Before she reemerged on a Hollywood hilltop to captivate with a combination of old-fashioned allure and a tsunami of emotion, Adele made us wait and wonder.
But before the roll-out for her “30” album, which arrives Friday, Adele achieved the unthinkable: She remained a mystery.
Part of it was a self-imposed retreat to heal from her divorce to Simon Konecki and focus on their young son, Angelo.
But mostly, Adele could disappear because she’s reached the rare status of everlasting devotion. It doesn’t matter how long she waits between albums, how available she is on social media or whether she tours or not. Critics and fans will embrace her – both for herself and her inimitable voice – until the end.
When you think about it, Adele is the unlikeliest of pop stars.
Most of her chart contemporaries – save for the equally cherished Taylor Swift and Beyoncé – either skew younger or boost their images with sex appeal or untouchable cool (see: Doja Cat, Olivia Rodrigo, Dua Lipa and Billie Eilish).
Adele does the opposite, opting to be cloaked in chic pantsuits and glamorous gowns and guffaw and clown in public in an adorably endearing manner.
She’s never flaunted her life on social media, desperate for likes and attention. When she did post in the past couple of years, it was to quietly showcase her tremendous weight loss. Even those photos would include pithy captions such as, “I used to cry but now I sweat,” injecting subtle encouragement in the recollection of heartache.
She doesn’t want to tour, which is typically the only way an artist can earn millions in a streaming-obsessed music industry. She admitted during her 2016-17 outing, “touring isn’t something I’m good at.” She’s also disavowed plans for a Las Vegas residency, although insiders in the market are still hopeful about a deal.
Her musical style and cadence resembles easy listening, the formerly ubiquitous radio format with stations that trumpeted Barbra Streisand, The Carpenters and Barry Manilow (whom Adele referenced as inspiration in a recent interview). In a recent interview with USA TODAY, Billy Joel admired Adele, calling her a “Streisand throwback.”
Like them, her songs of wincing heartbreak, romance-novel drama and introspection blanketed in lush orchestration touched listeners and catapulted singles including “Hello,” “Someone Like You” and “Easy on Me” to the top of the charts. That’s not an easy feat considering pulsating pop and hip-hop dominate the industry.
Going back even further, Adele channels the husky hurt of Judy Garland on “Strangers By Nature,” the opening track on “30.” Many fans have also noticed how Adele’s hand gestures emulate the trademark flutters and swoops of Dusty Springfield.
None of it is hip, but it is sincere.
Empathy and vulnerability are her cornerstones; assurances that she gets it. Like Daniel Craig wanted to be a James Bond who bleeds, Adele is a pop star who openly weeps, refusing to hide behind the veneer of fame. Her sad songs say so much and give us permission to wallow.
But while her music pushes fans to a pop open a bottle of wine and a box of tissues, Adele the person is the type of authentically cool woman we want to hang out with because she’s so entertaining. She gamely eats cockles and other home country specialties for a British Vogue interview, reacting as many of us would with a wrinkled nose in disgust or nostalgic coos about food that reminds her of her youth.
She even makes gym attendance sound fun. Adele told Oprah Winfrey about graduating from 10-pound weights to deadlifting 160 pounds – the result of a deep commitment to exercise to also combat anxiety – and her plucky spirit is inspiring.
The detractors who carp that Adele’s music often sounds repetitive, that she’s coasting on musical diary entries that replay the themes of insecurity and hurt and self-flagellation may have a point. But 15 Grammys, one of the fastest selling albums of the 21st century (“25”) and legions of devoted fans prove it doesn’t matter.
We are the willing recipients of the Queen of Pain, in all of her vintage glory.