Adele, Billboard’s Aritst of the Year (Photo: Lauren Dukoff)
Adele owned 2011. The kicky, 23-year-old British singer released her second album, the break-up requiem “21,” in February, and in barely 11 months, she has already sold more than any artist in the world, currently inching towards 13 million globally. But it wasn’t just heartbreak that made her popular. In contemporary music, Adele is one of a kind, a woman who thrives off no bells and whistles, just pure personality and talent (and the ability to make the toughest curmudgeon cry).
Despite it all, Adele has been living in exile, of sorts. After having surgery to remove a benign polyp from her throat, she was not allowed so speak for weeks, never mind sing — and, as readers of her blog know, she wasn’t quite feeling it. We emailed her a few days before she was nominated for six Grammys (by which she expects to be vocally recovered) to discuss her latest live DVD, her astronomical success and, naturally, true love.
In your “Adele: Live at the Royal Albert Hall” DVD/CD, you talk about your cover of The Cure’s “Love Song,” and how your mum used to play it for you when you were little. Does she love that you covered it? How much in general has your family influenced where you are now, and what do they think of your success?
My mum loves that I covered a Cure song, yes. I remember their records being a huge part of my early life. The soundtracks to some of my first and fondest memories. They’re a bigger part of my life now than they were then because I reference them in my writing and I’m aware I’m inspired by them.
My family are obviously a huge part of where I am now, but my music and certainly my career are very separate from my home life. I don’t and never have involved them in it but they’ve never gotten in the way of it either. They’ve always encouraged and loved what I’ve done from the moment I took an interest in music. I think they’re as baffled by my success as I am. I don’t ask my loved ones how they feel about it actually! There’s too much other stuff to catch up on when we see each other.
Also in your Royal Albert Hall performance, you have a dedication to Amy Winehouse. Obviously people have compared you since you’re both white British singers with soul, but do you feel any affinity with her beyond that?
I certainly think Amy set the bar and a standard, but for singers and artists in general. Though of course there was a flurry of British women who came out with debut records after “Back to Black,” and I do think there was more interest because of her. I loved her for the same reasons everyone else did — firstly, she was a remarkable singer but she was a believable and relatable artist, feisty but timid and fun but tragic — normal! She created herself. That’s what inspired me. I see no appeal in having a very specific plan as an artist. Who fucking cares if people don’t get it or don’t like it? I’d rather trust myself, to like what I’ve done and stick to my guns than make music I don’t like, wear clothes that don’t suit me and flutter between genres because I’m scared I won’t be relevant if I pass my “sell by” date. Amy tattooed that in me! She made music because she was good at it and wanted to. And she was a huge artist who was always a bigger fan. That’s why I gravitated towards her and listened when she sang and spoke… Or snarled!
You’ve had a remarkable year. Yet you seem to go about your career almost as an indie artist, and by all accounts, don’t seem to have changed your personality. What keeps you grounded… and real?
Well I started on an indie label in the U.K. before I signed to Columbia here in the U.S., and I’m still there. What I like about indie artists and indie labels is they don’t do everything. Obviously, the main reason for that is because they don’t have the clout and don’t get the chance to. Ha!
But why does a huge artist have to do everything? Quality control is vital. If I did everything, my artistry and music would become diluted. Performances and interviews travel globally and instantly nowadays because of YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and blogs. I’d be repeating myself and be overexposed if I did every TV and every magazine cover I was given the opportunity to do. I don’t change up my style, and live, it just is what it is. I only do things I like as well, TV shows I watch and publications I read. I won’t do something simply because I should, so I’ll sell a few more records.
When it comes to staying myself — my career isn’t my life, it doesn’t come home with me. So it’s a piece of piss staying grounded and not being changed by it. The same things I’ve always liked still satisfy me. My team’s the same and my group of friends are the same. Of course I’m bowled over by people’s response to “21,” and when I meet artists I love, it blows my mind. But it baffles me as well. I go home and my best friend laughs at me, rather than going to a celebrity-studded party to rub shoulders with people who know me but who I don’t know. I’m Z-list when it comes to that shit.
I think one of the things that sets me apart from other artists who have had the same kind of success is that my life isn’t speculated about. And you can’t escape that, which makes you more high-profile whether you want to be or not! I feel very lucky that isn’t really part of my life. Then again, I did do a tell-all on my record anyway, haha! I’m incredibly private but I’m also incredibly honest and I think that creates a kind of “meet in the middle” respectable ground.
To that end, much has been made about your place in the pop universe, and how you are so real and uncontrived compared to a lot of other pop stars. Did you always feel supported in your decision to just be yourself?
I’m not sure. I’m never self-conscious and never have been. The thought of changing yourself or toning yourself down or up for that matter, to please someone else seems ridiculous to me. I’m not drawn to people who feel like they have to do that, so I’m not really aware if there was ever a shift.
What do you envision for your future, your next couple of years?
I’m really looking forward to some time to do nothing. I imagine I’ll be 25 or 26 by the time my next record comes out, as I haven’t even thought about my third record yet. I’m just gonna lay some concrete, set up home and just “be” for a bit. I’ll disappear and come back with a record when it’s good enough. There will be no new music until it’s good enough and until I’m ready.
Have you begun writing songs for the next album?
It’s been a long year. Have you found love again?
It’s been the most erratic year. It’s been fucking brilliant and exciting and emotional. Professionally, it’s been a year that will define my life forever. But because of the success, obviously things have been unearthed and people have crawled out of the woodwork publicly and privately. But that’s to be expected. And those things personally have forced me to address things I wouldn’t have. I probably wouldn’t have until my thirties.
Not having someone to share all this with made me miserable at times, to be honest. I wanted nothing more than to be in love and be loved back. That was until I remembered I was sharing it with millions and millions and millions of people!! I haven’t been ready to be in love again since summer 2009… until now. And I hadn’t met anyone along the way who has changed that.
I love that Robyn lyric from “Call Your Girlfriend”: “The only way her heart will mend is when she learns to love again.” I was bitter as fuck and so sad about my relationship that “21” is about. Obviously it was intensified because the record exploded, and it was a constant reminder of him that I couldn’t avoid. But I hadn’t met anyone else. I missed him because I didn’t like feeling lonely and so I just kept going over and over the fuck-ups and resenting him and regretting our time together. But really recently, I realized that that had to happen for me to know what I want and need from myself. And of course in someone else.
How was your vocal surgery? How much longer until you can sing again?
The surgery couldn’t have gone better. But because I was singing with damaged vocal chords for three or four months and because of the surgery and because of the silence after the surgery I now have to build myself back up vocally. It’s gonna be a lot easier for me to sing now. And mentally I won’t be worried about my voice on stage anymore. So I have to get used to that. That’ll take most of January, so February I’ll be singing properly!