkling instrumentals as he does over a piano ballad, but here, he lacks any emotional depth. When he asks “how do you sleep when you lie to me?” he sounds bored rather than heartbroken. Throw in an unnecessary dance break after the first chorus and the entire thing just feels like it was created as a backdrop for the video. But hey, at least he’s moved away from the formulaic balladry. 

Oliver Maier: Smith’s redirect from blue-eyed soul to dance music has been a smart move on the whole, injecting some pep into his step and shaking off some (keyword: some) of the lugubriousness that plagued his previous efforts as much as it defined them. “How Do You Sleep?” is the strongest argument for this course-correct yet, even if it’s not quite the gem it could be. I like the twinkling synths in the intro so much that every staid production decision that follows — from that clap sound to the eyeroll-inducing vocal bending in the post-chorus — can’t help but disappoint in comparison. The opening line “I’m done hating myself for feeling” doesn’t exactly fill one with confidence either. Yet Smith salvages the track with a terrific hook and a strong vocal performance, marrying confident sensuality with desperation and lending a real sense of urgency to his anguish. Heartache is familiar territory for him lyrically, but Smith energises it here by displaying a willingness to do something about his crisis instead of resigning himself to moping.

Kayla Beardslee: Just like opening a bag of chips and finding it half-empty, “How Do You Sleep?” at first seemed colorful and promising but turned out frustratingly insubstantial. In theory, the stars should have aligned for this track to break Smith’s recent trend of releasing glum, predictable songs: as his first single since January, there was incentive for it to sound like a hit, and he had even worked with the Max Martin cohort, some of pop’s most reliable bop-makers. But in reality, even though it’s upbeat, there’s just nothing interesting to grab onto here. Smith is trying his hardest to emote, but over such a dull, basic instrumental, his efforts just sound out of place. The chorus melody is admittedly not terrible, especially the drop down on “All that fear and all that pressure,” but that moment of pleasantness is immediately ruined by the following line, “I’m hoping that my love will keep you up tonight.” I’m still having trouble believing that hook is real: it’s the kind of cliche you would hear a fake pop star sing in a made-for-TV movie. And after that line, somehow, the song immediately tops itself again with one of the most bland, toothless drops I’ve heard this entire year. This drop means nothing, musically or lyrically, in the context of the song — it’s just an awful drop for the sake of it being an awful drop, and, like “How Do You Sleep” in its entirety, sounds like nothing more than the product of indifference.

Alfred Soto: Not a John Lennon, alas, but the joke’s on me: expecting rancor and vengeance from Sam Smith is like expecting Billie Eilish to join the White Stripes. Until the inevitable chipmunk vocal manipulations, “How Do You Sleep?” is the usual thwacking electro melancholy.

Katherine St Asaph: Calvin Harris wrung unheard-of restraint out of Sam Smith’s voice in “Promises,” but whatever wizard miracle he pulled apparently doesn’t work twice. The verses to “How Do You Sleep” are sung so breathy and hollow, so clearly at 10% capacity, that I just wish he’d sing out. Then he inevitably does that, and it’s the same Auto-Tuned blare that people apparently love, but that to me has the unbearable volume, timbre and unchangingness of the smoke alarm going off. (How do you sleep through that, indeed.) “How Do You Sleep” then tries something else, a post-chorus of Bebe Rexha vocoder pirouettes, and I think: no, not that either. The instrumental is gorgeous, crystalline and wistful, and I have no idea what Sam Smith could do to best serve it, besides getting someone else to sing. Anyone heard from The Weeknd lately?

Reader average: [6.66] (3 votes)

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2 Responses to “Sam Smith – How Do You Sleep?”

  1. sam smith accomplishing the feat of making me write the same blurb twice (I completely forgot this) http://www.thesinglesjukebox.com/?p=18296

  2. Voguing, even if only for a pre-chorus, should be reserved for songs that burst out onto the runway with unapologetic flair, not those that can’t even decide on its tone of production, muting the arpeggios of a twinkling lullaby for some trap beat that could’ve been spliced with Ariana Grande’s “break up with your boyfriend, i’m bored.”