She’s The One: The Triumphant Return of Adele
Adele refuses to allow her success to make it too deeply past her skin. She still sees herself as “some random girl from London.”
As Adele steers through a south London high street in her four-door Mini Cooper, with her toddler’s vacant car seat in back and the remains of a kale, cucumber and almont milk concoction in the cup holder, a question occurs to her. “What’s been going on in the world of music?” she asks, in all sincerity. “I feel out of the loop!” The only possible response is way too easy: Well, there’s this one album the entire industry is waiting for… “Oh, fuck off!” Adele says, giving me a gentle shove and letting loose the charmingly untamed laugh – an ascending cascade of forceful, cartoonish “ha’s” – that inspired a YouTube supercut called “The Adele Cackle.”
“Oh, my God, imagine,” she continues, green eyes widening. “I wish! I feel like I might be a year too late.” It’s as if her last album, 2011’s 21, hadn’t sold a miraculous 31 million copies worldwide in an era when no one buys music, as if it hadn’t sparked the adoration of peers from Beyoncé to Aretha, as if it hadn’t won every conceivable award short of a Nobel Peace Prize.
“But genuinely,” she says, “I’ve lost touch with music. Not, like, all music” – she’s a fan of FKA Twigs, loves Alabama Shakes, snuck into the crowd at Glastonbury to see Kanye – “but I feel like I don’t know what’s going on in the charts and in popular culture.” She laughs again. “I’ve not lost touch with, like, reality. Just with what’s current.” Her Cockney accent is softening lately, but she still pronounces “with” like it ends with a “v.”
She’s driving under a sky that is gray and dismal even by the standards of early- October London afternoons. Rain is coming, threatening Adele’s plans to take her three-year-old son, Angelo, to the zoo later. No one in the passing vehicles recognizes her. They never do, not in this car. “Maybe if I went out in full, done-up, hair-and-makeup drag,” she says. “Which it is: borderline drag! I’m not brave enough to do it.” Instead, she’s dressed like a grad student who barely got up in time for class, in a drapey blue-black sweater made of some hemplike fabric – it could almost be from Kanye’s dystopian fashion collection – over black leggings and white low-top Converse. Her golden hair is gathered in a loose bun, and she’s wearing twin hoop earrings in each ear. Her makeup is minimal, and though she claims to be developing a wrinkle or two, she looks strikingly young, with a clotted-cream complexion worthy of the cosmetics endorsements she’s turned down.
Adele is fresh from a rehearsal with her backing band, where she perched on a chair facing the musicians and sang her firstever live version of “Hello,” the melancholy, surging first single from her third album, 25, due November 20th. (She turned 27 in May, but named the album after the age when she began work on it: “I’m going to get so much fucking grief: ‘Why is it called 25 when you’re not 25?’ ”) “Hello, it’s me,” she sings at the beginning of the single, as if there could be any doubt. When she finally puts the song out a couple of weeks later, it will rack up a record-setting 50 million YouTube views in its first 48 hours.
“I always feel like this is going to turn out to be a hidden-camera show, and someone is going to send me back to Tottenham.”
With a young child to raise, Adele took an unhurried approach to making the album. A full six months passed between writing the verses of “Hello” and nailing the chorus. “We had half a song written,” says producer/co-writer Greg Kurstin, who didn’t know if Adele was ever going to come back and finish it. “I just had to be very patient.”
The lyrics sound like she’s addressing some long-lost ex, but she says it isn’t about any one person – and that she’s moved on from the heartbreaker who inspired 21. “If I were still writing about him, that’d be terrible,” she says. “ ‘Hello’ is as much about regrouping with myself, reconnecting with myself.” As for the line “hello from the other side”: “It sounds a bit morbid, like I’m dead,” she says. “But it’s actually just from the other side of becoming an adult, making it out alive from your late teens, early twenties.”
Adele still hasn’t decided whether she’ll do a full-scale tour behind 25 – right now, the rehearsals are for TV performances. Her band has a few new members, and she’s especially excited to have a percussionist for the first time, an addition inspired by her childhood idols: “The Spice Girls had a mad percussionist,” she says.
