Wednesday, June 08, 2011

English music superstar Adele: 23, and already the heartbreak queen

From Wednesday's Globe and Mail
Published Tuesday, May. 17, 2011

“There is just something SO different about Adele, and once you fall into the fandom, you're in for life.” – Paige, age 16 (almost 17), member of the online Church of Adele

She sings with a choir’s strength, with a smoky, supple alto turning her sorrow into treasured gold. She has the R&B swagger of Amy Winehouse and the big-ballad poise of an artist well beyond her 23 years. She’s brilliant, it’s true. Still, just how in the world did Adele Adkins happen?

Make no mistake, Adele, the English superstar who sold out her concerts in Montreal on Monday and Toronto on Wednesday, is absolutely happening. Without the sex-splashed shenanigans of Lady Gaga and Katy Perry, the singer-songwriter’s second album, 21, has sold in excess of five million copies and sits atop charts in more than a dozen countries, five months after its release. It’s a very good record – a flooring, soulful account of heartbreak – but there’s more to her appeal than songs alone.

“She’s relatable and, for me, she’s got the best voice of her generation,” says Jonathan Dickins, Adele’s manager. “But I think the key for every great singer is whether or not you believe what’s being sung. And with Adele, I think you absolutely believe every word coming from her mouth.”

Fair enough. But I must say, while sharing a couch with the singer earlier this year, I could not believe the words coming from the likeable superstar. She mentioned her pet dachshund (dubbed Louis Armstrong) and a second one she is hoping to acquire (to be named Ella Fitzgerald). Will she mate them? “No, I had Louis’s balls cut off about a year ago,” she cracked.

Oh yes, madam, Adele, dubbed “the girl with the mighty mouth” by The Guardian, is refreshingly blunt. It’s another of her qualities that attracts fans. When asked about her work on 21 with the eccentric Rick Rubin – one of the album’s seven credited producers, Adele among them – she said she had heard a lot of different stories about him. “I started [soiling] myself, because this guy didn’t sound consistent,” she recalled. “But he was amazing once we were in the studio.”

Adele is signed to the British independent label XL Recordings. Unlike, say, England’s Leona Lewis, a pop singer with a big soulless voice and a wood-panelled personality who rose to fame on the strength of a televised talent search and subsequent major-label promotion, Adele’s rise has been fairly organic. Her debut album, 19 – like 21, its title reflects the singer’s age when the album was made – marked a strong beginning. The LP sold more than three million copies worldwide.

The new album’s material is more polished and grand, though again it’s inspired by a collapsed relationship. Bluesy opening tracks Rolling in the Deep and Rumour Has It reveal an emboldened artist. The “heartbreak superstar,” as proclaimed by Rolling Stone magazine, describes her approach for 21 as “a bit more boisterous, with more swagger and attitude.”

There wasn’t any breakout moment, though her soul-baring performance of Someone Like You on this year’s Brit Awards gave Adele a boost. Unlike her heroes Bette Midler, Barbra Streisand and Patsy Cline, Adele insists on singing her own material. “The songs I like, they convince me, and transport me off into this little world, and they make me gasp for air and hold my breath,” she explained. “I don’t think I could convince myself if I tried to sing someone else’s songs.”

With her earthiness, openness, accessible songs and golden voice, Adele is something like Norah Jones multiplied by Aretha Franklin, convincingly staking a claim to the huge mainstream ground between the underdog old maid Susan Boyle and the salacious, vamping Winehouse.

Like Winehouse, Adele can be naughty, but not in a train-wreck way: She said she enjoys a “tipple,” but now keeps to red wine instead of spirits. And while she had been off cigarettes for six weeks when I spoke with her – “I’m bitter,” she disclosed, “I need a smoke badly” – she has since resumed smoking.

Loyalists contacted by e-mail through the singer’s online chat group include 16-year-old Paige, who finds inspiration in the artist’s self-confidence: “[That] she is so comfortable with herself and her body, even though some people say nasty things, just reminds people that they can reach their dream no matter what size or shape they are.”

A 42-year-old follower, who goes by the chat-group moniker Azule, admires Adele for her genuineness: “She drops the pretense. We’re able to connect with her rage, grief and loss. And her vulnerability is palpable.”

And so it’s a tidy packet – song and true spirit, with a personable, cheeky demeanour – that galvanizes Adele’s audience. Says Jeff Winskell, music director with Vancouver’s Virgin Radio 95.3 FM: “Adele’s songs may follow a typical pop-music formula, but they stand out drastically on a Top-40 station because of not only her voice, but the very Motown-ish arrangements. Her music is perceived as more organic, traditional and timeless, and that perception is propelled by her openness about being a real woman. ... She loves being ‘her.’ ”

The real woman with the fake eyelashes played down her role as some sort of plus-sized role model – “It’s not something I resist, but it’s not something I totally embrace either” – and would prefer not to be recognized as an anti-Gaga or a Perry-opposite. “I admire artists who have that kind of fire in their belly,” she said.

