It doesn’t happen often, but sometimes the stars and planets line up just so, allowing a band or artist to be both the best and the most popular act in the world at the same time. It happened with the Beatles in the ‘60s. And again with Michael Jackson in the ‘80s. And by this time next year, we can add Adele in the ‘10s to that list.
Although her overwhelming success is blindingly obvious now, Adele’s career started modestly compared to her contemporaries. As one of many Brit-School-trained vocalists in a post-Amy-Winehouse world, she was initially overshadowed by fellow English songbirds like Duffy and Leona Lewis. A well-received musical guest spot on Saturday Night Live the same week that Sarah Palin appeared, as well as a Grammy win for Best New Artist, were early, notable achievements. But Adele did not seem destined for stratospheric greatness.
Then, of course, she released 21. The album’s fusion of blue-eyed soul, heart-on-sleeve lyrics, and that voice, became an instant landmark moment in pop culture. A sales juggernaut, 21 was the Thriller of its day, spinning off hit single after hit single, shifting 11.17 million copies in the US in the process (and doing so in an era where selling one million is a laudatory achievement). The album spent 24 weeks at number one, and was the best selling album in both 2011 and 2012, cementing her status as the hottest act in the world. The album’s critical success matched its commercial success, as 21 won seven Grammys, two Brit Awards, four American Music Awards, and twelve Billboard Music Awards. Adele was suddenly the most popular and the best artist in the world.
Moreover, without even trying, Adele was the perfect anti-pop star. While Katy Perry blasted whipped cream out of her bra and Lady Gaga wore a meat dress, Adele’s humble, stripped-down, down-to-earth nature was a breath of fresh air. She was funny but not flashy, using her voice as her only weapon; subsequently, she was immediately exalted by a huge, cross-generational audience of millions. Furthermore, she effectively dismantled every criticism against her (most notably about her weight) by being the absolute best in the business. Everybody loved Adele, and rightly so.
Adele then recorded an Oscar-winning James Bond theme, “Skyfall,” before settling down with a new husband to start a family. When she walked off that Oscar stage, in early 2013, it effectively ended the 21 era. Adele went away to be a mom, and the world patiently waited for her return.
And at times, the wait was excruciating. Air-tight security, coupled with projected release dates that came and went, meant that the public had no idea when to expect new Adele music. Further frustrating fans, Adele’s celebrity friends who had heard snippets of the album raved about how amazing the follow-up, tentatively titled 25, was going to be. However, with no official word from her camp, 2015 looked to be yet another Adele-less year…
…then, in one anonymous 30-second clip that ran during the October 18th X Factor UK, all that changed. “Hello. It’s me…” the unmistakable voice of Adele crooned, as the lyrics displayed against a plain black background.
Within seconds, the internet exploded in speculative excitement. Had the queen finally returned? Confirmation arrived five days later as the full song for “Hello,” along with its accompanying music video, debuted. And the response was instantaneous and overwhelmingly positive.
Adele claimed to have been “frightened that no one would care,” about her return, but she needn’t have worried: the music video broke the Vevo record for most views in a day (27.7 million, compared to 20.1 million that previous record-holder, Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” racked up). Additionally, the song shot up to the top of the iTunes charts in over 100 countries. It was the fastest-selling single in the UK this year, granting her an instant #1. And it broke the one-week digital sales record (previously held by Flo Rida’s 2009 hit “Right Round) in the U.S., granting her an instant #1 here, as well. Furthermore, the buzz was electrifying and contagious as celebrities ranging from Ellen DeGeneres to Britney Spears to Russell Crowe took to social media to sing her praises.
Huge song….love this girl… https://t.co/eSELjwgqN7 via youtube
— Russell Crowe (@russellcrowe) October 23, 2015
The whole world was intoxicated; after four long years in between albums, Adele was finally back!
And she came back with all guns blazing. Adele has banked enough goodwill that 25 would’ve been an out-of-the-box #1 no matter what, but she made sure that “Hello” was brilliant masterstroke of a comeback single. It starts off slow and quiet, à la her own “Someone Like You.” But when that first chorus hits and her voice soars, you’re served notice that “Hello” is an epic power ballad like they used to make in the late ‘80s. The relatively simple instrumentation and the haunting backing vocals perfectly showcase Adele’s still-powerful voice. And it’s that voice, combined with the disconsolate emotion she imbues in every syllable, that clearly marks “Hello” as Adele in excelsis; only a soulless automaton wouldn’t be moved.
As if that wasn’t enough, the music video is perfect.
In an early scene, Adele removes dust covers as she visits a former residence; it’s almost inconsequential to the plot, but the scene acts as a metaphor for her return to the music biz. Also, while Adele has clarified that the song is not about an ex, the video treatment would suggest otherwise, as Adele takes a heart-breaking stroll down memory lane. As good memories about a former flame give way to bad ones, you can’t help but get swept away by the melodrama. The sepia-toned video is appropriately sentimental, melancholy, and nostalgic (crappy flip-phone and all), and it fuels the power of the song. The fact that it’s the first music video to be filmed with IMAX-cameras only adds to the cinematic quality. And the video has already been hilariously mashed up with Lionel Richie’s 1983 hit,“Hello.”
“Hello” is already a huge, runaway success. And while Adele is not bound by the same restrictions we place on our more conventional pop stars, even she must be pleased with how well the song is doing. Lead singles are supposed to generate buzz for the upcoming parent album, and “Hello” has done that a million times over. Consequently, expect 25 to debut with over a million in US sales, win a slew of Grammys, and dominate the rest of 2015 and all of 2016. And when it does, Adele will once again be the best and the most popular artist in the world. It was a long wait, but “Hello” has restored the queen back to her throne!