In public, at least, Adele has had little to say – and nothing to sing – for the past couple of years, not since she and collaborator Paul Epworth won an Oscar for “Skyfall,” the first decent James Bond theme song in forever. “When I have nothing to say,” she says, “I’d rather just not talk.” But it takes just a few minutes with her to see that silence isn’t exactly her natural state. “I’m just fucking waiting for Frank fucking Ocean to come out with his album,” she says. “It’s taking so fucking long.” She blinks, pauses, laughs again. “That sounds so stupid, coming from me, doesn’t it?”
On some level, Adele refuses to allow her success to make it too deeply past her skin. She still sees herself as “some random girl from London,” albeit one whose little car needs to be trailed by a bodyguard in a Range Rover. With the throwback classicism of its songwriting and its almost militantly organic arrangements, 21 stood to the side of the pop mainstream, even as it somehow outsold everything. Adele is trying to pull off a similar trick with her career itself. “My career’s not my life,” she says. “It’s my hobby.” She wants to be able to release her albums, live in public for a while, and then return to her private existence – for years at a time, maybe, so she can live enough to write the next set of songs. “I think she’ll make 20 records,” says her manager, Jonathan Dickins. “We’re playing for the long game.”
“People think I hate being famous,” Adele says. “And I don’t. I’m really frightened of it. I think it’s really toxic, and I think it’s really easy to be dragged into it.” Early in her career, she faced frequent musical comparisons to Amy Winehouse, whom she met only a few times: “Watching Amy deteriorate is one of the reasons I’m a bit frightened. We were all very entertained by her being a mess. I was fucking sad about it, but if someone showed me a picture of her looking bad, I’d look at it. If we hadn’t looked, then they’d have stopped taking her picture. That level of attention is really frightening, especially if you don’t live around all that showbiz stuff.”
Adele still feels out of place among celebrities. Earlier this year, when she went backstage to meet one of her idols, Stevie Nicks, Adele found herself uncontrollably sobbing (“like, snot, everything”). “I’m not sure if I’ll ever not feel a bit overwhelmed when I go to places where there are loads of stars,” says Adele, who spent the first decade of her life in the poor, crime-plagued district of Tottenham. “I always feel like I’m gonna get thrown out. Or it’s going to turn out to be some, like, hidden-camera show. Like someone’s gonna send me back to Tottenham.” She has recurring dreams of falling from tall buildings.
Since angelo’s arrival, Adele’s life has been thoroughly domestic – though not, she emphasizes, reclusive: “I’ve been to every fucking park, every shop, every supermarket you could ever imagine.” She’s in a “very serious” relationship with Angelo’s father, Simon Konecki, a bearish 41-year-old investment-banker- turned-philanthropist with a warm smile. She met him just as the 21 phenomenon was peaking. “He’s so supportive,” she says. “And that takes a very big man, because I’m very successful at what I do. My last boyfriend was uncomfortable with how successful I was, and the fact that he had to share me with lots of people.” (She’s referring to the 21 dude, though there was a relationship in between.)
Contrary to various contradictory rumors, she notes that she and Konecki have neither married nor split up. “I have said a million times I’m not married and everyone still says we are,” she says. “But, yeah, we’re still together. We haven’t broken up. We’ve never broken up. We’ve been together. We just haven’t felt the need to get married. We’ve got a kid together. I feel like that’s a big enough commitment.”
One new track, “Water Under the Bridge,” is about him. It’s a notably clear-eyed love song, with a feel vaguely reminiscent of Michael Jackson’s “Human Nature”: “If I’m not the one for you,” she sings, “why have we been through what we have been through?” – and the chorus pleads, “If you’re gonna let me down/Let me down gently.” “It was sort of about a relationship suddenly getting really, really serious,” she says, “and then getting a bit frightened by it, and then realizing that ‘I think this must be right. This is the relationship that I want to be in for as long as I can possibly be in it.’ ” She hasn’t played the whole album for Konecki yet: “What if he doesn’t like it?”
She has quit smoking (“I absolutely loved it, but it’s not that fucking cool when I’m dying from a smoking-related illness and my kid is, like, devastated”) and has maybe one drink a week now. “I used to be able to drink anyone under the table and still be able to put on an all-right show,” she says. “But with kids, hangovers are torture. They just know. They pick up on it and just go for you.”
