Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Mystery of Adele

A friend was saying to me yesterday how impressed she was that I keep up with pop music. It's nothing much, really. I keep an eye on pop music the way that motorists keep an eye on a traffic accident as they slowly pass by in the other lane. There is a kind of horrible fascination about it.

Apart from the astonishing disaster that is Miley Cyrus' latest choice for concert garb, the big news lately seems to be the release of Adele's new album "25". What is it with these number titles? I can understand "1", but "25"? It's not her age, she is 27. Her previous albums were titled "19" and "21" so there must be an age reference. Yes, indeed:
According to the singer, the album's title is a reflection of her when she was 25 and the frame of mind she was in during that age.
Ok, but I'm not going to start titling my albums that way. Too embarrassing! I put up the clip of the first single from the album, "Hello" a while back. Frankly, it was so boring I only listened to half of it. Another go?

Yes, in the interests of objective assessment, I made it all the way through. Now obviously, this is not aimed at my demographic. According to this Wall Street Journal article, her most devoted fans are mothers between 25 and 44:
They are mostly women and they’re more likely to work in health care than any other field. They shop at Victoria’s Secret, read parenting magazines and like taking risks. Perhaps most remarkably, they still buy albums.
Ok, I get all that except the "taking risks" part--how do they know that? But she is selling to them and selling huge (from the Wikipedia article):
On November 18, Billboard reported that Columbia Records shipped 3.6 million physical copies of 25 in the United States, the largest number since NSYNC's No Strings Attached, which shipped 4.2 million units in 2000. During its first day of release 25 sold 323,000 copies in the UK, becoming the fastest selling album of the century and second fastest of all time, behind Oasis's Be Here Now, which sold 424,000 copies on its first day in 1997.
She is way ahead of most classical musicians--and me for sure!--in that she has a devoted group of fans and she knows who they are.

The music is pretty ordinary to my ear--a nice emotional ballad, but that is what her fans are looking for, so good. I find that the video is too much like a cellphone commercial to my taste, but again, that seems to suit her demographic. There are a few odd things: the lip synch when she is doing a quick vocal ornament seems shoddy and poorly matched and there is a fairly high frequency that keeps popping out and giving her voice an unpleasant edge. It's around 1864.66 hz if you are interested--a high B flat.

More interesting than the music is the visual presentation of the artist herself. One of the things that I noticed about Adele in her previous outing was that she was not built like a professional dancer, something that seems almost a requirement for divas these days. She was, rather, a bit bulky. I actually thought this was a nice contrast blunting the trend to choosing singers based on their ability to dance. At last a female pop singer that is not about to start twerking on the chorus. But the new and improved Adele is almost unrecognizable. She has cheekbones!

Here is the evolution:

I'm really not trying to pick on Adele! As a friend pointed out to me, she is doing this because she can. Who knows, maybe I should do the same. I keep saying I need to lose 10 kilos. But what we are seeing here is a highly professional, very thorough, re-imaging of a rather ordinary looking chubby girl into a sleek goddess. Still with the same voice, though.

Surely part of the appeal is the whole package here. The message is "you too can be a sleek goddess with a bit of work". The song is saying something like, "I am the kind of person who feels personal relationships deeply and am willing to admit that I have made mistakes." It's all, while melodramatic and contrived, very positive and speaks directly to her fans, many of whom might stand to lose a little weight (like myself!) and could really use those cheekbones.

I guess the only problem I have with this is that I just don't see how it fits with any of the notions I have about what music is and what it should do. This is basically pop psychology set to a nice tune and soothing piano chords and a little backbeat.

There is just no way I can see doing anything like that. Which is probably an excellent reason why my leaving the pop world for the classical world was a very good choice.


luk17 said...

"there is a fairly high frequency that keeps popping out and giving her voice an unpleasant edge"

thank you!!! something was bothering me but not in a million years would I have spotted it.

I thought maybe her voice had changed after losing weight. More nasal and annoying, very noticeable in this video:

Or maybe it's both, EQ and voice change?

Bryan Townsend said...

On that song, "When We Were Young" it seems to be more on the high E flat. This might be either just the way her voice is or an artifact of the recording. Maybe they want an edge on her voice. An edgy sound in the high register might simply equate to "authenticity" or something. I does remind one of some old blues recordings.

Bryan Townsend said...

With EQ you can either hunt these down and eliminate them or bring them out.

Christine Lacroix said...

Amazing physical transformation over the years. If I lost 10 kilos would I look like that? Even though I only weigh 48 now? I didn't know who Adele was though her name seemed to be popping up a lot on Facebook recently. Shows how over the hill and out of touch I must be. She's got a gorgeous voice but boring (to my taste) music.
Here's her answer to comments about her appearance:

Christine Lacroix said...

Here's the antidote, NOT BORING:

Christine Lacroix said...

By the way, her album '25' is 42% of total music sales this week! Are you sure the proof is in the pudding?

Bryan Townsend said...

2Cellos must have to have their bows re-haired on a daily basis.

Yes, the new album is a huge hit. But what do you mean by "the proof is in the pudding?"

Christine Lacroix said...

I was thinking that based on the success of Adele's album and music in general one could defend her by saying 'The proof is in the pudding' equating her commercial success with the metaphoric pudding. It's imperative to agree on what exactly the ingredients in the famous pudding will be before using that argument!

Bryan Townsend said...

I'm glad it was you making that joke and not me.

Christine Lacroix said...

Uh oh, did I make a joke? What was it?

Bryan Townsend said...

I thought the "metaphoric pudding" was a weight reference. Couldn't think what else it could be.