I can remember the first time I heard Adele. I was on a treadmill and the video for “Chasing Pavements” was on the television. That voice – so full of conviction, weighed down by heartbreak, and yet lifted up on its sheer beauty – cut through my attention and held me mesmerized. She wasn’t very well known yet, but I thought that if there were any justice in the world, she soon would be. Her win for Best New Artist at the 2009 Grammys was one of the few things that awards ceremony has gotten right over the last few years.
Adele has achieved something truly extraordinary this week – she has sent a piano-only ballad to Number One on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart. “Someone Like You” is a standout track on a standout album. I loved her 19 debut, but this year’s 21 is on another plane entirely; a timeless classic. “Someone Like You” has exploded in popularity since it was performed on the VMAs almost two weeks ago. Not only is the track selling like gangbusters on iTunes, but it’s gaining in radio airplay, too. I was actually shocked when I heard it on pop radio this week. When was the last time you heard a true ballad – not least one with just piano and voice – in heavy rotation on Top 40 radio?
It’s a testament to two things: The first is Adele herself. Her music has done the elusive impossible, the trick that record execs try to achieve with far less successes than attempts – it has crossed gender, age and genre to become universal. There are very few artists who have this kind of cross-generational, cross-genre appear. And against some pretty hefty odds – the fractured music industry and an image-obsessed culture to name just two – Adele has become one of those artists. 21 has been in and out of the top spot on the Billboard 200 Albums chart since its release, steadily selling around 100,000 copies every single week. It’s the best selling album of the year. “Rolling in the Deep” became a veritable juggernaut of a single, and now she has taken a simple but gorgeous ballad to the top with nothing but her voice, a piano and a stellar song.
And that’s the second thing this achievement is a testament to: the song. And I mean that in a sense specific to “Someone Like You” but also in a general sense. This goes to show that when you have a truly exceptional song, it is possible for it to gracefully rise past all the 808 machines, the Auto-Tune snobs, the pastry puff bras and the meat dresses to make a remarkable imprint on the culture.
Well done, Adele.
JT Landry has been in a torrid affair with pop culture ever since his parents first sat him down in front of Mary Poppins as a tyke. A movie buff, a music lover, a voracious reader and an evangelist forCommunity- Go Human Beings! – and other marvels of storytelling, JT can be found on Twitter and Facebook.Read more posts from JT.