Adele’s Divorce Album Is Subtly ProvocativePosted by Mike Schumacher
For music stars, Las Vegas is a welcoming destination. It’s where you go to be validated for a job well done, to rest on a strong legacy at a time when the future may have grown less assured and any timid steps towards it may jeopardize that legacy.
Once her struggles, it seemed to be a safe haven for Britney Spears (until she claimed she was forced to perform against her will); Lady Gaga and Katy Perry both set up business in the desert after their imperial periods waned.
Adele, whose three-month Caesars Palace engagement starts this weekend, doesn’t need this financial safety net; her most recent album, 30, was the best-selling album of 2021 after just six weeks on the market. She’s performing there for practical reasons: she despises travelling and prefers to be near her kid in Los Angeles.
But her presence, just now, at a setting associated with light entertainment and celebrating adult accomplishments, is also quietly subversive. Adele, who was formerly renowned for providing comfort and creative constancy (maybe even complacency), released one of the year’s most confronting albums.
Prior to 30, I had listened to Adele’s previous albums as a professional obligation, concluded they weren’t for me, and moved on; she was my age but seemed entirely foreign to our times. Her third album, 25, made me nervous because it featured a young mother, who seemed to be in a stable relationship, rehashing childhood heartache.
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Hearing her reanimate that body made me feel like another young female artist was imprisoned in purgatory – fear, whether hers or the label’s, that the audience would never let her leave the misery that had made her famous. When it was announced that she was divorcing, there was an unseemly glee at the record that everyone expected her to make – a kintsugi masterpiece that would fill her sorrow with her beautiful voice.
Adele’s music may have been predictable in the past, but she seldom does so in her personal life. Her music, for the first time, followed suit.
Adele’s album 30 isn’t full of recriminations or regrets for her ex-husband; instead, she is adamant that she had to leave her marriage because she was unhappy, and she was confident that her commitment to personal happiness would eventually benefit the entire family – though finding fulfillment isn’t as simple as emancipation. The album is organized in a chronological order, beginning with her agony over the hurt and uncertainty it causes their kid (My Little Love) and ending with her melancholy and despair over her newfound alone (Cry Your Heart Out).
However, her self-worth grows in tandem with the length of the record – and her conviction in self-sufficiency.
“How can I help lift you if you refuse to activate the life that you truly want?” she sings on Woman Like Me, “all you do is complain about decisions you make.”
” She’s singing to a slacker new lover who hasn’t lived up to her expectations, but it also feels like a subtle challenge to Adele’s audience to reconsider how they view her – not as a safe haven during their own heartbreak, but as a woman who took a chance to redefine happiness on her own terms and forge a healthier relationship with herself – as well as to truly consider their own lives and potential for change.
Adele’s era-defining popularity has often been justified by her relatability, but the bold woman on 30 is a challenge; the pop counterpart of Glennon Doyle, the self-help guru whose work made Adele feel “as if I just flew into my body for the very first time.” 30 smacked me in the face in a manner I hadn’t anticipated.
Adele’s album titles – 19, 21, 25, 30 – chart a linear path to maturity, along with all the milestones that come with it. Her “contemporary take on soul, blues, and gospel has been appreciated as a monument to tradition,” according to New Yorker reviewer Carrie Battan.
In these respects, 30 deviates from the linear course of development. It’s her most unique album, still reverent of her roots but more fun with them: the wryly processed Motown girl group harmonies on Cry Your Heart Out; the use of voice notes on My Little Love that she’s acknowledged nods to Tyler, the Creator and Skepta; the drunken looseness of I Drink Wine.
She finds greater power in vocal expressiveness than in sheer volume – the coy head-in-the-clouds flirtatiousness of All Night Parking, the embarrassed neediness of Can I Get It – though she uses her unparalleled vocal power as a weapon on To Be Loved, making the listener feel the weight of her decision: “Let it be known that I tried,” she bellows, strafing her vocal chords.
You have to wonder whether, like her position as a wife and mother, her search for deeper self-knowledge and fulfillment opened up this capacity for experimentation, to explore outside the confines of her once-fixed musical identity. The album’s vast delights also make a claim for the vitality of adult contemporary music, a once-dominant genre that has been weakened by age-conscious radio programming and the commercial assumption that parents and pop lovers over 35 have Bublé-infused mush for brains.
Adult life and pop are perceived as incompatible: as I previously wrote about Robyn, the music business is founded on selling the type of self-assurance that comes only with age, yet few artists, especially women, get to develop on their own terms.
Even Adele, the greatest commercial hit of the century, had to deal with similar difficulties. She described a meeting with someone from her label emphasizing the significance of making sure 14-year-olds understood who she was in an interview with Zane Lowe. “But, but, but, but, but, but, but, but, but, but, but, but, but, but, but, but, but, but, ” Adele explained. “Who’s making music for my generation, for my peers, if everyone’s making music for TikTok?”
That’s a job I’d be happy to do. “I’d rather cater to people who are on my level in terms of how much time we’ve spent on this planet,” she said, dismissing the notion that 12-year-olds should listen to 30-year-olds. “It’s too deep!” exclaims the narrator.
Thirty and forty-year-olds are all going to treatment and committing to themselves. That’s how I feel. That’s exactly what I was up to.”
Perhaps, therefore, Vegas is the ideal setting for Adele to release her new album. Here is someone who risked on her future and won herself back in front of the almost married and freshly divorced merrymakers.
Thanks to Laura Snapes at The Guardian whose reporting provided the original basis for this story.
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