She described herself as a prankster, but Adele doesn't see herself resorting to hijinks on stage. “I'm not brave enough to put whipped-cream guns on my boobs,” she joked, referring to the Perry's interesting choices in toppings. “I'd just be embarrassed. I'd giggle the whole time.”

And she’d have a full legion laughing along with her, you’d have to think.

She could have had it all, but Adele is refusing to go all Gaga

The Irish Times - Friday, May 27, 2011

REVOLVER : THE CHINESE concept of yin and yang refers to how complementary opposites interact within a greater whole as part of a dynamic system. Key to the idea is how opposites only exist in relation to each other.

Even though it’s only May, we can safely say that the biggest music story of this year is the ongoing yin and yang narrative unfolding between two music giants. In some ways it’s a battle for the very heart and soul of what music has now come to represent.

Industry's saviour: Adele

In one corner is the airbrushed, haute couture, post-modern figure that is Lady Gaga. Staring balefully at her from the other corner in a “think you’re tough enough” manner is the cider-swilling, size- 16 Adele.

Look beyond the Gaga hyperbole and incessant Twitter-led white noise and you’ll find there’s only one real winner here. Gaga might give “good front cover”, but Adele, the 23-year-old from Tottenham (the daughter of an unmarried teenage mother) has not just broken all sorts of sales records that have stood since the days of The Beatles: the figures show that she has also, in the UK and Ireland at least, kept the benighted music industry ticking over.

Remove the sales figures this year for Adele’s 19 and 21 and UK and Irish album sales are down by 8.7 per cent compared to last year. Once you factor in all of Adele’s sales, the sector is actually up 1.5 per cent. This is believed to be the first time that one musical act has singled-handedly kept the industry afloat and in profit.

However, Adele’s influence runs deeper. It’s not just that she sings without Auto-Tune (rare among today’s female big-hitters). And it’s not just that she takes her musical reference points from true greats such as Dusty Springfield and doesn’t just get in some Swedish dance-pop hit- maker to write her material for her.

And place Adele beside the Rihannas, Britneys and Beyoncés, and you’ll see a young woman who doesn’t do soft porn-style videos, doesn’t look like she’s starved herself to near death, and views pelvic flicks as somewhat degrading and tacky.

Describing herself as “a normal size 16, happy and healthy” is perhaps the most radical statement you’ll hear from a female music star. “I wouldn’t encourage anyone to be unhealthy overweight,” she says, “just as much as I wouldn’t encourage a f***in’ Ralph Lauren model to suck ice when she feels like fainting.”

Despite being offered mega- money to headline the summer’s biggest music festivals, Adele says she’s turned them down “so I can sit in Brockwell Park drinking cider with my friends”. There’s also a professional consideration: she’s savvy enough to know that her music is “too slow” for an up-for-it festival crowd.

Using the same logic – and citing her disapproval of solo acts performing in enormodomes – Adele has also declined an offer of three nights at London’s 02 arena. Such decisions drive the people around her insane, but the singer is adamant: “You think I’m going to play a f***in’ arena? Are you out of your mind? I’d rather play 12 years at the Barfly than one night at the 02.”

And don’t be expecting any endorsements or tie-ins from this year’s biggest selling artist. “I think it’s shameful when you sell out,” she says. “It depends what kind of artist you want to be, but I don’t want my name anywhere near another brand. I don’t want to be tainted or haunted.”

A healthy, enormously talented young woman who won’t sell out or rip off her fans. How much more of a role model for today’s Heat -magazine-polluted, X Factor - enslaved youth do you want?

All hail Adele for committing the music industry’s worst sin

By James Delingpole
The Telegraph
27 May 2011

Is Adele the bravest, craziest, most downright wonderful star in the history of pop? After what she has just told Q magazine on the subject of tax, I think she might well be.

Here’s what she said: “I’m mortified to have to pay 50 per cent! [While] I use the NHS, I can’t use public transport any more. Trains are always late, most state schools are ––––, and I’ve gotta give you, like, four million quid – are you having a laugh? When I got my tax bill in from [her album] 19, I was ready to go and buy a gun and randomly open fire.”

The reaction from Guardian readers online has been typically unpleasant: “£4 million is nothing compared to the money the NHS needs for the psychological damage her painfully bad excuse for music has inflicted,” quips Ianl. “So not only a purveyor of boring mum soul, but a bloody Tory too?” says JohnnyVodka.

Which, of course, makes the 23-year-old London soul singer’s outspokenness all the more admirable. She’d have known the effect her remarks would have on her audience. Yet with the insouciance of a woman who has spent most of the year topping both the UK and US charts, she has apparently decided that becoming British pop’s answer to Sarah Palin is a fate she is big enough to handle.

