Here’s a semi-rhetorical question about Adele, whose 21 is the top-selling album of the year in this country: Do you know anyone who really dislikes her?
For someone who gets described as a “diva,” she’s awfully modest. She sings the kinds of vintage soul numbers and pop ballads most everyone knows how to enjoy, and she does it skillfully, her voice flitting from world-weary weight to a smoky lightness, her persona ranging from the sorrowful Everywoman to the vengeful one. She seems exceedingly polite and generous and undemanding about the whole thing. Even 21’s great flaws, the parts where the songs and arrangements are bland and overcooked, feel less like Adele’s fault and more like a limitation of the format—this is just what classicist mainstream-pop ballads are like, but Adele will sing them really, really well, if it helps at all. Which it does, actually. It also helps that the pop charts are full of youthful glitz and amped-up dance tracks about drinking and fucking, which means Adele is one of the only people in there wearing fancy dresses, singing big spotlit weepers, and getting all the non-young and non-pop-friendly members of the family to stop grumbling and say, “Oh, that one has real talent, that’s what I call real music.” (Her single “Someone Like You” is the first-ever U.S. No. 1 to feature nothing but voice and piano.) One reason the album’s sold over 4 million copies is that Adele knows how to make that voice engage, to seem like she’s shouldering heavy emotions on the listener’s behalf. But another reason is that she really is shouldering something this year, demographically speaking—a basic version of popular music that people have enjoyed for decades.