She is assiduous in a warm-up routine to protect her throat, which was threatened by a 2011 vocal hemorrhage that led to canceled tour dates and throat surgery, followed by that dramatic return to the stage at the 2012 Grammys. In the wake of her operation, her already world-shaking voice became palpably bigger and purer-toned, and she’s added four notes to the top of her range. “It does make your voice, like, brand-new,” she says. “Which I actually didn’t like at first, because I used to have a bit of husk to my voice, and that wasn’t there at first.”
Adele is trying to build stamina for her possible return to the road, so she’s cutting back on sugar, though not carbs altogether (“I’d never deprive myself like that!”), and hitting the gym, “to get in shape for myself, but not to be a size zero or anything like that.” Her regimen? “I mainly moan,” she says. Small cackle. “I’m not, like, skipping to the fucking gym. I don’t enjoy it. I do like doing weights. I don’t like looking in the mirror. Blood vessels burst on my face really easily, so I’m so conscious when I’m lifting weights not to let them burst in my face. And if I don’t tour, you’ll catch me back down at the Chinese!”
So at age 27, Adele is healthy and settled down, with no vices and enormous responsibility: raising a child, nurturing a career on a global scale. In short, then, no fun at all? She nods, laughing: “I’m no fun at all.”
It’s all happened so fast. “I do have this, like, overwhelming yearning for myself,” she acknowledges. “Every single day I have it for, like, a split second. It doesn’t take over my life, but I have a yearning for myself from, like, 10 years ago when my only responsibility was writing songs for myself before anyone cared, and getting to school on time. And there was something so amazing in that. You know what? What annoys me the most is that you don’t realize how amazing it is to be a kid.”
Besides her family, Adele mostly hangs out with a handful of close friends who date back to her teen years or earlier – one writes children’s books, another is a TV producer. “As 21 got bigger and bigger, I started getting back with all my old friends,” she says, mentioning hopes of taking them on the road if she tours. “I needed them big time.”
So she has a squad? “I’ve heard about a squad,” she says with an amused snort. “I wish my squad was all supermodels. We are, in our brains. I guess I have my own squad.” She pronounces the word in a comical American accent. “It’s not as interesting as some of the other squads that are around right now.” She brightens. “But maybe Rihanna can be in my squad! That would be really cool. Oh, God. She’s life itself, isn’t she? I love her.”
Adele pulls in front of an unlovely threestory brick building, next to a Texaco station. The ground floor is a discount store. Beginning at age 14, Adele lived in an apartment upstairs with her mom, Penny. Her dad has largely been out of the picture since Adele was a toddler – he is her least favorite topic of discussion, and she refuses to attach any importance to his absence from her life. “Mine were the fourth, fifth and sixth windows,” she says, pointing them out. Penny had Adele when she was just 18, and they have a fun relationship that Adele might compare to Gilmore Girls if she had ever seen it. She was still living with her mom even during 21’s success, and they remain close. “We always spoke about anything,” she says. “There was never anything I was embarrassed about with my mom, which I think is the reason I never rebelled.” To this day, Adele has never had so much as a puff of weed.
Adele wrote the songs for her first album, 2008’s jazz-tinged, largely acoustic 19, right upstairs. She got a deal with the powerful indie label XL straight out of her Fame-style performing-arts high school, mostly on the strength of a few MySpace demos. (She made zero concessions to the label’s hip ethos: “She signed to XL, and she’s talking in interviews about her favourite group being the Spice Girls,” says Dickins. “She’s not saying her favorite group is Einstürzende Neubauten or Nitzer Ebb!”) Across the street is the African Choice Market that used to be a pub where she’d get served underage, and Hollywood Nails, where she used to get manicures. She returned there, to the proprietors’ delight, to primp for the 2012 Brit Awards.
Adele gazes up at her old apartment, her expression hard to read for once. Her yearning for her old self, her nostalgia, pervades multiple songs on her new album. Her favorite track is the Elton Johnish ballad “When We Were Young,” co-written with singer-songwriter Tobias Jesso Jr., which shares a tiny bit of DNA with “The Way We Were,” a song that brought her to tears when she saw Barbra Streisand perform it in person at the Oscars. At the last minute, Adele changed the name of another standout track from “We Ain’t Kids No More” to “Send My Love (To Your Lover).” “Otherwise, you might as well just call the fucking album Old,” she says.
