The Secret Behind Adele’s Enduring Popularity
In pop music, six years is the equivalent of a life time. In the time since Adele’s last release, streaming took over, TikTok replaced Vine and became the world’s hit laboratory; reggaeton transformed from regional craze to pop’s global center; Taylor Swift became a rapper and then an indie folk chanteuse.
Then there’s Adele, picking up right where “Hello” left off, still belting out earth-shaking ballads in the pouring rain.
In October, the 33-year-old Brit returned from creative hibernation with “Easy on Me,” the first single off her fourth album, 30, arriving Nov. 19. As the years pass, her anachronisms grow more pronounced: she’s an album artist while her peers dole out their work in 30-second viral clips. She opts for scarcity in the face of fans’ demand for constant output. Frank Sinatra had access to the same instrumentation as she. Still, “Easy on Me” set a new high for Spotify streams within a single day and has topped the Billboard Hot 100 for three weeks.
How is Adele still relevant in a world that seems to be largely ignoring the latest trends? Part of her success lies exactly in this rebellion, which endears her to those concerned with the disposability of today’s pop. But to paint her solely as a savior of some outmoded definition of “real music” would be to ignore the ways she aligns perfectly with digital-age celebrity. Adele is both a throwback torch singer and a modern marketing genius—and it’s the nexus of the two that will ensure her longevity.
Of course, Adele’s appeal starts with her music. Her voice has been astonishingly powerful since she broke out with 2008’s “Chasing Pavements” and has only deepened in quality and control over the years, even as she’s fended off polyps on her vocal cords and undergone multiple surgeries. “Easy on Me” shows an utter mastery from her raspy middle to airy glissandos near the top.
Emotional acuity is just as important. Her keen comprehension of the narrative arc, and her ability to transform broad themes like insecurity and nostalgia into personal epics make her an essential part. She uses her songs to channel and then heal our pains, applying salt and aloe to ours. Beating emotional woundsThey evoke the same visceral emotions we felt when they were played on repeat. It’s not surprising that many artists, even in an age driven by chipper dance moves, have tried to replicate the gravitas of an Adele ballad over the last decade—They have also found their audiences. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Adele is a big reason why songs like Olivia Rodrigo’s “Drivers License,” Lewis Capaldi’s “Someone You Loved” and The Birth of a Star’s “Shallow” have clung to the charts for months on end.
Modern celebrity master
Adele fans like to wax poetic about her musical integrity and wholesome approach in the era of “WAP.” Those kinds of comments are not just racially coded but also ignore a host of non-musical reasons for her dominance. You would be foolish to assume that music’s popularity has not been interwoven with other narratives.—The Rumours recording session drama is still being retold and relitigated, for instance—and Adele is no exception to that rule. Adele, like Kanye West and Swift are gossip magnets. She is skilled at turning her life into art. To appear both unreachable or relatable. And to reply winkly to headlines to create more headlines.
Adele’s brand has been remarkably consistent over the decade. Every album has monochrome artwork featuring Adele’s face, and an titled number. It is as though she was releasing sequels within a cinematic universe. She’s uniformly hilarious and pottymouthed in interviews and plays up her British-ness almost to the level of caricature, whether eating spotted dick blindfolded on British Vogue or spilling tea—literally—on James Corden’s Carpool Karaoke. At the same time, her faux-clumsiness is offset by her high fashion and celebrity friendships—tabloids have eagerly documented her outings with Rihanna, Jennifer Lawrence and Beyoncé and others.
Celebrities having fun can get boring old, though—so Adele turbocharges excitement around each release by building narratives around transformation and turning her life into a soap opera. The songs she writes are about real people. In interviews, Adele reveals even more about the people. This causes gossip blogs to reprint it and sends listeners back to the songs for more lyrical eggs. She’s also acutely aware of the power of image: her recent Vogue covers, which showed off her newly svelte figure, caused searches for “Adele diet” to skyrocket on Google. So many of the headlines about her in the last couple months haven’t been about the music at all, but have covered the details of her divorce and living arrangement; her DateRich Paul, a power player in the NBA at a Lakers match; she Framed piece of gum.
Adele enjoys the conversation and shares bits about her day like Deux Moi. All of this noise only serves to bring attention to Adele’s music. This is due to all the care, emotional baggage and time she invests in each album. It is this combination that makes her success seem almost inevitable every time. Adele is a constant in aworld in flux—suffice it to say we have a pretty good idea of what to expect when 36It rolls.