In the music business this is probably a first. Sure, the Beatles famously wrote a song about the absurd 95 per cent tax rate under Wilson and Heath: “Let me tell you how it will be/There’s one for you, 19 for me/Because I’m the taxman.” Sure, the Kinks sang, in Sunny Afternoon, how “the tax man’s taken all my dough”. Sure, the Rolling Stones’ Exile On Main St was inspired by the year they spent exiled in the south of France to avoid the punitive UK tax rate. But, though they may have let such sentiments slip into their song lyrics, they certainly never did so in their interviews or public statements.

And with good reason. A rock star can get away with many vices – from drugs to Satan worship to on-stage bat decapitation – but the one perversion that remains absolutely verboten is the kind of conservatism expressed by Adele. Rock stars, after all, are traditionally supposed to be champions of the underdog. Their fans may permit them the odd stately home or private jet, but what they absolutely won’t forgive is any sign that they’ve abandoned their socialist principles. That would be “selling out”.

This is why the list of “out” conservatives in the music biz is so embarrassingly, painfully short. In the US, about the best names they can come up with are Lynyrd Skynyrd (mostly dead), Kid Rock (who?) and Johnny Ramone. In Britain, the list is even shorter – just Tony Hadley out of Spandau Ballet, apparently; and Gary Numan – not least because the merest intimation of Right-ish leanings is so swiftly pounced upon by the commissars of the Leftie music press.

When, in 2009, Pulp’s Jarvis Cocker hinted that a Conservative government might be desirable at the next election, he carefully presented it as an anti-Gordon Brown view (“he makes a mockery of the whole system”, claimed Cocker) rather than a pro-Cameron one (the thought of a Tory administration, he insisted, did not “excite” him).

By pop star standards, even this was dangerously reactionary. What you’re really supposed to do if you’re proper and authentic is hate the Tories so violently that you issue a fatwa banning them from your records: just like Johnny Marr and Morrissey did to David Cameron when they heard he was a fan of the Smiths.

Yes, there may be other closet conservatives lurking discreetly backstage (Neil Young, it’s said; and also Mick Jagger). But openly and in the full glare of the spotlight? All but never. Adele, your openness, fearlessness and integrity puts the rest of your industry to shame.

Two sides of Adele

By Tom Lanham
The San Francisco Examiner

Note: Adele's concert has been canceled due to illness.

In person, Adele Adkins is a zany, outgoing redhead with the wit and comedic timing of a young Lucille Ball.

The brassy Brit — who performs as simply Adele — already made her stateside TV debut on “Ugly Betty,” a role she thoroughly enjoyed.

“But I sounded like Dick Van Dyke doing it — even though I’m English, I was putting on this fake English accent,” she says. “So it’s not something I want to pursue, acting. I just want to be a singer, and I don’t think you can be good at lots of things. You can be good at one thing, and mediocre at all the others.”

The plan is working. Adele’s new sophomore set, “21,” is the biggest-selling album of the year. In the No. 1 spot on the charts for nine weeks in the U.S., it has sold more than 1.7 million copies.

Overseas, its chart-topping reign was so magnetic, it drew her 2008 debut, “19,” back up to rest alongside “21” at No. 2.

At only 23, Adele — who plays the Greek Theatre in Berkeley on Saturday — truly rules the pop-R&B roost.

“So I don’t want people to be distracted by other things that I do,” she says.

Humor may be key to the Grammy winner’s success. But so is humility. She knew she hit paydirt with “19” and its breakup-themed ballads such as “Chasing Pavements.”

But she was also willing to admit the truth.

“I’m quite limited and quite set in my boundaries as a musician,” was her sober assessment. “I can only play four or five chords, so I would’ve ended up writing ‘19.2’ if I’d written this new record on my own. So I made a conscious decision early on that I wanted to work with more people this time.”

Adele co-penned “21’s” first gospel-stomping single, “Rolling in the Deep,” with Paul Epworth. For the rest of the record, she recruited co-writers such as One Republic’s Ryan Tedder and ex-Semisonic songsmith Dan Wilson.

“Dan had me on my hands and knees, crying my eyes out — there’s just something about him that made me completely open up as a composer,” she says. “And it’s unbelievable how professional Ryan is, and it’s totally rubbed off on me.”

Adele might be sitcom-ready. But her concerts play more like telenovellas.

“Even at the end of touring my last record,” she says, “I’d think, ‘this is so embarrassing that I’m still singing about this guy who broke my heart two and a half years ago, and he’s had, like, 14 women since me!’ So now I have to go sing this record, and it’s like breaking up again, every night.”



Where: Greek Theatre, Gayley Road and Hearst Avenue, Berkeley
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Tickets: $45 to $65
Contact: (800) 745-3000,

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