She was laid up, but “21” kept selling: “I felt like I’d lost control. The bigger your career gets, the smaller your life gets.”
The album’s melancholia about the passage of time is very real, if slightly premature. “I’ve had a lot of regrets since I turned 25,” she says. “And sadness hits me in different ways than it used to.” On the lovely “Million Years Ago,” which sounds like a Nineties Madonna ballad mixed with “The Girl From Ipanema,” Adele sings, “Sometimes I just feel it’s only me/Who never became who they thought they’d be.” She’s realized that some of the course of her life is set, that some doors are already closed. “There’s a lot of things I don’t think I’ll ever get ’round to doing,” she says. “Not because I’m famous, but just because I just don’t think I’ll ever have the time. Like being a journalist, or like being a teacher.”
She takes a breath. “And I’m never going to be on my own again,” she says. “I’m a mom and I’m in a very serious relationship, so it’s never going to be just me again. I don’t regret any of it. Like, those aren’t the things that I regret. But I feel like I didn’t have very long to myself. I was my mom’s kid, and now I’m a mom.” She laughs. “I had, like, a five-year window of just being me.”
Around the time she became pregnant, Adele was feeling overwhelmed by her own success. She was particularly alarmed at 21’s insistence on selling and selling at an alarming rate while she was laid up with a damaged voice and doing nothing to promote it. “I felt like I’d lost control of my life at one point,” she says. “The bigger that your career gets, the smaller your life gets. I found this little, tiny janitor closet. That was my little space in my whole world. It was enough space for me. It was perfectly fine. But the idea of having to give up that little space, it really frightened me.”
She had just gotten over her vocal troubles, had won all her Grammys and was contemplating a move to New York when she learned of her pregnancy. “All my plans went through,” she says. “It was like, ‘For good measure, let’s see if I can cope with all of this and then having a baby.’ But I think actually the pregnancy was perfect timing in the end. It might’ve seemed like the most ridiculous time to have a baby, but I was starting to get a bit afraid of everything.” Angelo took away her fear. “When I had him, it made everything all right, and I trusted everything because the world had given me this miracle, you know, so I became a bit of a hippie, an Earth mother.”
In fact, she says casually, “I don’t know if I would’ve come back had I not had my kid.”
The direct sonic influence is hard to find, but one of the chief inspirations for 25 was Madonna’s Ray of Light. “You know what I found so amazing about that record?” Adele says. “That’s the record Madonna wrote after having her first child, and for me, it’s her best. I was so all over the place after having a child, just because my chemicals were just hitting the fucking roof and shit like that.” She felt detached from her artistic self. “I was just drifting away, and I couldn’t find that many examples for myself where I was like, ‘Fuck, they truly came back to themselves,’ until someone was like, ‘Well, obviously, Ray of Light.’ ” Adele listened to it over and over, and was particularly captivated by “Frozen.” “I took that song as ‘I’ve gotten my confidence to come and do me again.’ ”
Back at home, it’s almost time for Angelo’s nap, so Adele pulls over again so she can catch him in a quick FaceTime session before he goes down (in real life, unlike in the “Hello” video, she does not carry around an ancient flip phone). She is understandably protective of her boy, even successfully suing British paps who shot pictures of him, so she requests that I don’t describe his appearance. (He is, for the record, quite cute.)
For a while, she was trying to keep even his name secret, but it’s tattooed on one of her hands – the same spot on the other hand says paradise. “ ’Cause Angelo is my paradise,” she says, with an uncharacteristic touch of bashfulness. (Among other ink, she also has a huge tattoo of three doves on her back.) She didn’t find out until too late that Lana Del Rey also has a “paradise” hand tattoo – a coincidence Adele finds hilarious. “She probably thinks I’m, like, some mad fangirl,” she says, launching into a campy rendition of the chorus of “Born to Die.” “I mean, I am a Lana fangirl, but not a crazy one.”
“Did you have fun at the library?” Adele asks the little guy on the screen. “What did you read?”
There is talk of elephants and Elmo, of chocolate buttons, and macaroni and cheese before Adele fondly sends Angelo off to his nap. “Will you press the red button? Peanut? Press the red button. . . .”
“He’s a little angel,” she says. “All the things I really like about myself, he brings out in me, and he’s the only person that tells me no. He completely rules me. He’s the boss of me, and it’s so funny for other people to watch, because I’m the boss of everything in my work life.”
