Reading Adele’s latest interview, her first in five years, feels like you’re sitting down with a friend – in this case, one you haven’t seen in ages, because nobody has spotted the star in ages, pandemic not withstanding. And in that time, you’ve got so much to catch up on. Big Life Stuff to talk about: divorce, parenthood, finding love again, losing weight and a brand new job (or, in Adele’s case, a new single and hotly-anticipated album coming out).
And that is Adele’s appeal. She may be a global superstar with a voice that can shatter hearts, one who has to hide from the paparazzi (she spent lockdown “off grid” in Beverly Hills with her nine-year-old son, Angelo), but she’s also a 33-year-old woman who’s been through everyday heartbreak – and it resonates.
To read what she says about her relationship breakdown; to empathise with the “mum guilt” she carries, just like the rest of us (the singer revealed that her new album, 30, is an attempt to explain her divorce to her son, adding: “My son has had a lot of questions. Really good questions, really innocent questions, that I just don’t have an answer for, like “why can’t you still live together?”) feels exquisitely intimate and familiar. It is as if we are sitting in a cozy wine bar, getting a little melancholy as we talk about how we’ve survived the upheaval of a break-up, confident that a hug and her trademark raucous laugh is waiting to soothe us at the end of it.
Because Adele “gets” us, she speaks for all of us. Whether it’s through her song lyrics, mournfully lamenting “the one who got away” in Someone Like You, or via her candour when she talks about the impact of her marital split on her son (“I just felt like I wanted to explain to him, through this record, when he’s in his twenties or thirties, who I am and why I voluntarily chose to dismantle his entire life in the pursuit of my own happiness,” she said, of her new track), we can relate.
“It made him really unhappy sometimes,” she added in the Vogue interview. “And that’s a real wound for me that I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to heal.”
I can’t count the number of similar conversations I’ve had on this topic. Like Adele, I have a nine-year-old; like Adele, I’ve experienced a marriage breakdown in the past few years, as have a number of my friends; like Adele, I “definitely chose the perfect person to have my child with”, as she said in the interview, and it “is one of my proudest things I’ve ever done”. Marital split not withstanding, when I read what she said about being “incredibly close” to her ex-husband – “I’d trust him with my life”, she said – I felt a wave of comforting recognition.
For people like Adele, who’ve been through the end of a relationship – she described it becoming “just not right for me any more”, saying: “I didn’t want to end up like a lot of other people I knew. I wasn’t miserable miserable, but I would have been miserable had I not put myself first” – it can sometimes feel like you’re being stigmatised; judged for “failing” at something, for not making it work. Just look at the way the high-profile split between Bill and Melinda Gates was talked about: Melinda herself said her marriage was “irretrievably broken”, as the split left the world “reeling”. Adele nodded to this too, saying it was “embarrassing”.
“I was embarrassed,” she revealed. “I was really embarrassed. That thing of not being able to make something work. We’ve been trained as women to keep trying, even by the movies we watched when we were little. At the time it broke my heart, but I actually find it so interesting now. How we’re told to suck it up.”
She added: “It’s ridiculous,” she said. “I think it’s that people love to portray a divorced woman as spinning out of control, like, ‘Oh she must be crackers. Because what is a woman without a husband? It’s bulls**t.”
And that is trademark Adele, her delightful frankness, her ability to be so entirely real, with a singing voice that is simultaneously ethereal; her lyrics heartfelt and poignant and so achingly relatable. That’s why we love her. Adele may be 33, but she isn’t going anywhere, and just as she did with her previous albums, 19, 21 and 25, this latest release simply marks the next stage of her life – of all our lives. We’re lucky to be along for the ride.