Adele’s Hello: Authenticity and the Art of Sameness
Four years after the release of her second album, – 21; and three years after her last offering, – Skyfall, Adele bounces back with Hello. In less than seven days of its release on YouTube, the video gathered over 100 million views and still counting. Going down memory lane, Adele’s award-winning spree started shortly after the release of her first album, 19, in 2008. For a newbie, winning the Grammy as the Best New Artist & Best Female Pop Vocal Performance is a bang loud enough to wake the dead. With the multitude of followership she has garnered over the years and the long silence after her last album, the buzzing reception of her new offering is comprehensible.
What makes Adele’s Hello distinct? Is this song like something she has never done before?
Adele, like some of her counterparts, often insists on shooting music videos which tell her own stories as well as provide adequate artistic background and support for the lyrics of her music. From the colour of the pictures to the choice of location, character roles, costume[s] and gestures as she sings, there is hardly any contrast to her songs’ discourse schema.
Hello starts with Adele’s arrival, followed by the loss of network signal as she makes a phone call, and her entry into an abandoned house. The video is in monochrome; suggesting a sense of reserve, reflection, and introspection in contrast with the full colour which could mean liveliness according to propositions by scholars in music semiotics. She enters the house and tears down old curtains, sits as the camera focuses on her sad face, then she exhales heavily, these gestures re-echoes the existing connotations as she makes direct eye contact before the song’s short piano introduction. Even before Adele starts singing, the short introductory scene has told half of her story and set the mood for the music. The scene’s artistic merit lies on its essence of aptly announcing the theme of the song.
The first verse reveals the discourse schema: an ex-lover who wants to meet.
The texture of delivery is soft and thoughtful, like a lovelorn lover craving for old sweet memories to come alive. This is evident in the first verse as she sings:
Hello, it’s me
I was wondering if after all these years you’d like to meet
To go over everything
They say that time’s supposed to heal ya, but ain’t done much healing…
In a generic context, songs are composed in specific keys for distinct effects. For instance, compositions or performances in minor keys often seek to create a mood of sadness and reflection rather than liveliness or vigour. The performance of Hello in a minor key and the VI-IV-I-V chord progressions in the chorus sections not only vivifies the lyrics but makes the overall theme effective in a way that the impression resonates even after the music ends. Typically, the chorus section is intense and the crux of the song is delivered in the last lines of the first and second part of the chorus sections where she sings “But when I call you never seem to be home” and “But it don’t matter, it clearly doesn’t tear you apart anymore”. Here, the ex-lover who is being addressed in the song has moved on while the narrator (the singer) clearly has not. As the second verse begins, the camera shows an old telephone booth in the middle of a woodland, with the receiver hanging down—a connotation for rejection, aloneness, loss and memory. From Adele’s lonely walk in the fields to the male character’s rebuff in the rain and walking away, and Adele’s eye contact towards the end, the video underscores the song’s discourse schema again.
Furthermore, the piano and synths, being the only prominent accompanying instruments, places a degree of focus on Adele’s voice as the major performing instrument. Adele’s wide vocal range and techniques are brought to bear in the intense chorus sections while the drum, an often prominent instrument in some of her earlier offerings, is as soft as it could be. Apart from being a deviation from her earlier works, it is creative defiance—a show of how the instrument can be effective in a work of that nature without being prominent.
Authenticity in music is a term which is as critical as it is knotty. It is knotty in the sense that there is no single way of defining authenticity. Its definition and application often depend on considerations which may include a work’s genre, compositional technique and performance style. However, authenticity is crucial in studying and ascertaining meanings in popular music. Drawing from Y. Mattar’s argument that songs which reflect the true identity of the musician are authentic; I would argue that Adele’s Hello is authentic. My argument is based on existing information on Adele’s private life and experiences which are in the public domain. Following Adele’s fall out with her ex-lover, the singer has written, recorded and performed songs about lost love and heartbreak. What is significant in Adele’s performances, however, is how she connects with her audience as she sings about something which many people have been through. In an essay about Adele’s racialized musical performance, A. Edgar argues that Adele’s two albums, 19 and 21 have narratives of lost love which their lyrical contents and pained sound reflects.
Adele’s art of sameness transcends monotonous narratives, it reflects on her artistic interpretations. For instance, the monochrome effect in her newly released Hello was also used in her seminal work, Someone Like You. In fact, the instrumentation and character roles in both works are hardly distinguishable. After the release of two albums with a single theme to critical acclaim and her silence for some years, returning with a new song on the same theme, however soulful, is enough evidence to dub the ace singer a “lost love artist”. Adele has surpassed herself by singing about her real life experience over and over again. The justification for this indication is evident in the second verse where she declares “It’s so typical of me to talk about myself, I’m sorry.” This, beyond a message to the addressee and possibly, her fans, is an acknowledgment of the singer’s artistic propensity. Simply put, Adele may continue to sing about herself for a very long time. While thematic monotony may pose a threat to her art after a long time (yes, some people do get tired of hearing almost the same thing all the time), Adele’s genuineness and performance practice could preserve her artistry. Authenticity transcends mere sincerity in content. In Adele’s case, her artistic sophistication also underscores her work’s authenticity. Most significantly, Adele’s music strives to take reflection and introspection as veritable tools for questioning or engaging lost romantic relationships. With two successful albums on a single theme and still counting, she has transformed lost love into an art form. Adele’s music is a metaphor for both strength and weakness.