Sometimes, a person is properly appreciated in the moment, yet somewhat underrated in hindsight. Basketball legend Michael Jordan is Patient Zero for this hypothesis.
Jordan — owner of six NBA championship rings, the richest shoe and apparel line in the game, the adoration of billions worldwide and, oh yeah, the Charlotte Hornets — was regarded as the greatest basketball player of his era during his heyday with the Chicago Bulls. It is now rightly assumed that Jordan, who never lost an NBA Finals, is the greatest player ever to have stepped foot on a basketball court.
This is all true, and yet Michael Jordan remains underrated. This is because we keep looking for the “next Jordan,” whether it be Kobe Bryant or LeBron James, when no such thing exists. There will never be another Michael Jordan, someone who so phenomenally combined on-court success with an off-the-court Q rating that was unmatched. It’s best to just stop looking.
Which brings us to Adele.
The British songstress, scheduled to play a pair of sold-out shows on Tuesday and Wednesday at Toyota Center, is a rarity in today’s pop landscape. Adele is not only über-talented, which is somewhat uncommon unto itself, she also remains criminally underrated in an era in which half of consumers rush out to overrate the latest and greatest musical thing. The other half seemingly rush out to tear down the latest and greatest musical thing, but that’s a conversation for another day.
Not that Adele escaped such adoration early in her career. When “Rolling in the Deep” hit radio like a supernova in late 2010, it pretty much was on loop every hour on the hour. Music fans fawned over Adele and lifted her sophomore breakthrough, 21, to multiplatinum status. Smash followup singles like “Someone Like You” and “Set Fire to the Rain” only added to Adele hysteria; it didn’t hurt that 21 was and remains a pop masterpiece.
Adele took a little time off to start a family from there (her son was born in October 2012), then re-emerged in 2015 with the announcement that her upcoming album, 25, would drop in November. The album couldn’t possibly keep the Adele train running, not when American pop audiences are notoriously fickle, and not when breakthrough follow-ups typically fall victim to the laws of diminishing returns, from Hootie and the Blowfish to the Strokes and everywhere in between.
Of course, as has been documented many times over, Adele’s newest record actually did live up to the hype. Lead single “Hello” was arguably her biggest hit to date and pretty much went No. 1 in every country in which it was released. Subsequent singles have proven successful as well, and 25 became not only the biggest-selling album of 2015, but also the fastest-selling album of the 21st century (2.3 million copies sold in only three days).
All this, and yet Adele remains underrated. But why? For starters, her whole is greater than the sum of her parts, particularly in comparison to her pop music counterparts. Beyoncé, probably the biggest pop star on the planet, is known for her jaw-dropping and occasionally provocative performances, not to mention her celebrity marriage. Taylor Swift puts out really catchy songs and dates really famous guys. Justin Timberlake is charming as hell when he shows up on Jimmy Fallon’s show and drops catchy little singles. Drake mopes and beefs. Katy Perry does Katy Perry things. And Lady Gaga continues in her quest to be her generation’s Madonna.
Adele? She just kinda radiates a working-class, likable, every-person quality, and then goes onstage and sings better than anyone since Whitney Houston in her prime. We know little about her personal life, aside from what we heard on 21 (which was a lot, to be clear). But whereas the world spun off its axis when Beyoncé dropped Lemonade, or when people lose their minds trying to associate each Swift ex-boyfriend with his accompanying breakup track, folks don’t really examine Adele’s music. Rather, they simply enjoy it, in part because she’s low-key and in part because we take her for granted.
At some point, Adele will hang it up as a full-time performer. She could live off royalties for the remainder of her days and still be set ten times over. And while Adele doesn’t particularly seem to mind being famous, she doesn’t crave the spotlight, recently turning down an invite to headline the upcoming Super Bowl Halftime Show in Houston, nor is she a born performer like Drake, Swift or Timberlake.
When that day comes, and when she literally drops the mike on her career, we will miss Adele more than we may realize, like a certain former Chicago Bull. And then we’ll spend more time than we should examining possible replacements, knowing full well there is no such thing.
Adele performs at Toyota Center next Tuesday and Wednesday. Both shows are officially sold out, but some tickets are available (albeit not cheap) on the secondary market.
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.