At The Hollywood Reporter’s annual Women in Entertainment event yesterday, Adele received the Sherry Lansing Leadership Award for her career achievements and for her advocacy. Much of Adele’s philanthropic work is not publicised, by choice, but per THR, she “has been associated with organizations including Grenfell Foundation; Sands, which supports people who have lost a baby; and Drop4Drop, which provides clean water to countries in need and was founded by her ex-husband, Simon Konecki”. To accompany the honour, Adele covers this week’s issue with the most in-depth interview she’s given all year. Which is interesting timing because just a couple of days ago, Taylor Swift's TIME Person of the Year profile was released and the two pieces, side by side, are an excellent contrast to how each superstar performs celebrity.
As Sam Lansky, who wrote Taylor’s article, acknowledged himself, that whole conversation felt like it was by Taylor’s design, that even though he ostensibly was supposed to be writing the story, he ended up playing a part in a story she’d already written. Taylor, after all, is the “Mastermind”, the game master of her own metaverse. And that image tracks with how the culture engages with her.
Adele’s image, on the other hand, is much less noticeably calculated. Noticeably. It doesn’t mean that the calculation isn’t there, and I’m not saying one version of image management is better than the other, but again, what we’re doing instead is an analysis of these two case studies and why they work for their respective celebrities. Because one of the keys to both Adele and Taylor’s popularity is that they make people, audiences, feel like they know them. It’s intimacy.
Taylor has created a community with her Swifties based on meticulously measured signals through song lyrics or social media posts or clothing choices – when they crack her code, it opens up a passageway, or so they think, into her life. Adele does the same, she tells people about her life, she puts all her feelings out there, it’s just that her fans don’t think they have to work as hard to get to those secrets. But that connection is the same. Both trade on the illusion of accessibility when in reality, given how amazingly famous both are, the truth is probably that they’re as inaccessible as ever.
Where a Taylor interview, then, is characterised by carefully constructed responses that may or may not conceal a riddle to be solved that opens up the vault that protects her soul, an Adele interview is almost always characterised by her performance of candour. This is Adele telling us about making kebabs for her kid’s classmates, and offhandedly talking about all the times she’s been asked to feature on another artist’s song and why and when she turns it down. That’s actually my favourite part of her THR interview – because she’s basically out here saying, are you serious? You want ME, Adele, to sing on your weak sauce little ditty? She also drops hints, not unlike Taylor, about all the younger women in the industry she is mentoring, making it clear that she will not reveal the names… but you know what the internet is doing, right? They’re trying to figure out the names. They’re also probably trying to figure out what movie and which director she wants to work with for her acting debut, because at one point she shares that she would try acting, but only for ONE project, one part, it’s just that the person isn’t ready to write it for her yet.
It feels like she’s tossing these thoughts off spontaneously, and she probably is, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t all part of the larger narrative around her celebrity – that Adele’s the one who will say anything that comes to mind, that Adele is real. And we eat it up. I’m eating it up! Here’s the video of her acceptance speech yesterday. I know it’s ten minutes but it breezes by because she’s so funny and profane and irreverent and bossy, unapologetically dropping swears at 8am in a roomful of women wearing pearls.
Also, she refers to Rich Paul as her “boyfriend”, so if they really are married, she’s not letting it turn into a story to overshadow her honour and her success which she says, quite refreshingly, “wasn’t hard”, and she knows “that’s rare” and that she’s “lucky”. I appreciate this because it’s honest, it’s matter-of-fact. She’s a talented white woman who was able to make the best use of her opportunities to flourish and she’s not about to pretend otherwise. This is Adele, the “boss at work and the boss at home”, that’s how she refers to herself, now with a trophy that she says is an “invitation to carry on being myself”. And the version of herself she’s allowed us to believe she is.