There’s no getting away from it – Adele is back. Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the last month you will have at some point encountered the huge media coverage leading up to her album’s release last Friday. But what is it about Adele that’s transformed her from low-key Brit School star to one of the biggest acts on the planet?
If you want to put it down to one single moment, then of course it was that BRIT Awards performance in 2011. Her second album had just come out, ‘Rolling in the Deep’ and ‘Someone like You’ were extremely well received after a debut album that was patchy at best, but no-one expected what followed as Adele took to the stage that night accompanied by just a solo pianist.
The performance was mesmerising, and within the space of five minutes her life changed forever. The song’s raw emotion and her vocal dexterity grew in harmony together as it cascaded along, like watching one of the greats. Such poise and control, accompanied with an underlying fragility, and holding the awards’ crowd – which are usually petulant at best – in total stunned silence. It was Adele’s metamorphosis from chrysalis to butterfly.
The catalyst of the moment was incredible, and, crucially, transcended audiences. Adele had become a fairly underground Top 40 artist, shunning her Brit School background to hang out with Jamie T and Jack Penate and was well respected amongst critics for that. Indeed it was 6 Music that first pioneered the love for ’21’, long before the commercial stations, with Huey Morgan championing the record right from the first play of ‘Rolling in the Deep’ in November 2010.
We love that she’s cracked America – the absolute pinnacle for British artists
And while the mainstream BRIT Awards performance was certainly the turning point, the admiration for Adele is far wider than just one song. Ask most British people what they love about her, and they will usually call her ‘down to Earth’ or ‘one of us’. We love that she’s cracked America – the absolute pinnacle for British artists – which, until recently with One Direction and Ed Sheehan’s emergence, had gone for years without anyone doing so.
Her success in the States is very much down to the same reasoning as in Britain; she’s one of very few artists to be universally liked across generations and genres. While young girls and middle-aged women will always fall for the ballads, there’s enough R&B influence in Adele’s music for outside groups – largely young adults of both sexes – to respect her too.
While much of this is down to Adele’s deliberate, personal choice to shun the celebrity lifestyle, credit has to go to the people around her for managing her brand so well. She now finds herself in an ominous position of many of the great female divas – most recently Beyonce, Mariah, and Whitney – where her name alone is enough to sell records, regardless of the quality of the music.
Of course, that’s not to say ’25’ doesn’t have its moments, but largely it’s a very safe record for Adele. You could say that’s a shame, but realistically it’s a sensible thing to do. Very rarely do things align so perfectly to put an artist at the peak of their career with complete control of their own destiny.
In Adele’s case, the complete absence of media coverage and lack of output for nearly three years really has made the public’s heart grow fonder. Much like the ‘Up’ series of TV documentaries, curiosity makes us crave insights on her life and discover what’s been happening during those intervening years.
underneath it all lies a woman that we’ve seen grown up and want to share in the ups and downs of her world
Despite the brand management being very transparent – her recent interview with Nick Grimshaw to launch new single ‘Hello’ veered from pally East End slang talk about belching, to well-rehearsed posh overtones as she did her marketing spiel about the upcoming album – underneath it all lies a woman that we’ve seen grown up and want to share in the ups and downs of her world. And now, with her success we want to share too, and rightly so. It’s completely endearing, and most of all, sells millions of records.
Of course, the decision to leave new album ‘25′ off Spotify and other streaming platforms (most likely until after the Christmas spend), coupled with blanket media coverage, has lead to it having easily the biggest first week album sales ever on both sides of the Atlantic, but in all likelihood it would have reached great heights regardless.
Indeed, her critics would say Adele has been given more than a leg up by the industry over the years; The BRIT Awards themselves declared her the first winner of the ‘Critic’s Choice’ award back in 2008, a category that has become something of self-publicity parody over the years, prompting criticism of the BRIT School from contemporaries such as Arctic Monkeys an Ed Sheehan.
Ironically, though, this initial negativity may have been one of the reasons Adele initially shunned the limelight – no more so than by sticking to an independent record label – which in turn has helped her career hugely, making her the seemingly humble woman she is today. And it’s correct that, whether naturally or through clever marketing, this facet of her personality is brought to the forefront; it’s what endears the public to her. We all have our insecurities and fragility, and hers resonates with us all.
You could argue that Adele’s success is down to timing – filling the void left by Amy Winehouse – or even just fantastic management by the industry, but regardless, it is a success that should be applauded if nothing else for her grounded attitude and reluctance to conform to the now omnipresent celebrity lifestyle. And as a homegrown talent that is taking the world by storm, long may it continue.