ALBUM: In the Lonely Hour
ARTIST: Sam Smith
Love is by far the most popular topic in songwriting. It’s present in every genre, and experienced in different ways by everyone. As a subset, heartbreak is a globally relatable notion, as well, turning love into a positive and a negative. The powerful clasp of emotion surrounding love is no novel experience, but few are familiar with the components which create this insane surge of feelings. Sure, love may be a battlefield, it’s blind, and knows no bounds, but what makes it such an intense experience? Psychologist Robert J. Sternberg published an article in the 1986 Psychological Review entitled, “A Triangular Theory of Love,” and this theory is still very relevant in the love discussion today. Sternberg proposed that love comes in three components. Intimacy, the top vertex of the triangle, is reflected in one’s closeness and feeling of connection with one’s partner. Passion, falling at the left point of the triangle, is often confused for intimacy; it reflects the physical passion and fire felt during attraction. The third component taking up the right vertex is commitment, or trust, that the person you love speaks and acts in earnest and returns your desire to stay connected. If this holds true, then love is a physical, emotional, and cognitive process. Sternberg writes:
This psychologist establishes that the forces behind romance and love are both in and out of control, and society’s perpetuation of love, through television, media, etc. molds a person’s reaction to this emotion. A chick-flick, therefore, predisposes women to feel clingy and play dumb when under the trance of love, as does the Mattel-inspired Barbie and Ken dynamic.The common adages “love-sick” and “addicted to love” perpetuate the notion that this connection can make one crazy. This has been proven true, with a slew of scientific evidence backing it up.
Love is a complex whole that appears to derive in part from genetically transmitted instincts and drives but probably in larger part from socially learned role modeling that, through observation, comes to be defined as love. To a large extent, then, love is prototypically organized.
The dark place Smith fell into after his profession of love mirrors the wrenching loss of dopamine and oxytocin which follow a breakup, because the trifecta of intimacy, passion and commitment is broken. In the Lonely Hour details to a tee the list of symptoms associated with Limerence. The tracks within Smith’s debut album remain depressed and lamenting as a whole, but a few moments in “Restart” and “Leave Your Lover” lead the listener to notice glimmers of hope coming from Smith. “You keep coming back for me when you're the one who tore us apart/ And the truth is I'm better on my own/ And I'm the one to leave it apart” sounds immensely different from the scene painted in “Stay With Me.” This sharp reaction in the album that changes Smith’s tone and perspective can be explained through a few Limerence symptoms: “Strong, persistent, enduring yearning for reciprocation from LO. […] Feelings of ecstasy are intensified with signs of reciprocation by LO.” The title of the album itself describes the bout of depression that Smith endured, stemming from, “Distractibility to the point where relationships and responsibilities are compromised. Persistent, exaggerated positive or negative interpretations of LO’s cues,” can describe the sharp shift in emotion in “Restart.”
I’ve never been in a relationship before. I’ve only been in unrequited relationships where people haven’t loved me back. I guess I’m a little bit attracted to that in a bad way. In the Lonely Hour is about a guy that I fell in love with last year, and he didn’t love me back. I think I’m over it now, but I was in a very dark place. I kept feeling lonely in the fact that I hadn’t felt love before. I’ve felt the bad things. And what’s a more powerful emotion: pain or happiness?
Smith’s mature realization on his bout with love is reassuring in that he has coped with it, but the album’s release definitely piques suspicion of love OCD. Nonetheless, Smith’s breakthrough into the high profile music scene was a huge leap. He trained for endless hours in his childhood, and allegedly cost his mother her job, so that he could become the star the Smith’s envisioned him to be. In the Lonely Hour is also an important marker in the battle against discrimination. New York daily news wrote, “No other out gay person has entered the U.S. marketplace for the first time with so much commercial juice behind them, including Frank Ocean.[…] His focus on songs of unfulfillable love recall the sad gay love ballads of the pre-liberation era.” Though the album isn’t a classic for the ages, it does have a solid, consistent sound, and plays with unusual conventions like obsession and gay love, keeping the content edgy and fresh.
But it was good as a form of closure, to get it off my chest and tell him. I feel better for it. I feel almost like I signed off this part of my life where I keep giving myself to guys who are never going to love me back. It feels good to have interviews like this, to chat about it and put stuff to bed. It’s all there now, and I can move on and hopefully find a guy who can love me the way I love him.
“I’d never ask you ‘cause deep down I’m certain I know what you’d say. You’d say I’m sorry believe me I love you, but not in that way.”