She can’t help feeling guilty when her work takes her away from Angelo. “I just feel bad all the time,” she says. But she took inspiration from Kate Bush’s comeback concerts. “It made me really want to hurry up and finish my record,” she says. “It made me desperate, actually, to come back.” She had read that Bush’s teenage son had encouraged her to return to performing, and she “sort of curated this show around her kid. I left, and I was like, ‘I don’t want to wait until my kid is 16 to show him who I am.’ Because I’m very proud of what I achieved. And I wasn’t, before I had Angelo. I didn’t understand, actually, what I had achieved and how far I had come. Because everyone wants to do something with their life, and we don’t all get the opportunity because shit gets in the way. So I feel fucking so fortunate that the stars just aligned for me and allowed me to have the most ridiculous ride ever.”
About a year and a half ago, Adele thought she might have nearly enough songs for an album. Her manager wasn’t so sure, and they brought the demos to Rick Rubin, who had given valuable input on 21 – even though Adele ended up jettisoning some of his productions in favor of her rougher takes. Rubin listened, stroking his beard, probably. He looked at Adele and told her, “I don’t believe you.” The original group of songs was lighter in tone than anything she’s done. “You know the pop songs that are fantastic, but they don’t have much depth?” says Adele. “They were all a bit like that.”
“Adele was anxious to be finished with the new album and move forward with life,” says Rubin. “I stressed the most important thing was to be true to her voice, even if that took longer and was more work. . . . In the new material I heard, it was clear she wasn’t the primary writer – many of the songs sounded like they might be on a different pop artist’s album. It’s not just her voice singing any song that makes it special.”
“I actually took it really well,” Adele recalls. “When he said it, I couldn’t work out if I was, like, devastated, going to cry my eyes out. And then I just said, ‘I don’t really believe myself right now, so I’m not surprised you fucking said that.’ ” Rubin and Dickins both told her it sounded like she was rushing. “And that’s not a way to make any kind of record,” she says. “Especially when I’m trying to fucking follow 21. So I went back to the drawing board, really.”
Earlier this year, she spent two months in Los Angeles, determined to move forward on her album for real. Among other sessions, she ended up working with the ubiquitous pop auteur Max Martin (along with collaborator Shellback) on the slinky “Send My Love (To Your Lover),” which may well be her catchiest, most modern song ever, built around an almost Africansounding guitar lick Adele wrote several years ago. She sought Martin out because she liked Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble” (“I thought it was a really different side to her”). But soon she looked up Martin on YouTube, where she discovered the full breadth of his influence, the hits he’d written or co-written for everyone from N’Sync and Britney Spears to Katy Perry. “Send My Love” is the only kiss-off song on this album, addressed to the guy Adele dated between her 21 paramour and Konecki. “It’s one of those, like, ‘I’m fucking fine so fuck you’ songs,” she says.
A key early song was “Remedy,” a big ballad with rolling piano chords written with Ryan Tedder, who also co-wrote “Rumour Has It” and “Turning Tables,” from 21. It feels like Adele’s own version of Bob Dylan’s “Make You Feel My Love,” which she covered on her first album. “When the pain cuts too deep and the night keeps you from sleep,” she sings, with exquisite tenderness, “I will be your remedy.” It made her tear up as she wrote it, and it has a similar effect on listeners. “I wrote it about my child,” she says. “But I sang it for everyone that I really love. When I wrote it, I got my confidence back in my writing ’cause I believed in myself.”
On 21, she came into sessions with Moleskine notebooks full of lyric ideas. This time, she often started from scratch, summoning songs from the air. Her collaborators would play chords while Adele improvised melodies and lyrics, sometimes in a single burst. “It’s impossible to question why she’s where she is once you sit down with her to write a song,” says Jesso. “She was the first introduction I had to somebody who could sing words on the spot that were actually really great.” Jesso’s manager told him that he could hear Adele’s voice from the street outside the house where they were recording, that it was practically shaking its foundations.
