For a popstar to exist on a first-name basis alone, they often need to clue us into what and who they are. With Beyoncé, we expect high-octane dance performances, songs of empowering energy and Black-excellence polish. With Rihanna, we expect dark and sexy RnB, a no-nonsense attitude and a fierce fashion aesthetic to match. With Adele? We know that we will be comforted in our cries, stirred to emotion by lovelorn lyrics that follow the ebbs and flows of her retro-blues voice.
Having waited six years for her return, the announcement of ‘30’ had been expected for a while – whispered about online as the moment where Sad Girl Autumn could be declared officially open. We knew its subject matter would likely be rooted in her divorce, and so we polished our heartstrings accordingly, ready and waiting to have them tugged. When the sombre, resolute piano of ‘Easy On Me’ arrived, it delivered everything we have come to view as classic Adele; a weeping ballad shot through with a rod of self-advocacy: “Go easy on me, baby/ I was still a child / Didn’t get the chance to / Feel the world around me”. Unlike how much of the last 18 months has felt, it was stable, dependable songwriting, plainly true to the artist we love.
In an industry that so regularly focuses on reinvention, ‘Easy On Me’ might feel like something of a bold move. Distinctly within the same sonic palette of Adele’s previous work, it is a continuation of her life story rather than an era of stylistic redesign, packing old melodic keepsakes as comfort for a new journey. Though divorce itself is undoubtedly a harrowing experience, there is no denying that it provides Adele with a fresh bounty of personal anecdotes, the kind of soul-searching, ‘heartbreak and recovery’ we have come to identify her with. She is a woman who understands her market, and while it would be sad to think that she ever feels confined by it, the wavering hook of “Go eeeeeeee-ee-ee-ee-ee-ee-ee-asy on me baby” suggests that she knows full well how many people love to sing her songs at karaoke, and wants to cheerily dare them to embrace a new note-clambering challenge. From the Easter eggs of the video to the charming nature of its presentation, ‘Easy On Me’ is a song that will be there for you on hungover Sunday mornings where you wake up alone, but also on the laid back Saturday night in where you can look around your friendship circle and realise that you already have everything you need.
As some have pointed out, it is quite impressive how Adele has managed to swerve the cresting pressures of musical trends without coming under greater fire. The reason is likely twofold: the inimitable, timeless strength of her vocals and that absolutely magnetic personality. Her accent plays a definite role; ever since the days of The X Factor, we have been enthralled by an artist who sings like an angel and talks like a construction worker, captivated by the seeming mismatch between the two identities. It’s a notion loaded with problematic stereotypes, but it still remains true that Adele’s working-class origins have had so many rooting for her from the very start, seeing something of themselves in her. She’s also hilarious. When asked on a recent Instagram live what her new album was inspired by, she replied “Divorce babes, divorce” with the refreshingly straightforward candour that begs to be immortalised in meme. Regarding her recent weight loss, she openly admitted to Vogue that it was a fitness regime that few could afford, and tackled last year’s row about cultural appropriation with suitable awareness and class: “I could see comments being like, ‘The nerve to not take it down,’ which I totally get. But if I take it down, it’s me acting like it never happened. And it did… I didn’t read the fucking room.”
Fans talk of ‘Someone like You’ and ‘Hello’ as Adele’s flagship moments, but when it comes to songs of emotional gravity, she has them in spades. Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran have modelled similar styles of songwriting, intimately specific anecdotes, yet broad enough that it speaks to a whole range of people looking to indulge in a moment of main character panache. But maybe Adele knows better when to step away, releasing albums as specific timestamps and only posting the smallest snippets of her life online. She might be more active around promo time, but it is with a kind of detachedness that means you are unlikely to see her busting out the latest TikTok dance or committing to extended periods of touring anytime soon.
It’s a brave type of star power, to resist that urge to be omnipresent. It is also one that not many are iconic enough to afford but Adele plays it perfectly, never seeming ungrateful or swept away with her position. When she talks about not knowing how to operate an Instagram Live, it doesn’t seem like she’s playing dumb for clicks; when she delivers two separate interviews for Vogue, each loaded with laugh-out-loud quotes, it doesn’t seem like she’s pre-planned her punchlines. She is at once the young mum you might throw back prosecco with at All Bar One on a Friday night, and the celebrity who has to hire out the entire restaurant when she wants to eat in peace. Whether she’s fangirling over Beyoncé or casually mentioning her friendship with Drake, neither side of her is less authentic than the other. As she ascends to the higher social strata of LA living without forgetting where she comes from, there is only one reaction: good on ya girl. Whatever ‘30’ brings, it is an undisputed joy to watch Adele grow.
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