British artist Adele made her critically-acclaimed debut in the U.S. in 2008, but judging by the racial climate in which the singer-songwriter currently finds herself, you’d think we all heard her name for the first time two weeks ago.
October 23 is when Adele released the first single, Hello, off of her upcoming third studio album, 25. It’s also when all appropriating hell broke loose. Within days thinkpieces started popping up either questioning or explaining why the white London-bred singer gets a pass for her music. And now that Hello has been downloaded $1.1 million times in one week, setting the record for the highest sales week for a single since Elton John’s 1997 Princess Diana tribute Candle in the Wind, a second wave of critiques have surfaced asking why Black artists, whom Adele allegedly steals her style from, can’t do the same.
Look, we all know that answer: white sells. It always has, it likely always will. It’s not fair. People like us fight to deconstruct that reality on a daily basis. Sadly, for now, it is what it is. But for as much as white people don’t need to be let off the hook for all the many times they take from us, bleach and repackage things original to our culture, and sell it to the masses as something new, making enormous profits at our expense, I, for one, don’t see Adele as part of that machine. And I’m definitely not here for her shouldering the entire burden of white supremacy and cultural appropriation simply because she might have a teeny bit of soul in her.
Perhaps now would be a good time to point out that I don’t see Adele as a soul singer. For some reason, in America we put any white girl who doesn’t sing like Britney Spears into the soul singing sista girl category and then everybody gets in their feelings when they gain success. I do partially blame white people for that, but that’s A&R and mainstream media’s doing, not Adele’s. There’s a stark difference between being a soul singer and singing with emotion or, go figure, substance – something greatly lagging in most music today. I’m far more inclined to put Adele in the latter group and doing so doesn’t make me feel any sense of betrayal toward black artists in a similar lane.
The thing is all this criticism of Adele is more a sign of the times than it is a credible attack. If the world hadn’t been subjected to a shapely white girl from Australia rapping with a blackcent and being overly praised by Forbes and Billboard and constantly defended by black men during the past year this discussion wouldn’t even be happening right now. For seven years white and black people have sung along to Adele’s singles, even remixed them to GoGo beats, but now because, quite frankly, between police brutality and white folks in dashikis, cornrows, and afros, we’ve all had enough, Adele has become musical arch nemesis number one. I get it, but Adele is not the horse to which this fed up cart should be hitched to.
Tearing down Adele is not going to stop racism or the “stealing” of soul. For starters we don’t own soul music, and, secondly, Adele doesn’t really sing it so, as far as I see it, this is a non-issue. Furthermore, at some point we have to pick our battles and make sure we have a sound case before we go finger pointing and attempting to take someone to task and reclaim a culture they didn’t even take. Being influenced by soul and appropriating a black soul singer are not one in the same. We didn’t have a problem when Tina Marie did it, a lot of us liked it when Pink and JoJo first did it, and when she wants to take us to church we still let Christina Aguilera do it. Adele is in a lane all her own and I guarantee most people aren’t fans of her because they see her as a living, breathing version of Aretha Franklin in white face. Adele is a talented writer, she has a beautiful voice with depth and range, and she sings from the heart. More than anything, she’s herself. In other words, all those likening her to Elvin Presley and other white stars of days gone by who took a traditionally black genre, claimed it as their own, and became wildly successful on the backs of those black pioneers, move on, there’s nothing like that to see here.