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The First Taste of Adele’s Divorce Album

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The First Taste of Adele’s Divorce Album

Earlier this month, the normally social-media-shy Adele went on Instagram Live for the first time, gamely playing the Luddite and cheerfully bumbling through an emotionally warm but technologically glitchy Q. & A. with fans. Easily distractible and a bit frazzled, with little makeup on and her new puppies pattering noisily in the background, she answered innocent questions about her preferred cereal flavor, her favorite Amy Winehouse song, and whether she’d bring her tour to places like Brazil or South Africa. But when asked by one follower what inspired her new album, “30,”—which is to be released next month and is her first in six years—Adele got dead serious and gave the most direct answer possible. “Divorce, babe,” she said. “Divorce.”

To say that Adele is well equipped to handle a divorce album would be a grand understatement. There is perhaps no pop star of the modern era more single-mindedly devoted to matters of the heart than Adele, who has been steadily chronicling her own heartbreak since she was old enough to have her heart broken. She has pursued the topic of love, its agonies and ecstasies and aftermath, to the exclusion of everything else, which has made her the most reliable, traditional, and stylistically conservative pop star of the past two decades. In 2008, she released her début album, “19,” named after the age at which it was written. The record felt like a vocal portfolio of sorts, designed to showcase the range of Adele’s rich, smoky, and soulfully out-of-time voice. It was also a record that proved just how seriously British women were taking classic American soul and blues. The album showed not only what love and heartache could do for her voice but what Adele’s voice could do for the very ideas of love and heartbreak.

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In 2011, Adele released “21,” her first blockbuster and the record that turned her into a firebrand for lovesick or jilted women everywhere. She made romantic rejection sound like a form of power, and, two years ago, “21” became the best-selling album of the twenty-first century—the sort of intergenerationally appealing easy-listening music that is destined to be played in retail stores and at weddings for the rest of creation. By the time she wrote her next record, “25,” which was released in 2015, Adele had a new baby and a long-term relationship with the man who’d soon become her husband, Simon Konecki. The lead single featured a lyric that would instantly become cultural canon: “Hello from the other side.” On the album, she pivoted ever so slightly, exploring the guilt and anguish of inflicting heartbreak on someone else and seeking closure. The songs got bigger and took on some of the chintz and drama of musical theatre, but the bones of her signature sound were still there.

“Easy On Me,” Adele’s new single and the first taste of her divorce album, picks up where “25” left off, reminding us yet again of how staunchly disinterested Adele is in the rapidly shifting tides of pop music. It’s a brand new song that already feels deeply familiar: a spare piano ballad with a soaring chorus that finds Adele looking achingly back on the past as she pleads for mercy: “Go easy on me, baby / I was still a child / Didn’t get the chance to feel the world around me / I had no time to choose what I chose to do,” she sings. Even at nineteen, Adele was already world-weary, but lately she’s been questioning just how mature she really was. And now, just as she did on “25,” Adele is asking not for love but for something more complex: forgiveness and mercy.

Adele’s appeal is so enduring, in part because she has resisted every force of modern pop, and modern pop stardom. She generally keeps out of the public eye, and does little to stoke tabloid interest in her life. (Although, lately, her weight loss has become a subject of intense interest, to her dismay.) Musically, she resists all trends and studiously avoids collaboration with other artists. Her regard for tradition is so extreme that it can almost feel like a form of defiance. In the six years since she released “25,” the pop landscape has transformed dramatically, fractured into a million micro-trends, and taken on an expansive global scope. Most listening has shifted to streaming platforms, and things like TikTok have radically changed the way songs are created and disseminated. All of these phenomena, and the sheer pace of change in popular music, have created a vacuum of superstardom and a sense of perpetual whiplash. At this moment, Adele feels like a monument being built on a beach, and her return will test the new conditions of the pop world. Her divorce album, “30,” will be a document of personal trauma and turbulence for Adele, but, for everyone else, it will likely be a steadying force and a source of great comfort.


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The First Taste of Adele’s Divorce Album