She and Bruno Mars made an attempt at an uptempo song but instead created the unapologetically dramatic ballad “All I Ask,” complete with a climactic key change and Adele engaging in what she calls some of her most “showoff-y” vocals. “I’ve never sung like that before,” she says. “Never sang that high. The funny thing is that Bruno was hitting those notes in the studio too.” (“She’s a superstar and sassy as fuck,” says Mars, who recalls a brief disagreement over one lyric. “Once she recorded it, it became one of my favorite parts of the song. She told me she hopes I’m in the audience when she sings that line live so she can flick me off.”)
In only one case did a collaboration go wildly wrong. She took a stab at recording with Blur frontman Damon Albarn – and he ended up telling the press that Adele was “insecure” and that her music was “middle of the road.” “It ended up being one of those ‘don’t meet your idol’ moments,” she says. “And the saddest thing was that I was such a big Blur fan growing up. But it was sad, and I regret hanging out with him.” They didn’t finish a single song. “No! None of it was right. None of it suited my record. He said I was insecure, when I’m the least-insecure person I know. I was asking his opinion about my fears, about coming back with a child involved – because he has a child – and then he calls me insecure?”
Adele wanted to modernize her sound, to add some synths and drum pads, to move away from the young-fogey vibe of 21 – on “River Lea,” her track with Danger Mouse, she sings over choirlike keyboard chords created from her own sampled voice. “This time, it was about trying to come up with the weirdest sounds that I could get away with,” says Epworth, who cowrote two tracks on 25. “This album feels like its in maybe more with the cultural dialogue instead of being anachronistic to it. It’s almost like she’s trying to beat everyone else at their own game.”
There’s roughly a full album’s worth of outtakes from 25. Adele is ruthless in her quality control, and was still making final tweaks to the track list when we met. “Some songs are not fucking good enough,” she says. “And I think that’s where a lot of people go wrong, thinking that people will buy any old shit from you.”
Adele celebrated a recent birthday at Kurobuta, a Japanese pub-food spot with a cultivated rock & roll vibe; The Guardian described it as both “insanely delicious” and “ridiculously expensive.” Tonight, she’s returned, and the restaurant has arranged for us to have a private candlelit room in back, down a small flight of stairs. We have a comically huge distressed-wood communal table to ourselves. Sometimes it’s good to be a random girl from London.
As we study the menu, which is heavy on fried food, Adele is amused to hear I’m trying to eat low-carb. “Let’s cheat,” she says, persuasively. Behind her are various vintage rock posters, including the cover of Jimi Hendrix’s Axis: Bold as Love. “Let’s both cheat. It’s my cheat day. Let’s go mad!” She looks at the menu again. “I’m going in! Going HAM – hard as a motherfucker!”
She glances at an empty corner. “Last time we were here, they had a TV in there,” she says. “They must’ve taken it all out. But it was showing, like, hardcore anime porn. It was just mad! It’s a bit off putting when you’re eating, like, sushi and they’ve got all the hardcore porn stuff on.”
She orders an amaretto sour – what she calls a “Days of Our Lives” drink – but then changes it to a glass of sauvignon blanc. “I don’t know if I should be that fierce,” she says. “I just remembered I’m being interviewed.”
Adele is aware that certain critics have used her “classy” image and music as a cudgel against the Mileys of the world. She is really not into it. “I’d rather not be the person that everyone gets pitted against,” she says. “If they do decide to get their body out, I would rather not be that person because that’s just pitting a woman against another woman, and I don’t hold any more moral high ground than anyone else. So that has pissed me off a bit. Not that I’m going to start getting my tits out now!”
She continues to think out loud. “Would I show my body off if I was thinner? Probably not, because my body is mine. But sometimes I’m curious to know if I would have been as successful if I wasn’t plussize. I think I remind everyone of themselves. Not saying everyone is my size, but it’s relatable because I’m not perfect, and I think a lot of people are portrayed as perfect, unreachable and untouchable.”
She finds a lot of the questions she’s faced on these issues to be blatantly sexist. “I’ve been asked ‘Would you do Playboy?’ so many fucking times, it’s ridiculous,” she says. “And is that because I’m a woman or because I’m fat?”
Then again, she took note of the fuss made over a certain male celebrity when he slimmed down. “What I found really interesting was the big, big deal that was made out of Chris Pratt. When he lost all of his weight, it was, ‘Oh, my God, who would have known he was so fucking fit?’ It was a lot of attention on when he used to be bigger. I’ve never seen that with a guy.”
