The Many Ages of Adele
Published February 23, 2011
ADELE. PHOTO COURTESY OF ANDREW YEE
It wasn’t a given that Adele, the 22-year-old British songstress, would name her new album 21. After the success of her debut 19, which won her the best new artist and best female pop vocal performance awards at the 2009 Grammys, she was asked if she would continue the trend.
“I’d be like, ‘No, I’ll have an imagination thank you very much, I’m not going to carry it on,'” she says. “And then when it came to naming this record it was the only relevant thing, because my relationship that the entire record is about was about me coming of age, and 21 is the age when you’re suddenly a proper adult and on your own.”
Not only is Adele’s album more mature than her last, but also she now has a “proper adult” hit on her hands. For all the acclaim of 19, 21 has already brought Adele into new territory. According to Sky News, she is at the top of the UK single and album charts with “Someone Like You” and 21. New single “Rolling in the Deep” and 19 are each in their respective top-five lists. This combined feat hasn’t been accomplished since the Beatles.
The album didn’t come from an easy place, though. 21 chronicles the disintegration of a relationship, and when her voice artfully cracks in a falsetto on the song “Someone Like You,” it sounds as if she is about to cry. We talked to Adele on Saturday about how she feels when listeners apply their own experiences to her songs, letting her ex hear the new album, and her Dachshund.
ESTHER ZUCKERMAN: You have explained that this album is about one particular relationship. Can you tell me about the process of writing it?
ADELE: There wasn’t really a specific process to it. I just sort of happen to sit and wait patiently until I’m ready to write the record. I can’t really plan it very well. If I try to plan, it never works out well. I have to kind of wait. It happens on its own. It was inspired by my last boyfriend, my ex-. Even though on some songs I’m really portraying him in a really bad light and I’m being quite bitchy about him, it was the most phenomenal relationship I’ve ever been in so far. I’m very young, so hopefully I will find someone that will be better than him or at least find someone like him again. It was very intense and very extreme and my first kind of all-or-nothing relationship. Looking back on it, it was still very much a teenage relationship. So it is just kind of the growth of a relationship and the rise and the fall of us really, and once I did start writing it and once the ideas did hit me when I was literally sitting there twiddling my thumbs, it didn’t take very long for it to all come out.
ZUCKERMAN: Obviously this album is very personal, but each song can also apply to anyone listening. When I heard “Rolling in the Deep” and “Someone Like You” for the first time, I was like, “Oh my God, that totally can apply to me!” Is that something you intended in writing the album, or does that just kind of come naturally?
ADELE: It’s not like something I hoped to be able to achieve. I don’t do it on purpose. The way I write my songs is that I have to believe what I’m writing about, and that’s why they always end up being so personal—because the kind of artists I like, they convince me, they totally win me over straight away in that thing. Like, “Oh my God, this song is totally about me.” I have to feel that about my own songs for me to be happy with them and to be able to let them go. So I think people can relate to them because I’m so honest in them. It’s warts and all in my songs, and I think that’s why people can relate to them. I don’t write songs about a specific, elusive thing. I write about love and everyone fucking knows what it is like to have your heart broken.
ZUCKERMAN: Is it weird for you to hear people coming up to you and saying, “I had a similar experience?” Is it weird for people to applying be your songs, which are so personal, to their own experience?
ADELE: Absolutely, it’s the strangest thing ever. When I like an artist, I’m so obsessed by them, to the point where I always try to tell them if I ever meet them… [she mocks speechlessly stumbling over her words] I always get really fanatical about it. For people to link my music to their lives, it’s incredible, there’s no other feeling like it.
ZUCKERMAN: Did you want the person who you wrote the album about to hear it? Do you know if he has heard it?
ADELE: It’s my own therapy. I’m not on good terms with any of my exes. That’s why we’re not together anymore. We’re not friends. We had the same friends though, so I imagine he’s heard it. It’s also been number-one for ages in England, so I doubt he can avoid it. I don’t know what he thinks of it. I lost most of our friends in that relationship. He ended up getting all the friends. You know, when you break up with someone that you share your entire life with, he got all the friends, I lost them all. So I don’t really know. I hope he can see past songs like “Rolling in the Deep” and hear one like “Someone Like You,” so he knows just how much I actually did love him. I hope that to an extent—but not to the point where he’d be like, “Oh she wants me back,” not like that. I hope he finds comfort hearing the record, like how I found comfort writing the record. He’s the biggest part of my life, and this record is changing my life. So you know, again, he’s still having an impact on my life in good ways.
ZUCKERMAN: Will your albums continue to be as personal in terms of the subject matter?
ADELE: At the moment I think so, but I guess it depends if and how I develop as a writer. I doubt I’ll be singing forever, because at some point people aren’t going to want to hear my music, and I hope that I’ll still get the opportunity to write songs. If I were a writer and not a singer in 10 years, I don’t know how I’d feel about writing really personal songs and getting someone else to sing them. So I might start writing in a different way. I think while I’d be an artist and while people are interested, I think my songs are definitely personal, yeah. I wouldn’t be able to write a song like “Someone Like You” and get someone else to sing it because it’s so personal. It’s like giving away your heart.
ZUCKERMAN: I read that you have a lot of country influences, and when I listened to 21, I noticed some ’70s influence on a song like “I’ll Be Waiting,” with the piano at the beginning. What kind of music were you thinking of when composing this album?
ADELE: It was a lot of things. I did get really into country, which was a brand-new style of music for me, because it’s not a part of my culture in the UK. I got into blues, I got into rockabilly, I did finally get into Dusty Springfield, which I think is the relevant sound on “l’ll Be Waiting” that you were on about. Everyone on my first was saying, “Oh, you must love Dusty,” and I thought, “I don’t know any songs by Dusty Springfield, apart from ‘Son of a Preacher Man.'”
ZUCKERMAN: Okay, I have to ask, the top link on your website is a blog about Dachshunds. Are you a Dachshund fan?
ADELE: I’m a Dachshund owner. I’ve got a little tough weiner dog called Louis Armstrong.
21 IS OUT NOW. FOR MORE ON ADELE, VISIT HER WEBSITE.