This question has been bugging me for ages now, so I thought it was about time I tried to answer it – and get a few things off my chest while I’m at it….
Now, before I go on I just want to make it clear this is in not intended to criticise Adele in any way – I think she’s a good singer who writes/performs good songs and refreshingly does it all at her own pace and in her own style. I just don’t get why she is so popular and successful!
First, a little perspective. Adele’s second album, 21, has recently become the fifth best selling album in UK history, and has now outsold classics like Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Pink Floyd’s seminal The Dark Side Of The Moon – all in a little over a year!
And that’s just the UK. Recent research by the BPI state that last year, Adele’s 21 accounted for 1.6% of ALL albums sold worldwide last year – which adds up to about 18 million copies. Her first album, 19 (released 2008), was also the sixth best selling album in the world last year – a full three years after its release!
I think what annoys me most is not just that Adele is so popular – good on her, fair play etc… – but that no-one seems to have noticed! She’s breaking records and shifting unprecedented ‘units’ and no-one seems to have made much of a fuss. Part of the reason I think is that she keeps herself to herself (Rihanna, take note!) and avoids publicity as much as she can – but even so, Pink Floyd were never exactly tabloid fodder and Dark Side… gets namechecked all the time. Maybe we’re still very much in the epicentre of the Adele phenomenon and won’t truly appreciate it until it’s all over. Which kind of makes sense to me, so I’ll move on,
So why is Adele so successful?
The obvious, easy answer to this is that she is just really good. But even if you accept that Adele is really good, it still doesn’t explain the level of success she has had in such a short time. So, what else could be behind her massive popularity? I’ve been having a think, and been asking friends, family, colleagues and even strangers, and here are some of the more coherent theories:
Adele is just a normal girl
Can’t argue with this, everything about Adele positively reeks of normality – from her BRIT school beginnings to her smokers cackle. She is the ‘everywoman’ who we can all relate to and wish we were mates with.
Not only is she very relatable as a person, her songs are deeply personal and emotional – which makes for a powerful double-whammy that gets the listener on side and personally invested in what she is singing about. Plus, the fact that she wears her heart on her sleeve prevents songs like ‘Someone Like You’ sounding too mushy and cynically marketed (just imagine Mariah Carey cheesing her way through this):
She uses musical trickery
On the subject of ’Someone Like You’, I’ve been doing some internet digging and discovered Adele likes to employ something called an ‘appoggiatura’ – which is very notable in the above song. This is music speak for a note that clashes with the melody of the song just enough to create a dissonant sound, which ratchets up the tension for the listener. This keeps the listener ‘hooked’ to the song and subconsciously yearning for the melody to resolve – and when it does it provides relief and generally feels good. There’s a better written and more detailed explanation of this here.
It’s all about timing
Like most artists that strike it big, Adele’s success has a lot to do with what’s going on in the music industry, and society as a whole, at the moment.
The internet and popularity of mobile devices has totally fragmented the music industry. Where once there was Top Of The Pops and the Top 40 to bring music fans together, now there are countless musical communities sprouting up all over the place, all doing their own thing away from the mainstream. Which in my opinion, leaves the door wide open for some nice, inoffensive, middle of the road artist to totally take over the mainstream. How else do you explain something as sappy as that Gotye song still being around? Everyone can ‘kinda like’ Adele and talk to each other about her and then get straight back to their post-dupstep-acid-jazz-electro playlists on Spotify.
As well as filling a vacuum in the mainstream, Adele may also be benefiting from a mixture of the ‘Simon Cowell effect’ and our current economic ills . I know that might sound a bit far-fetched, but hear me out. Usually, times of recession and depression have brought about some exciting musical movements – punk being the most prominent example to spring to mind. Nowadays, though, artists are far too concerned with playing it straight and appealing to the X-Factor audience (who probably make up about 100% of the singles buying market) than using these times of hardship to make some great, inspiratonal, life-affirming, but risky music. Punk simply would not be allowed to happen these days. So because of the lack of any such movement, the only music that shines is the play-it-safe balladeering of Adele. And all the twatty public schoolboys like Mumford & Sons.
That’s my thoughts on Adele anyway. Maybe you agree with all, or some of it. If not, let me know in the comments why you think Adele has managed to be so successful. I’ll buy whoever makes the best suggestion a copy of Adele’s next album!