When Can We Expect the Adele Backlash? Probably Never.
No reason to look over your shoulder, Adele — everybody loves you
Photo by Alasdair McLellan
As you've probably heard by now, Adele Adkins is well on her way to shattering every sales record ever with her third album, 25. After staying almost completely out of the public eye for three years, she's suddenly everywhere, dishing out magazine interviews, singing her heart out on SNL, goofing around with Jimmy Fallon. If you look out your window right now, you'll probably see her face on the side of a passing bus, even if you don't live on a bus route.
You'd be well within your rights to be sick of Adele without having heard a note off the new album — except that's impossible, because lead single "Hello" is everywhere, too.
But despite Adele's ubiquity, it's hard to find anyone shit-talking her this week. There are no trending anti-Adele hashtags, no Change.org petitions lobbying for her to go back on hiatus, no memes or spoofs that do more than gently poke fun at the overwrought emotionalism of her music. The only people with anything bad to say about Adele, it seems, are Vox.com (who published one of the only outright negative reviews of 25, though plenty of others have been lukewarm) and Damon Albarn, who has since tried to walk back his comments calling her "insecure" and "middle of the road."
It's entirely possible that, by this time next week, this will all change, and holiday shoppers sick of hearing "Hello" interspersed with Christmas music at the mall will start hate-tweeting their Adele fatigue. But I don't think it will happen. More than any other recording artist of her stature, Adele remains virtually backlash-proof. She is, as a brilliant SNL sketch recently illustrated, the one pop culture phenomenon everyone at the Thanksgiving dinner table can agree on.
But why? What's so great about Adele — especially given that her music is, let's face it, often shamelessly maudlin?
It's not as simple as the undeniable fact that she's one of the great powerhouse vocalists of our time, or that, with 21, she released one of the most perfect pop albums of the last 10 years. It has more to do with Adele herself, who has, despite all of her runaway success, remained down-to-earth and relatable in a way no other pop superstar of her generation has managed. She radiates authenticity — not the self-consciously retro, capital-A "Authenticity" of a Jack White, or the art-directed "realness" of a Drake, but just an unassuming quality that suggests she would be exactly the same person if "Rolling in the Deep" hadn't changed her life.
That quality, ironically, doesn't always come across in her music — especially on 25, which is her most dour and overcooked effort to date. But in interviews and performances, she keeps it real to a disarming degree.
At her Hollywood Bowl gig in 2012, she was so excited to be playing the historic venue for the first time that she called her mum from the stage and kept forgetting the words to her own songs. Some of my Weekly colleagues found this amateurish. I found it totally charming. Who wouldn't freak out a little, headlining the Bowl with Janelle Monae and Chaka Khan as your opening acts?
The one time I interviewed her — admittedly, way back in early 2009, long before she had become the biggest pop singer on the planet — it was like talking to an old friend. She regaled me with stories of meeting Sarah Palin at her first SNL appearance and giving a drunken acceptance speech at the Brit Awards ("I hate [award show] speeches; I think they're rubbish," she said, not knowing how many she'd be giving), all liberally sprinkled with her now-famous cackle. Judging from her more recent interviews, she remains just as engaging, even if she's now understandably more guarded about her private life, which she's managed to keep remarkably private.
In a recent interview for British magazine i-D, when the subject came up of Adele's avoidance of social media and paparazzi-infested hotspots, she said something very astute: "I just want to have a real life so I can write records. No one wants to listen to a record from someone that's lost touch with reality. So I live a low-key life for my fans."
Haters will probably find this statement self-serving, and on some level, maybe it is. But I'm inclined to believe it's coming from a sincere place. There are famous people who are just constitutionally incapable of acting like they're famous, and Adele is one of them. The much-memed goofy face she pulled at the end of her SNL performance wasn't coming from a place of false modesty; it was the sincere reaction of an unguarded human being who had just pulled off her first live TV performance in several years.
Adele always seems to be the last person in the room aware of her greatness — which is an integral part of what makes her so great.
If anything sparks an Adele backlash, it will be 25 itself, which finds the singer drifting away from avowed influences like Etta James and more into full-blown Celine Dion territory. It's a perfectly fine and often heart-rending album, but none of its many ballads — and there are a lot of ballads — achieve the catharsis of "Someone Like You," the show-stopper on 21. As a fan, I was left wishing that more of the album embodied the Adele of today — happy, fulfilled, a young mother in a stable relationship — instead of hearkening back to the doubt-racked, lovelorn girl on her previous releases. "Sweetest Devotion," a towering, blissed-out love song, is the only time Adele seems to be singing in the present tense. It's also, not coincidentally, the best song on the album.
But whatever disappointment I may feel over 25 doesn't make me any less of an Adele fan. And maybe that explains why there's been no Adele backlash, too. She's one of the few recording artists of this era — or any era, really — whose talent transcends her material. Adele could probably cover a Train song and make it sound profound.
So get used to a prolonged Adele lovefest, as 25 continues to break sales records and single-handedly save the music industry. The world needs at least one bulletproof, undeniable pop star, and Adele is it. At least until the next Beyonce album.