There's an old rock 'n roll adage that says an artist has his or her entire life to come up with an arresting debut disc, but only a few brief months to produce an equally creative follow-up. And all too often, that second album simply sinks like a stone. That could've happened to British wunderkind Adele Adkins — better known as Adele — whose platinum-selling 2008 debut, 19, turned the R&B belter into a Grammy-winning sensation.
But it didn't.
Adele, now a wise old 23, has achieved true mainstream success with her second outing, 21, which debuted atop the charts in the States and has already surpassed Madonna's nine-week record at No. 1 in England for The Immaculate Collection. Currently, 21 is the biggest-selling record of the year, which helped land its composer on a just-published UK list of young music millionaires, with an estimated worth of 6 million pounds. And she did it by merely singing what she knows — heartbreak.
Building on the tear-jerking tradition of early ballads like "Chasing Pavements," forlorn dirges such as "Someone Like You" give way to triumphant, Gospel-righteous stompers like "Rolling in the Deep." So what's it like to relive these emotional upheavals night after night on tour?
"It's draining, it's almost impossible," the diva says with a sigh. "It's really difficult anyway to relive moments that are really defining in your life, for good and awful reasons. But it's embarrassing, as well. I remember toward the end of touring on my last record, I was thinking 'This is so embarrassing that I'm still singing about this guy who broke my heart two and a half years ago — he's had, like, 14 women since me!'
"And now it's embarrassing that I'm gonna have to sing this new record," she adds. "Don't get me wrong — I love touring. But at some point, I'm gonna be like 'For fuck's sake! I just can't sing about this guy anymore!' It's not fair, and it's like breaking up again, every night."
To make certain she conveyed every loved-and-lost emotion perfectly, Adele recruited a cadre of brilliant co-writers, like Paul Epworth, OneRepublic's Ryan Tedder, and Semisonic's Dan Wilson. "I made a conscious decision, early on, that I wanted to work with more people this time," she recalls. "I'm quite limited and quite set in boundaries as a musician — I can only play four or five chords on guitar, so I would've ended up writing 19.2 if I'd written this record on my own. And different people bring out different emotions in me."
Adele's regular-gal charm is there in the album's grooves. And also present in how she advance-promoted 21, mainly to folks who'd been kind to her the first time around. She even took a puddle-jumper to Minneapolis this winter, just to play a private showcase for Target and Best Buy execs. "They were amazing to me on my last record, so of course I'm gonna go and see them," she declares. "And to do it, I literally had to get on a tiny Flintstones plane — I'm the worst flier, and it was horrible!"
But well worth the effort.
"The last time I went, I was in a tiny office with about four people. This time, I was in a 500-capacity room and about 1,000 people turned up, and they were all cheering and whooping. It was amazing, like performing to a roomful of gays!"