Opinion: Sam Smith And The Myth Of Blue-Eyed Soul

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Anyone who buys into the idea that white artists blue-eyed soul are being more true to soul are being willfully obtuse

Whenever people argue “If Black artists learn to stand there and sing like Adele and Sam Smith,” I think of one person: Jazmine Sullivan. Then I think of others. Luke James. Jill Scott. Ledisi. Countless others. I don’t have a problem with Adele or Sam Smith. Adele seems absolutely lovely, and when I feel like swimming into an ocean of melancholy to the tune of a British accent, she’s the second person I think of (Amy Winehouse is forever the first). And while I feel like Sam Smith is to gay politics what Don Lemon is to conversations about race, his gifts as a singer and songwriter are undeniable. Still, when it comes to chatter about the plight of contemporary R&B artists and their difficulty netting the successes of their white peers, too many gloss over the reality that Black artists are in a radio climate that calls for Black music mostly from those who aren’t actually Black. Hello, Iggy Azalea. Hi, Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse.” What up, though, Adele and Sam Smith? It’s not white artist’s fault that they get this added bonus, but we all should be more honest about what’s going on. Earlier in the year, Tank, an R&B veteran who should’ve known better, argued in an interview earlier this year that “…Robin Thicke, Justin Timberlake are leading the charge in R&B music. We can’t hate! We can’t hate on what it is! The truth is what it is. And Robin Thicke and Justin Timberlake are doing R&B music better than us. We need to catch up.” I imagine God had to get on the megaphone to tell Marvin Gaye and Michael Jackson to tone down their laughter before they wake up all of heaven after reading such bull. No matter, though, because similar cases have been made for Adele and Sam Smith. Anyone who buys into the idea that white artists who fall under the umbrella of “blue-eyed soul” are being more true to the art form than many contemporary Black acts, and thus are attaining more success, are being willfully obtuse. Jazmine Sullivan recently released a beautiful, soul-wrenching record in “Forever Don’t Last.” I can confidently say that there’s no chance in hell that pop radio will play it. They would if Adele released it, though. A similar case could be made about any Sam Smith single and [insert R&B artist who can actually sing’s name here]. There are so many acts doing quality, soulful music, but the benefits they reap for it waver – mostly on race. You can sing along to Adele and Sam Smith and enjoy them, but now more than ever, we’re reminded that some listeners aren’t willing to do the same about their Black counterparts. Michael Arceneaux hails from Houston, lives in Harlem, and praises Beyoncé’s name wherever he goes. Follow him @youngsinick.