The return of Adele: industry bills new album 30 as ‘huge global event’
There has been a rush to define the remaining months of 2021. It will be a winter of discontent, of supply chain disruption and potential blackouts; a post-lockdown return to dressing up and going out.
It will also, undoubtedly, be the season of Adele.
This week, the biggest-selling female albums artist of the 21st century announced her return, six years after her last album. A new single, Easy on Me, is set for release on 15 October. Her fourth album, 30, is rumoured for mid-November.
She heralded her new era with an unprecedented two simultaneous Vogue covers, sitting for separate interviews and photoshoots for the magazine’s US and UK editions.
She talked frankly about her divorce from the charity chief executive Simon Konecki, with whom she has a nine-year-old son. She was the one to leave, she told British Vogue. “I didn’t want to end up like a lot of other people I knew. I wasn’t miserable miserable, but I would have been miserable had I not put myself first.” She talked of the anguish that the split had caused their son, Angelo, and she wrote her new album in part to help him understand his parents’ situation.
She also spoke of the profound anxiety that prompted her much-discussed weight loss. “Working out, I would just feel better,” she said. “It was never about losing weight, it was always about becoming strong and giving myself as much time every day without my phone.”
She said she resented the discussion around her changed physical appearance, particularly the intimation that it was a post-divorce “revenge body”. “People love to portray a divorced woman as spinning out of control, like, ‘Oh she must be crackers. She must’ve decided she wants to be a ho.’ Because what is a woman without a husband? It’s bullshit.”
She told US Vogue: “I understand why it’s a shock. I understand why some women especially were hurt. Visually I represented a lot of women. But I’m still the same person.”
The BBC Radio 1 presenter Charlie Hedges said it was unlikely that Adele’s transformation would affect how her fans related to her. “It’s who Adele is on the inside that matters. Adele’s fans are behind her every step of the way wanting her to be the incredible artist we all know she is and has always been.”
The unfiltered disclosure of these interviews notwithstanding, Adele’s return is global news because she releases music and appears in public so sparingly, says the Glastonbury co-organiser Emily Eavis, who invited Adele to headline in 2016.
“She works on her own terms, and puts records out when it feels right for her, rather than being on the usual release treadmill,” said Eavis. “So it always feels like a huge global event when she puts music out. And it’s always been great.”
Her appeal, said Eavis, was her authenticity. “Adele has an incredible voice and she writes fantastic songs, but it’s also her personality that makes her shows so special. She can turn an arena into something incredibly intimate and emotional and then have 100,000 people in hysterics. There are very few artists who can do that. She’s very honest and shows everybody her true self – there isn’t any mask which is so unique and rare.”
Fans hooked on that side of Adele will find much to love in 30, going by the descriptions of the album in Vogue. Adele said it was subtler lyrically than her previous records: less about settling scores than “self-destruction, then self-reflection and then sort of self-redemption”.
She said she did not consider it a divorce album: “It was more me divorcing myself.”
Known for her towering balladry – including her 2012 James Bond theme, Skyfall – Adele embraced new sounds on 30: the writers treated to a preview made references to Marvin Gaye, Balearic chillout and gospel. In addition to prior collaborators Max Martin, Greg Kurstin and Tobias Jesso Jr, she worked for the first time with Inflo, whose albums as Sault have received critical acclaim in recent years.
Whatever the sound of 30, it will prove a surefire smash in an already jam-packed fourth quarter for pop. The coming months see new albums by Ed Sheeran and Coldplay, the latest in Taylor Swift’s plan to re-record and reclaim ownership over her first six albums, and the first album by Abba in 40 years.
Martin Talbot, the chief executive of the Official Charts Company, said it was “really hard to recall” any previous retail period this crowded. Despite the stiff competition, he predicted Adele would finish ahead. “It’s hard to see past her, not least because of the huge span of the market she appeals to, from teenagers to pensioners.”
Album sales had continued to flourish during the pandemic, said Talbot, with independent retailers reporting strong business as they pivoted to home delivery. “But streaming has also surged and is accounting for bigger chunks of the market.”
This would benefit Sheeran, a streaming native, he said; meanwhile, Adele did not release her last album, 25, on streaming services until six months after its release. Her plans for 30 remain secret. “I think I’m actually one of the most punk artists around,” she told British Vogue. “My music, absolutely not. But the way I move is very punk.”
Swift aside, the prevailing tenor of these forthcoming releases is fairly stately and solemn. It has become the prevailing sound of the UK albums chart – with young artists such as Lewis Capaldi taking influence from Adele – which is increasingly divergent from the singles Top 40.
“The biggest albums tend to achieve their huge numbers by appealing to the most diverse audience of all, genuinely crossing over to casual consumers who wouldn’t otherwise buy music, except for that one, huge album which everyone loves,” said Talbot. “Perhaps where we tend to find our musical consensus is in reflection and relaxation.”