It was back in 2008 when Adele, a London-based ballad singer, took to the stage of the Jools Holland show and performed the melodic “Hometown Glory”. From the outset her sound was to be defined by its reflectiveness, its simplicity, and her singular presence when performing. But that Adele is not the same comet of celebrity that we know and almost universally love today and how could she be?
In 2008, she was a solo artist in her late teens with a debut album ‘19’ on her shoulders. Her arrival on the music scene did not seem to herald the hungry gaze of media attention that the debut offerings of other female solo artists have commanded over the last ten years. The likes of Lorde’s ‘Pure Heroine’ in 2013 or even the much contested Lana Del Rey’s ‘Born to die’ of the same year both caused veritable sensations in the music industry.
By contrast Adele’s debut album ‘19’ was a much quieter and subtler entrance into our lives; it came two years after Amy Winehouse’s ‘Back to Black’ and was released the same year as Duffy’s crooning record ‘Rockferry’. At this time in British music, there was no sure sign that it would be a redhead from Tottenham who sang simple but effective songs that would make the big-time globally. Very easily, Adele could have been a pleasant one-album wonder. She could have been an artist that you add to a nostalgic Spotify playlist or a one-off 99p purchase from iTunes. But something else happened. Despite the stronger and edgier images of her competitors, the one-track wonder of British music went away, came back with new tracks and became a mega star.
From the start Adele has remained unapologetic about her style and form of making music. She remains a one-woman show where her honest wavering voice, with its vocal and lyrical simplicity, takes centre stage. But it was her second album, ‘21’ that hailed her as a stalwart in the international world of music. Adele’s image, especially her body image, remains central to her international success and was instrumental in the worldwide acclaim of ’21. For her second album, she drew on her big and bold voice and sense of self to secure a stronger image that was missing from her debut album. This included her larger frame and her obvious facial beauty as she harnessed the power of the musical divas from black music culture such as Arethra Franklin and Etta James. One only has to think of Adele’s ‘Rolling in the deep’ video where she is unashamedly curvaceous and allows her luminous skin and big voice to dominate the scenes. Even the curse like lyrics of the record emphasized the new and successful direction the Adele brand was going in – it was the point where she became known as a “real” woman in every sense of the word.
At the start of her career, Adele hid her body and her winning personality away under tea party dresses and pinned down hair. In ‘21’ however, she unleashed herself as a woman and a solo star in the way she dressed and the way she sang. It is with this new found confidence that her artistic personality developed. This is the woman that drank, had one-night stands and later, after she had her son, became the young mum that struggled like ‘the rest of us’ to be both a woman and mother. This was the most important transition for Adele, and the move that won her adoration in America.
If her musical simplicity ran the risk of making her a talented but forgettable presence in 2008, by the time ‘21’ had arrived, the addition of a deeply intimate persona, conveyed through her honest lyrics about unruly heartbreakers, enabled her popularity on both sides of the Atlantic. This meant that by the time her latest record-breaking album, ‘25’, entered the musical fold last year, Adele could pretty much release any sort of record or single that she wanted.
Her musical personality and her have taken on a life of their own and is immutable to trends and passing styles. Her outstandingly popular single ‘Hello’, a timeless ballad, is undeniable evidence of this.
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