Adele has been so busy the past few years that she’s only faintly aware of the newfound prominence of feminism in the pop-cultural discourse. “If there’s a movement, that’s great,” she says. “Who’s doing it? Will you ask me if I’m a feminist? I don’t think many men in interviews get asked if they’re feminist.”
I don’t ask the question, but she wants to answer anyway. “I’m a feminist,” she says, sipping wine. “I believe that everyone should be treated the same, including race and sexuality.” She recalls not being taken seriously in business meetings full of men, of encountering an attitude of “what do you know?” “It’s like, ‘Well, I’m the fucking artist,’ ” she says, sitting up straighter in her chair. “ ‘So I fucking know everything, actually! Like, don’t fucking talk down to me!’ ”
She enjoyed working with Sia for her new album, even though the songs didn’t make it (one, “Alive,” became a single for Sia instead). Adele realized she had never collaborated with a woman before. “I actually love the dynamic of us both being in there and just fucking being bossy,” she says with a laugh. “And it’s all these male producers, and they’re all fucking shitting themselves ’cause we’re in there.”
“It would be a bit tragic to do another heartbreak album – not even tragic, a cliché! Even if I really was heartbroken.”
‘Do you think everyone will be disappointed that I’m happy?” Adele asks. It’s a couple of days after our dinner, and she’s wearing a similar leggings-and-sweater ensemble, with the glam addition of glittery Margiela boots. We’re sitting in her manager’s bright, modern office on a quiet Notting Hill street, decorated with sports memorabilia and some of Adele’s prizes. She points out her Ivor Novello songwriting award in the corner but neglects to mention her Diamond Award next to it, which commemorates more than 10 million copies sold in the U.S.
Adele knows that her songs have been a solace to her fans. “If my music can heal anyone’s heart, then that is, like, the most satisfying thing ever,” she says. “I don’t think the record has a vibe of ‘Whoo-hoo, I’m totally happy!’ But with me being in a brighter space with my love life, will my fans be disappointed in me that I can’t fix their broken hearts with a song that is brokenhearted? I don’t want to disappoint them. But at the same time, I can’t write a sad record, like, for everyone else. That’s not a real record, unless I am sad.”
She laughs at the reminder that her last Rolling Stone interview ended with her imagining what would happen if she were in a stable relationship: “No music!” she joked then. “My fans will be like, ‘Babe! Please! Get divorced!’ ”
But she doesn’t see it that way anymore. “It would be a bit tragic to do a heartbreak album again,” she says. “A cliché, not even tragic! It’d be such a cliché. What if I was heartbroken? What the fuck would I write about? ’Cause I can’t write a fucking heartbreak record again! So just f lip and reverse it.”
She does understand artists’ temptation to create chaos in their lives. “I would have been totally up for that had I not had a kid,” she says. “I didn’t think I’d settle down. I always loved the drama, you know? Always wanted to be in love but always loved the drama, since I was very young.”
The question of a tour looms large in Adele’s mind, and she’s giving herself until Christmas to decide. “When I’ve sat down and thought, ‘What can I do to bring something new to the table?’ It was just like, ‘Tour.’ Because I haven’t done it properly.” As she sees it, this album might be her last chance for many years to hit the road – once Angelo is in school, she doesn’t want to take him out.
Adele has always had stage fright, with a particular fear of opening her mouth onstage and having nothing come out. Which is peculiar, because she’s already lost her voice and regained it. “But it didn’t happen midshow,” she says, waving off the idea. She also has the unlikely vision of walking out onstage and seeing only five people in an arena.
She dreads having more throat problems. “If my throat goes, then I’ll never be able to do a tour again,” she says. “I’ll be able to get my throat fixed again and do studio work, but do I want to do something and then fail at it and be too scared to ever try it again?”
Wherever she does perform, she promises to embrace her old stuff, joking that she’s “forever 21.” “Being defined by any record is a dream come true when you’re an artist,” she says. “It’s like when I go and see certain bands – not to name any – and they don’t play their fucking biggest hit? Cunts! That really annoys me.
“To the general public, it’s not about your body of work,” she says. “In most cases, it’s about the song that reminds them of something in their lives. They take you into their heart.
“That’s, like, the biggest thing ever.” She smiles, eyes alight with all the music left to be made. “You have to play that song.”