Sam Smith shows the cynical side of love on “Too Good at Goodbyes”


Singer Sam Smith’s new single, “Too Good at Goodbyes,” illustrates what happens when love turns cynical. The song sounds like a contemporary attitude coupled with Smith’s trademark sound.

Sam Smith: “Stay With Me”

British singer Sam Smith sung his way into American hearts after an appearance on Saturday Night Live. His debut album, “In the Lonely Hour” was released in May 2014. The single, “Stay With Me” was the third song from the album and the one most Americans were familiar with first. The earnest vulnerability of “Stay With Me” is in stark contrast to Smith’s latest single, “Too Good at Goodbyes.”

In “Stay With Me,” Smith’s lilting tenor rides easily over the instrumentation. The soundscape is gentle, and each word is easily understood. When Smith performed the song on Saturday Night Live, the sound seemed more appropriate for sacred spaces, rather than the show’s soundstage. The lyrical content and sound helped to overwhelm listeners with the idea of the narrator’s vulnerability.

“Stay With Me’s” fragile quality and Smith’s voice made the song’s narration believable. It had been a while since American audiences had been so taken by a voice. The tender voice, the fragility of the message allowed Smith to create a new era in modern pop songs. In Smith’s work, love was sweet and new again.

“Too Good at Goodbyes”: Sam Smith

Fast forward three years, and Smith is back on Saturday Night Live. The high tenor voice is still there, but something is different. The backup singers that offer a Gospel quality to the song are fairly standard. In line with Saturday Night Live’s performance, Smith played two songs. The first was “Too Good at Goodbyes.”

When the song started, the typical Smith sound was present, but as audiences listened to the lyrics, it became obvious that the fragility of “Stay With Me” had been replaced by a reluctant, but no less brutal, honesty. Some might go so far as to call it cynical. Smith’s narrator is no longer asking anyone to stay. In fact, he might be the one to leave–he has done so before, and might do so again.

The narrator is jaded and experienced. At first he does try, or so it seems. He sings about the ways he could make things right, but ultimately, he won’t. As he sings, “I’m way too good at goodbyes.”

The change in attitude surprises audiences, especially in light of “Stay With Me.” “Too Good at Goodbyes” just sounds so resigned, and if not cynical, than certainly more blunt than what most listeners are used to for love songs. The narrator refuses to pretend.

The love song updated for the 21st century not only catalogs hurt, and ways reconciliation might occur, but it also predicts the end of the love story. In Smith’s version, when the last notes are sung, finality hangs in the air–signaling to everyone that this is the last time.

Smith’s new album, “The Thrill of it All,” is scheduled for release Nov. 3, 2017.


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