If she’s not sad, will we listen?
SINCE she last released a record, Adele has been crying a lot. She went backstage to meet Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks and, overwhelmed in the presence of one of her idols, burst into a bout of great snotty sobs. She went to the Oscars and, as Barbra Streisand performed The Way We Were, she was again reduced to tears. News of the success in the Grammys of her last album 21 was another trigger for the waterworks. These are very different tears from the ones that inspired her album 21, the 30 million-selling, six-Grammy winning, emotional rollercoaster that marked her as one of the great voices of her generation. It was a heartbreak album, as was its predecessor, 19, the cut-through release which also won two Grammys. She won’t be writing any more of those. “It ain’t worth feeling like that again,” she told i-D magazine recently. “I was very sad and very lonely.”
The fear she must now face, following the much-anticipated release yesterday of
25, is whether the millions of fans who shared the pain that poured from her Sharpie pen into a Moleskine notepad for the lyrics to 21 will find it harder to empathise with a wealthy young woman in a steady relationship and besotted with her three-year-old son.
“Do you think everyone will be disappointed that I’m happy?” she asked a reporter from Rolling Stone. “Will my fans be disappointed in me that I can’t fix their broken hearts with a song that is brokenhearted? I don’t want to disappoint them. But at the same time, I can’t write a sad record, like, for everyone else. That’s not a real record, unless I am sad.” She suggested that: “My fans will be like, ‘Babe! Please! Get divorced!’ ”
Those who have heard 25 detect a change of musical direction, taking her closer to the uplifting sounds of contemporary pop, with less of the soul and bluegrass influences apparent in her earlier releases. Yet there is, at present, no
sign whatever of disappointment among the fan base.
Hello, the first single from the album, is the subject of such a buzz that it is smashing all music industry records. Having been trialled in an ad break during The X Factor last month, the video became the fastest music video to reach 100 million views and is now nearing 250 million. The song sold more than 1.1 million digital units in its first week, in an era when fans supposedly no longer pay for music.
Ahead of the release of 25, she gave a concert at Radio City Music Hall, “Adele Live in New York City”, and, on launch day she starred in a one-hour BBC One special,
Adele at the BBC.
The album has been a long time coming – she was 25 when she started it and is now 27 – but despite the enormous levels of anticipation, Adele appears to have regained some authority over her life. That was not the case in 2011 when her voice gave up on her. She had to cancel her American tour.
“I cried a lot. But crying is really bad for your vocal cords too,” she told Vogue afterwards.
Adele’s life seemed out of her control – a distressing feeling for an artist who likes to be “the boss of everything” in her professional life, with acute attention to detail and quality control.
A Boston-based surgeon removed a polyp from her throat and she has since added four notes to the range of her mezzosoprano. So if she is weeping now, it is partly from a sense of relief. It is also, it seems fair to assume, from a feeling of disbelief. Adele, who referenced her big city surroundings in early singles Hometown Glory and Chasing
Pavements, has never disguised her upbringing in some of London’s poorer postcodes. She once styled herself “Delly from the Block”. Her accent is invariably described as cockney, and her liberal use of profanity caused a blushing Vogue to declare: “Adele also has one of the great dirty mouths of her generation.”
She has ascribed her loud and “bolshie” demeanour to growing up alongside the extended family of her mother, Penny, an artistic furniture maker/masseuse/ polymath who had Adele Laurie Blue Adkins at 18 and was apparently willing to take her to concerts from the age of three. That was about the time that Adele’s father walked out. A year later she started singing.
When the Spice Girls-loving Adele was 11, she moved with her mother from north-east London (“Tottenham is my mind, body and soul,” she still sings in the 25 track River Lea) to West Norwood, south London, where she discovered R&B groups such as Destiny’s Child; that group’s star, Beyoncé Knowles, has since become one of her numerous admirers.
As a teenager she studied the singing styles of blues and jazz greats Etta James and Ella Fitzgerald and won a place at the Brit School for performing arts near Croydon. She was a joker who spent lunchtimes with Jessie J and Kate Nash, both now successful singers, and Laura Dockrill, the poet and children’s author.
She didn’t hang out with fellow Brit alumna Amy Winehouse, but was inspired to pick up a guitar and craft songs by Winehouse’s album Frank.
In the video for Hello, Adele’s performance suggests her drama classes were not in vain, even if she once described herself as “the worst actress of all time”. The video was made by prize-winning film-maker Xavier Dolan, and Adele cries in that too.
She also claims to hate the world of the red carpet but, in the next breath, reveals her diva qualities: “I love a bit of drama.” In relationship rows she will descend into a sullen “silent treatment”. She doesn’t read books, which makes the eloquence of her songwriting all the more remarkable.
From her earliest days in the spotlight, Adele talked of her hunger for “settling down”. She now lives in Hove, West Sussex, with her boyfriend Simon Konecki, an investment banker turned charity boss, their son Angelo and a dachshund.
Her private life has become a subject for tabloid snoopers, and last year she won damages against a picture agency after paparazzi tracked and photographed her taking Angelo to playgroup. She has acknowledged that her introspective songwriting means people could think she “did ask for” speculation about her personal life. Becoming a celebrity has led to press coverage not just of her “smoky green eyes” and baroque dress sense but also of her body shape: “Since I was a teenager I’ve been a size 14 or 16, sometimes 18,” she told The Observer in 2008. “And it’s never been an issue in any of the relationships I’ve had.”
She didn’t get on with Blur’s Damon Albarn in a failed collaboration for 25. (He described her as “insecure” when she asked him about parenthood.)
But she’s hardly short of famous fans, with Kanye West blogging “This shit is dope!” about Chasing Pavements, and Julia Roberts writing her an ode in Entertainment Weekly.
Adele’s management reckons there are a good 17 albums in her yet. What’s next – “30”? Seven years ago she was asked how she’d be at that milestone. She predicted a nice “family house”, marriage and a first baby. She said she’d be writing songs for other people.
But she won’t be allowed to rest that larynx so soon and, now that she’s crying tears of joy, nor would she want to.
.... I CAN’T WRITE A SAD RECORD, LIKE, FOR EVERYONE ELSE. THAT’S NOT A REAL RECORD, UNLESS I AM SAD
1 Rolling Stone magazine this month 2 An image for Adele’s new album, 25 3 Adele sings at the Oscars in Los Angeles this year