The British are coming . . . and they want our Grammys! Last Sunday, the sultry British soul singer Adele walked off with an armload of the trophies, six in total, including Album of the Year for her best-selling sophomore effort 21. MTV reported that her haul, which tipped the scales at an impressive 31 pounds and 8 ounces, weighed as much as a young Emperor penguin or—an easier comparison to digest—the annual cheese intake of the average American. If this is the New British Invasion, as music critics like to say, Adele is its master and commander. No one sells soul like this 23-year old Cockney sensation.
As one YouTube commenter pointed out, in an age of extravagance, Adele is a true minimalist: “Zero backup dancers. Zero lasers. Zero cool 3D backgrounds. Adele says ‘Here is my voice, this is enough.’”
Adele makes for an interesting comparison with the outrageous aesthetic of the 25 year old American singer, Lady Gaga.
Here’s Gaga doing the jazz standard “Orange Colored Sky”:
And Adele performing “Crazy for You” live at the Montreux Jazz Festival:
In the office we’re Adele fans. But what do you think? Let us know!
There’s certainly been a lot of Adele-mania since the Grammys ceremony. The reason we wanted to feature her in our Friday music video is not only because we like her music but also because it’s a great opportunity to talk about that idiosyncratic British phenomenon, English soul music.
Soul has a surprisingly long history in England thanks to 1960s singers like “the white queen of soul” Dusty Springfield (“Son of a Preacher Man”) and the Welsh panty magnet and Grammy winner Tom Jones (“It’s Not Unusual”).
In the 70s, American soul was moving into a funkier genre. But in the nightclubs and music halls of Manchester, Wigan, and Bolton, musicians kept the older Motown sound alive in a distinct sub-genre that came to be known as “northern soul.” It’s strange to imagine the inhabitants of these depressed coal and mill towns grooving to Tobi Legend’s “Time Will Pass You By” or “Tainted Love” by Gloria Jones. But as the British TV and radio presenter Terry Christian has pointed out “the British white working class… instinctively saw common causes that linked it to the black American experience. But in Britain the marker was class, not race.” Northerners turned soul joints like the Wigan Casino and the Blackpool Mecca into all-night, amphetamine-fueled dance parties. The movement, apparently, is now making a comeback.
In the 2000s, British soul, mixed with a little American R&B, jumped the pond once more thanks to popular female singers like Estelle, Joss Stone and the movement’s bad girl, Amy Winehouse, who died last summer from alcohol poisoning and also hailed from Adele’s native North London (here’s a piece by the cultural commentator Clive James on her “wish for oblivion”). Winehouse, in particular, was a gifted singer. But in my book none of these artists had, well, the soul of Adele and her confident, sexy, original style.
Having tied Beyonce for most Grammies by a female artist in a single night, Adele now seems certain to become a fixture on the international music scene, provided a hemorrhaged polyp on her vocal cords doesn’t prove to be a long-term problem.
Here is Adele in an interview with the popular music station BBC Radio One
And here’s Adele, singing her hit “Someone Like You”: