The success of Adele has been good for the music business, and even better for people looking for comfort in times of romantic strife. Surely the fact that she can wail in such a way that she turns a good song–“Rolling In The Deep”–into an indelible portrait of a woman in pain is key to her success? Nope, says a recent Independent piece declaring that “No festivals, tweeting-or selling out” have helped turn her into pop royalty. Which… no. Just no.
Obviously this story–and the article it’s playing off, a cover profile of the singer from the British rock-authenticity bible Q–is trying to paint Adele as some sort of anti-Lady Gaga who eschews arena tours and Tweeting and putting her songs in commercials so that she can Focus On The Music.
But this is–how to put it kindly?–horseshit. Look, it’s obvious that Adele’s music is striking a chord that not many other artists have struck lately, and good for her–she’s a great singer and a fantastic songwriter. But painting her as some sort of anti-selling-out princess is a snow job; there’s a deliberate confusion of aesthetic (she sings without Autotune! she’s taking her cues from the greats, and not from dancepop! she doesn’t look like your typical pop star!) and the apparatus bringing that aesthetic into millions of iTunes libraries. We are talking, after all, about a woman who is hyped for being involved in her marketing yet who had Gwyneth Paltrow murder one of her songs on freaking Glee, a.k.a. the show where no song can be too electronically smoothed-out. And then she gave Lea Michele a pass to do the same to another one. Is Autotune OK if you only use it during the marketing of your music? Is putting a song in a commercial OK if it’s for a movie that flopped almost as soon as it entered theaters? Is appearing on TV shows for a straight week and taping an episode of Unplugged OK because it’s “about the music”?
I post this in a way as a warning; we’re probably going to see stories setting Adele up as the Next Great Hope For Realness percolate on this side of the pond soon, since some critics over here never saw an authenticity fight they couldn’t avoid. And yesterday’s release of Born This Way provides a nice news peg to set up this lazy-ass argument (which will probably also be tied in with the equally lazy “women in music” angle at least five times)–funny, given Lady Gaga’s constant assertions that she, too, doesn’t lipsync, and writes her own material. It’s a shame, because both these artists’ music can stand on its own without ridiculous assertions about how “marketed” they are. And it’s even more of a shame because the stubborn refusal of some people to believe that, yes, they exist in a demographic that’s being catered to by companies and corporations, and that said tailoring processes might sometimes work in tandem with cultural products that are worthy of their attention, does little to actually elevate the work in question, and instead has the potential to shut people off from realizing that there’s music (and TV, and film) out there that they’re denying themselves for reasons that are kind of ridiculous.