Adele’s back – but what does it all mean?
Hello serves as a reintroduction – both literal and lyrical. Literally, it’s a welcome return. Lyrically is a whole other story.
It’s been three long years since Adele became a truly dominant force in popular music, and, in the lengthy time she was gone, entertainment observers did at times ponder if she’d ever come back. Speculation reached fever pitch when Sam Smith crooned his way into the hearts of millions in a similar fashion to Adele. Many wondered if the Adele phenomenon was a once in a lifetime moment to remember.
They were wrong.
It’s 2015. The last time Adele truly dominated popular music and culture was 2011 (Turning Tables was released November 5, 2011, her last single from mega-album 21). To measure just how long ago 2011 was in pop years: Beyonce was still two years away from “stopping the world” and changing the way music is released with her surprise 5th album, we were all cringing at the mere existence of Rebecca Black’s viral song Friday, Zayn Malik had just completed his first year in One Direction, and Taylor Swift was just starting to put together the Red album.
The pop music landscape today couldn’t look more different, yet still features a lot of the same people (well, Rebecca Black went away at least) and Adele appears to be acutely aware of this. The music video for Hello sees Adele driving an old car and using an old flip phone as she makes a long journey back to an old haunt. She’s been here before and she needed to come back. Instead of rearranging everything, though, she simply breathes new life into the place. Makes herself at home. Just like she did back in 2010 when Rolling In The Deep earned her her place in the pop stratosphere.
That’s not to say pop music desperately needed her to return. After all, nobody would’ve been questioning her ability to return against Sam Smith if there was always a spot reserved for her, but, after a very strong year of pop releases, Adele’s return relied primarily on people missing her doing exactly what she’s known for – to simply go back to what she was doing before, because if it ain’t broke, right? It will be interesting to see whether her second single will be more of the reliable same or something totally different. What would you prefer?
Adele took her place at the top of every chart imaginable as Hello spoke of understanding that she has been on the outer for quite a while now, so her perspective might be a little skewed, but now she wants back in. She’s been welcomed by the world, but, lyrically, she’s still looking for that emotional closure she can never quite grasp in the stories she tells through her songs.
Hello reads like a sequel to Rolling In The Deep and Someone Like You, in a lot of ways. The woman who showed up unexpectedly at her long moved on ex-boyfriend’s place “uninvited” because she “couldn’t stay away, couldn’t fight it” is still trying desperately to get through to him. “I must have called a thousand times, to tell you I’m sorry for breaking your heart”. He probably got the point a while ago, but until he gives her (what she deems) a proper answer, she’ll simply keep calling him over and over. She’s still bitter about the whole thing, too. “It clearly doesn’t tear you apart anymore…”, she quips, clearly off-put after pouring her heart out to someone who won’t even take her one thousand calls. It’s this little touch of flawed humanity underneath Adele’s almost supernatural vocals that gives her her edge. She doesn’t pretend to be perfect, she sings songs about being a clingy ex, being burned and being human.
One thing that stands out in Adele’s new video is something she (or any female entertainers really) isn’t regularly associated with – swagger. But she’s got it. From her “You know what’s about to happen” neck stretches at the beginning of the video to the dramatic long shots of her piercing glare, to the forces of nature coming to life around That Voice – Adele knows she’s the owner of the most striking voice in pop music and possessing impeccable songwriting skills to match means she’s always going to be able to pen and perform a song perfectly customised to everything she’s so, so good at expressing. She’s set for life. Every fanbase has their fave but none of them are even trying to pretend theirs stood a chance at stopping the homecoming queen from reclaiming her crown.
Welcome back, Adele.