Adele's "Hello" Is a Smash Hit. But Why?

Why hello, Adele.
Why hello, Adele.

According to a few press releases this week and the usual Internet chatter, Adele’s new single, “Hello,” was played more than one million times per hour in the two days following its release last Friday. The question is…why?

The query shouldn’t be read with the snark that has become a blog thing. I’m not deaf or an imbecile (at least, I know for certain I am not deaf), so this isn’t misguidedly trying to argue against the UK singer's awesome vocal abilities or proven knack for performing songs that capture the public's interest. If you want that sort of loose-screwed logic, go read this

Instead, I’m genuinely interested in how one lone person can gracefully apply the brakes on this wildly spinning world long enough for more than a million people an hour to hear her thoughts for two straight days. What is it about this young woman from Tottenham, London, who grew up a Spice Girls fanatic (zig-a-zig-ah!), and what she’s just delivered unto us, that sent 27 million people to watch her Vevo video for “Hello” in a day’s time? As I sit here slurping coffee from a mug with no handles (okay, maybe I am an imbecile), the video has been up five days and raked in 108 million views. That’s the equivalent of one-third of all U.S. citizens stopping whatever they do from one ho-hum day to the next long enough to see (and hear) Adele’s new song.

So, the question remains…why?

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Because Adele’s Life Is a Serial
It’s well-known that Adele’s talent was so unmistakable that she was signed to begin recording music for the world when she was only a teenager, way back less than a decade ago. Even for one with such a self-assured performing voice, that’s heady stuff. Her first album, 19, was incredible and marked her as a prodigy. Since then, she has released 21, and the new album will be titled 25. I’d be shocked if Adele has never watched the Up series, the British documentary that began filming in 1964 and has followed the lives of its subjects in installments produced every seven years. Like its subjects, she was only a kid when fame came to find her. And, like them, she’s grown into adulthood right before our eyes. As that series (and Netflix binge-watching) proves, we love a good serial with an enthralling protagonist.

Because Adele’s Songs Are One-to-One
Adele’s songs adeptly set aside the trappings of modern life to home in on the triumphs and tragedies of two people in a world of billions. Her songs contain an intimacy that many of us have traded in for following friends’ and strangers’ exploits on Facebook and Instagram. How many times have you tuned out your own partner’s words to read a rambling post about politics, sports or why Adele’s new song is a stunning success? She’s got anthemic, empowering stuff like “Rolling In the Deep,” but maybe we crave the interpersonal closeness of songs like “Hello” and “Melt My Heart to Stone” so much that we’re drawn in like lovers’ lips when she returns with new, one-to-one material.

Because Adele Is Not What Passes for Pop Music Today
Go to Spotify’s new-releases page and allow the player to shuffle through the latest and greatest. I did this over the weekend, and at least two-thirds of what scrolled up was someone rapping over or cooing to electronic beats. I’m not averse to this sort of music, just as I’m not averse to a good zombie movie. It’s just that when there are so many out there, it’s hard to differentiate between one walking dead and the next. And, as we all know, the classic that was Night of the Living Dead sadly spawned Zombie Strippers and Zombeavers. It’s the law of diminishing returns, people. Thankfully, we occasionally can still hear and appreciate the far less common instances of Auto-Tuneless singing set to piano.

Because Adele Doesn’t Believe Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word
I watched the Vevo with my wife, and she believes the song has gained traction because it’s about asking for forgiveness. This is a common theme in music but not in real life, she reminded me. How many people do you know who love each other and share history (think family relationships for best results) who have some wedge between them presently, some wall that is keeping them apart and further wasting the valuable and finite minutes we’re allotted? Maybe the song is a brilliant reminder that, difficult as it might seem, there’s a single word that can put all these wayward relationships back on track, one as simple as “Hello.”

Because Adele Released “Hello” in the Fall
Music writers annually assign to songs the honor of being the summer’s best; Google this and you'll find it’s kind of a big deal. You probably have your own choice for 2015’s — “Bad Blood” or “Trap Queen,” maybe. Which begs the question: Would “Hello” have fared this well against these tracks a few months ago? Maybe. But why leave it to chance to find out? By releasing “Hello” in the fall, she’s automatically garnered the less prestigious but still key “Song of the Fall” accolades. Not only that, but there is something autumnal about “Hello.” The video is shot in seasonal sepia tones, while both the lyrics and the vibe recall an importance missing from summer’s jaunty tunes. Listening to “Hello” is the sound of a leaf withering off the tree and falling away into something else.

Because Adele Is Talented, and Talent Always Prevails
We live in a world of the ordinary and commonplace. Adele’s talent is neither. Some people I personally know and love greatly might view her music as yawn-inducing stuff destined for the easy listening stations. I admire their music, filled with angry guitars and snarling lyrics and body-moving beats, and argue that her music is no less soul-stirring and passionate. You don’t even have to listen to the lyrics in “Hello” to get that. The honesty inherent in the songs she writes, coupled with a God-given voice and the practiced knowledge of what the hell to do with it, makes her music as mosh-worthy as the new Leftover Crack album.

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