Take a look at Adele’s career in numbers: three albums, nine Brits, 15 Grammys, an Oscar and a Golden Globe. The figures are staggering and she’s only 30.
It’s no wonder the British powerhouse is a member of the music world’s most elite club: Female Artists Who Are So Big They Don’t Need A Second Name. Like Mariah, Madonna, Beyoncé and Rihanna, music fans are on first name terms with Adele.
How did this London girl become a defining voice of her generation? iSing looks at the rise and rise of Adele Laurie Blue Adkins.
Her rise to fame
Adele credits her success to four women: her mum Penny, who worked two jobs to support her daughter’s creative dreams, and Ella Fitzgerald, Roberta Flack and Etta James. Adele says she learnt to sing by listening to these three stars; Fitzgerald for acrobatics, Flack for control and James for passion.
James was a particular inspiration, with Adele citing Fool That I Am as the song that made her want to be a singer.
At 14 the self-taught Adele won a place at the prestigious BRIT School (where Jessie J was a classmate). By the time she graduated Adele had a recording deal with XL Recordings and from there the only way was up.
Adele received her first Brit Award in 2007 (she was crowned the Critic’s Choice) and released her debut album 19 in 2008. Within a year, she was a global name. 19 went platinum seven times in the UK and three times in the US.
Next up was 21 in 2011 and Adele’s career went stratospheric. The album, which featured the singles Someone Like You, Rolling in the Deep and Rumour Has It, showcased Adele’s vocal prowess and her songwriting talent – few artists have the lyrical ability to articulate heartbreak quite like Adele.
In February 2011, Adele became the only female artist to have two top five singles, Rolling in the Deep and Someone Like You, and two albums, 19 and 21, in the same week.
And the gongs kept coming. In 2012 she sang the theme song for the James Bond film, Skyfall, for which she won an Oscar, Golden Globe and Grammy.
After taking a break to have her son Angelo in 2012, Adele returned in 2015 with a bang. She released 25, an album that included the smash hit, Hello.
Of this album, Adele says: “Turning 25 was a turning point for me, slap bang in the middle of my twenties. Teetering on the edge of being an old adolescent and a fully-fledged adult, I made the decision to go into becoming who I’m going to be forever without a removal van full of my old junk.
“25 is about getting to know who I’ve become without realising. And I’m sorry it took so long, but you know, life happened.”
Adele bagged herself another five Grammys and sales of the album topped 15 million.
There are rarely any gimmicks on stage, the focus is Adele and her voice drawing you in as she sings about love and loss with power and emotion. Her live shows are often pared back, or when more fancy will include her band and a string section. In between songs she chats at length with her audience, takes selfies and swears like a squaddie. It’s a simple formula, but it takes huge charisma and confidence to pull it off. It’s hard to believe she frequently suffers from severe performance anxiety, and often desperately wishes to “escape” before getting on stage.
At The Brits in 2011 she sang Someone Like You with just a piano accompanying her; very few major artists would allow themselves to be exposed in this way. In spite of a less than perfect vocal performance Adele had us riveted; she later admitted to being emotionally overwhelmed which caused her to lose some vocal control, and from here her super stardom status was assured.
Adele combines power and emotion with expert phrasing. She has a weighty and soulful voice that spans from a super rich low C#3 to a warm mezzo A5. When she uses her mid range it’s often in the chorus or climax of the song and belted. Here she can go too wide and splatty (TA dominant), which can result in a rather yelled, off pitch sound, especially when her voice isn’t on form. Occasionally she will venture into her upper range, from F5 up she will usually sing on a narrow vowel such as “OO”. She uses vocal qualities such as flips (Set Fire To The Rain), fry (When We Were Young) and the occasional growl (One And Only). As her career has progressed, and as a result of a need to make vocal adjustments to ensure vocal endurance, Adele’s vocal control has improved. She also had some voice training to help her prepare for touring.
What Adele does very well, unlike many singers of her generation, is convey raw emotion. She connects with her audience and takes them on a journey. A fine example of this is her Bob Dylan cover of Make You Feel My Love.
In a little over a decade, Adele has cemented her place in the music history books. But the demands of performing have taken their toll on her voice and forced her, on several occasions, to take time out.
In 2011 a polyp on one of her vocal folds haemorrhaged during a live performance on French radio. Of the incident, Adele said it was,”Like someone put a curtain over my throat…and I could feel it. It felt like something popped in my throat”. Top laryngologist Dr Steven Zeitels performed microsurgery on the damaged area. After surgery Adele had to remain totally silent for three weeks. The operation was a success; Adele was so grateful to her surgeon that she thanked him in her Grammy speech a few months later. Talking to TV host, Graham Norton, Adele said of her post-surgery voice: “At the very beginning (after the operation) it changed, it was very clean…I used to smoke quite a lot, so all the scars that my voice had from most of my life were gone, it was like a brand new voice.” She told another journalist that initially she didn’t like the clean sound as she’d been used to having an element of huskiness.
In 2017 voice problems returned, and she was forced to cancel two shows at Wembley, the final gigs of her 121 date world tour. She was criticised by some vocal coaches for having a slapdash attitude towards her voice. Some sectors of the press suggested she was a “snowflake” and should have “soldiered on”, for the sake of her fans. Somewhat unfair given the star was acting on doctor’s orders and the rigours of touring had quite clearly taken their toll. She wrote to her fans how her Wembley concerts were the biggest and best of her life, “However, I’ve struggled vocally on both nights. I had to push a lot harder than I normally do” and went on to say, ” I am already maxed out on steroids and aids to my voice”. So is it bad technique? Overwork? Poor vocal care? Or just bad luck? Adele herself said she did a lot to prepare for the tour to ensure she and her voice were in top form. She even spoke of having given up smoking to improve vocal health. On tour she would leave the gig as soon as it ended to ensure maximum vocal and physical rest. One thing is for sure Adele is a force of nature as a singer, performer and person. This combination could have a lot to do with her voice issues.
She has hinted she may not tour again. Hopefully this won’t be the case but we’ll just have to wait and see.