With a powerhouse voice and down-to-earth charm, Adele has secured her status as one of the musical greats. But what it is, exactly, that has so many of us head-over-heels in love with her songs? As Adele releases her fourth album into the world, we explore the star’s widespread appeal – with a little help from her superfans.
The powerful one minute and five second piano opening to Hometown Glory was, like many others, my first proper introduction to Adele. Being in a secondary school music lesson in front of a keyboard, I was excited at the prospect of learning a piece of music that I couldn’t entirely relate to, but knew stirred something deep inside me. How could the opening bars of a song with nothing but a piano and a single voice be so moving?
Needless to say, I quickly grew obsessed with the rest of 19. I convinced myself that I could riff like Adele in Chasing Pavements, deferred to Tired as one of my many teenage angst anthems and, to this day, remain very much convinced that First Love so aptly captures the anticipation and anguish of that very thing.
As I grew up, so too did my appreciation for Adele. She is the brash, no-nonsense Londoner that sings straight from the heart. While 21 was all about the ballad, it was with the 2015 release of 25 that I first used Adele’s music in a restorative way. Love In The Dark and Turning Tables got me through heartbreak, in the ugly-crying kind of way. Talk to many Adele fans and they’ll say the same – tears are almost mandatory when listening. Not in a dramatic way, though. Plumbed the depths of Adele’s voice and heart-wrenching lyrics, listeners often find their own experiences come to the surface and find cathartic release.
As the world prepares for the long-anticipated release of 30, Adele’s fourth studio album, we’re once again reminded of the star’s momentous impact on her fans. From an eye-opening interview about divorce and body image with Oprah to her One Night Only concert and the viral proposal that ensued – even wowing us all with her living room vocals – Adele has once again enraptured fans with her unapologetic self. As 30 makes its way out into the world, I wanted to find out what Adele and her music really means to those who hold them close.
For 29-year-old Maya, from Liverpool, Adele’s overarching appeal comes down to the fact that she’s “genre-defying”. “You don’t think of a genre when you think of Adele’s music,” she explains. “You just think ‘Adele’, and in a weird way, I think that’s what makes her music cherished by everyone.
“She has elements of soul, R&B, pop, even country music, but she almost exists without needing to put a specific label on her music.”
One of the main things, of course, that captivates Adele’s fanbase is her personality. BBC Radio 1Xtra DJ Yasmin Evans theorises that Adele’s authenticity makes her a hit among people of all different backgrounds and ages.
“I think we can all agree that Adele is our best mate and doesn’t realise it,” she explains.
“Adele is honest and real. I feel like I want to go for a pub lunch with her and chat about rubbish for hours. I think it’s wonderful just how relatable she is; she doesn’t share much with her audience on a consistent basis. When we see snippets of her or hear an album every six years, we get it all and it seems like we get her true self.”
32-year-old Mina, from London, shares the same sentiment. “Adele’s relatable and not in a condescending way; she doesn’t force the London accent or act like something she isn’t.”
“Yes, she lives in a mansion and is one of the bestselling artists in the world but there’s something about her personally that makes me and most fans think that you could run into her and have a normal, hilarious chat. I don’t think you get that with many artists and even though she’s remained private over the years, her music is so deeply personal that there’s so much relatability there too.”
Then there’s Adele’s artistry. When it comes to the singer’s musicality, vocal technique and ability to layer her lyrics with emotion, there’s no denying the impact of her music. For Cristina, 30, from Birmingham, seeing Adele perform live brought all of those things home.
“I saw her for the first and only time at Glastonbury in 2016, and it was, hands down, one of the best performances I’ve seen,” she says. “Even in as crazy an atmosphere as Glastonbury can be, she was just this incredible force up on the stage. She had a live orchestra with her but it wasn’t too much or too little – those cellos, the grand piano and her were all you needed. I’d waited years to see her live and it was as amazing as I thought it would be.
“When she performed Hometown Glory, so many people around me were just singing along quietly and crying. It wasn’t sad or anything, it was just this really genuine, beautiful moment where you could look around and realise that one person’s music can impact people in so many different ways.”
