Adele: Lady Sings the Blues

5.15.2011

By Aaron Hicklin

She had to have her heart broken -- twice -- to break the charts, but Adele is not about to let fame to go her head. As she begins a U.S. tour, the singer opens up about the heartache behind her music, the danger of fan mail, and why she thinks 'singer' is too big a word for her.

Photography by Perry Ogden | Styling by Gaelle Paul

Meeting Adele can be discombobulating. She's a global sensation whose latest album, 21, has broken records left, right, and center, but to call her a pop star seems, somehow, to miss the point of someone so lacking in ego, so resolutely determined to downplay her celebrity -- even when that someone is the first living artist since the Beatles, in 1964, to have had two albums and two singles in the British top 5. "I always say I'm a singing lady, rather than a singer," says Adele. "Singer is a big word for me. My interpretation of a singer is Etta James and Carole King and Aretha Franklin."

It is a sunny day in Amsterdam, and Adele is in her pajamas, her long hair splayed out around her head, a cigarette dangling from one hand (she smokes 20 a day). Boats float by on the canal just below us; on one, a trio of adolescent girls starts squawking, "Are you Adele?" and collapse into gasps and sighs when she flashes them a corroborating smile. Later, she will perform to a frenzied crowd in Paradiso, a converted church booked before it was clear that she could fill venues many times the size. It's a story that's been repeated across Europe: venues too small to accommodate her exploding career. "We're playing Shepherd's Bush in London, and I didn't even think I'd sell that out," she says of the 2,000-capacity venue. "It went in about 10 seconds. It's still hard to take it all in. Every now and then I wonder when it's going to slow down." She says she's lost a few friends "who just don't get it and treat me weird," but that she has managed to maintain her identity and keep sight of the things that count. "I've met people I admire, and people I don't admire who are completely affected by their success, and I fucking hate them," she says. "There's so many people who believe their own hype and treat people like shit, and if I was ever like that I would absolutely stop doing what I'm doing for a while and go and find myself again. I find it grotesque when people change because of it, but maybe it's because they're not as good at keeping in contact with the people who love them for a reason."

It may be premature to claim that Adele stands comparison with any of her idols, but at 23, it's clear that she is something special. She wrote her breakout single, "Hometown Glory," in 10 minutes -- when she was 16 -- after a row with her mom, who wanted her to leave home for university. It was released in 2007, just 500 copies, in vinyl. Two years later she walked away from the 2009 Grammys clutching two awards -- for Best New Artist and for her single "Chasing Pavements." Her shoes were off and her belt was undone when the announcement was made. "I had just come back from the toilet, so my Spanx weren't even all the way up," she recalls. "Then I won Best New Artist, and it was like time slowed down, and I was hovering over myself, pissing myself laughing. It was amazing."

Tags: Music
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