Thanks to her record breaking sophomore release 21, Adele swept this year’s awards, winning in every category in which she was nominated, including Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and three others—six in all.
Although these weren’t Adele’s first Grammys (she won two in 2009, including Best New Artist), this U.K. vocalist only recently became a household name in the U.S. with her extremely catchy breakout hit “Rolling In the Deep.” That song, along with several other charting hits on 21, catapulted Adele to superstar status in 2011. The album continues to break sales records; at the time I’m writing this, 21 is still at the top of the Billboard 200, even though it was released over a year ago now.
What’s remarkable about Adele’s rise to fame, though, is that she is one of the most unlikely candidates for pop superstardom by today’s so-called industry standards. Although pretty in the face, Adele is overweight, she doesn’t dance, she doesn’t wear meat dresses, and she sings her songs while fully clothed. She doesn’t fit the “pop icon” persona at all; she is a soul singer who looks and sounds much older than her 23 years.
So what has caused her to become so popular?
Great songs, and a great voice. Plain and simple. The way it used to be.
If you got a chance to watch the Grammy Awards broadcast, you could definitely see the contrast between Adele and certain other performers. Consider, for example, Nicki Minaj and her over-the-top performance of the song “Roman Holiday”: an elaborate “Exorcist”-themed production number that (not surprisingly) offended the Catholic Church, and really came across as a cry for attention, like a desperate and pathetic attempt to “out-outrageous” Lady Gaga.
Then there was Adele.
Adele comes onstage, her voice still in recovery from surgery. No sultry dancers filling the stage, no smoke, no seizure-inducing strobe lights, no levitation effects, no fireworks. Just Adele in a black dress, her band behind her. She stands in front of a microphone and sings “Rolling in the Deep,” and gets a loooooonng standing ovation from the crowd.
The point is, Adele is proving with her success that despite all the hype and polished production in the music industry today, despite all the slick packaging and marketing and “star-making” that goes on, the “main thing” is still the “main thing” as far as the fans are concerned. Nothing substitutes for an outstanding song, sung by an outstanding vocalist. Period. A message is being sent, and the music industry ought to be listening, not just to Adele’s vocals, but to the millions of fans who continue to buy her records.
Meanwhile, Adele is planning to take a break to enjoy her incredible success, and her six new Grammy Awards, all of which have been well earned. Good on you, girl.