Even in a current music landscape that favours club-worthy dance beats, Adele’s refusal to follow the crowd has made her music all the more noteworthy: her most recent single, Easy On Me, for instance, shot straight to the top of the global charts.
“I’m a sucker for anything that can move me,” says DJ Yasmin Evans. “I cry at anything and everything: adverts, films, Instagram videos. Music is emotive and that’s why I love it. I love music that moves me and makes me feel. I’m sure a lot of us still want that from the songs we listen to.
“It’s why we listen back to old school tunes and it’s why music like Adele’s will always do well. It’s storytelling, it’s someone’s life that we can relate to. This is something that will always be part of the music industry, whether it’s music made now or from the past.”
But while the emotion gleaned from Adele’s tracks has near-universal appeal, what else is it that resonates so deeply for listeners?
For Evans, Adele’s use of simple instrumentals is significant. “Across all of Adele’s albums, you’ll always hear keys being played. A piano is one of the most powerful instruments in my opinion; the way piano chords can capture emotion and deliver with such precision will always blow me away.”
The way that we all use music to relate to situations is also a major factor, Evans says. “Adele said this album is about divorce, and more specifically, her divorce. Some of us have been through breakups, divorce and separations, whether that be with a partner, a friend or loved one.”
“The story evokes emotion but her tone also describes the pain; it’s the rasp in her voice when she goes full throttle on the words she means, the power in her delivery.”
Adele’s ability to capture emotion is something 31-year-old longtime fan Sasha, from Cardiff, has always admired about the star. “Like many people, I have a playlist for when I’m sad and wish to wallow,” she says. “Adele is on there but I think she gets an unfair reputation as being that person you stick on when you feel heartbroken.
“I listen to her everyday but especially when I want to feel more in tune with my emotions, when I want to feel badass, when I feel happy or just when I want some great vocals to fill my ears.
“Actually, as much as Adele has given clarity over how I’ve felt over the years, she’s also instilled confidence in me. I can dance around my room or strut around listening to her in my headphones and feel her confidence. She’s not singing about body positivity or self-love; more so, about the power you can get once you recognise what certain situations contribute to your life.”
For Alexandra, 35, from London, Adele’s appeal can be found in the way that “she doesn’t sing about things that are unattainable”.
“She doesn’t sing about wealth or a certain lifestyle, she just sings from the heart. Unfortunately, heartbreak and heartache are things that are universal but she sings about them in a way that makes you rethink or confront your own situations. I kept grieving a past relationship and it was only when I truly took in the words of River Lea that I started to look at my own behaviour and make changes in my life.”
Seeing Adele perform at The Royal Albert Hall in 2011, Alexandra explains, cemented that same sense of authenticity.
“She was so raw and real on that stage – she restarted songs if she felt she’d gone in on the wrong note, she told us stories about shitty exes and admitted how much of a bitch she was back in the day. It felt like we were all in her living room and she was just breaking out into song, it was amazing.
“Of course, she has songs you can sit down and take in and then she has songs like Rumour Has It that get you up and dancing. It’s like you’re going through a small rollercoaster of emotions when listening to her – from sadness to unlimited sassiness. I love it.”
Although Adele’s new album was inspired by the trials of her divorce, a situation many listeners may have not experienced, the subject matter of the album doesn’t deter her loyal fans. For Tara, 25, from Belfast, the success of Easy On Me underlines that.
“I think you just have to look at how popular and loved Easy On Me already is to see the impact of Adele,” she explains. “I haven’t lived an especially long life but Adele manages to sing about her innermost feelings and still have the songs be related to by everyone. She’s singing about divorce – something I haven’t gone through – but you can take that song in so many different ways and still feel as equally connected to it as her.
“I’ve been singing and obsessing over Adele since I was a teen and still do. I can belt out her lyrics at karaoke with my mates or hum along to them with my gran – she’s universal.”
In fact, Adele also sent Tara on her own journey of musical discovery. “I learnt how to play the piano purely from watching YouTube tutorials for all her songs. I think that classic combination of her voice and instrumental is so clever.
“So many artists drown themselves out with backing tracks and autotune but Adele’s music is just… gentle, yet powerful.”