All About The Music? Sorry, Adele, You Rely On Image Too

Following “Team Adele”’s triumph at the top of the Guardian’s Music Power 100 list, XL founder Richard Russell has spoken to the broadsheet about how Adele has the potential to change the way women are seen in the music industry, commenting, “The whole message with [Adele] is that it’s just music, it’s just really good music. There is nothing else. There are no gimmicks, no selling of sexuality.”


Adele’s latest album, ‘21’, has broken all kinds of sales records. The overwhelming reaction to her success seems to be “good on you, girl”. A Brit School grad with some genuine talent – unlike some – done good; a young woman unafraid to lay down the law with her record label, refusing to play festivals and getting them to agree to her conditions. And yes, it’s heartening to see a female popstar succeed without having to get down to her knickers and sing about deepthroating. As has been mentioned many times, part of Adele’s success comes down to her attainability, the sheer “awright guv” normalcy of a lass you could have a pint and share some chips with.

However, both Adele and Russell have made a ham-fisted job of talking about her image. Speaking in a now infamous interview with Q, Adele asserted, “I don’t want to be on the cover of Playboy or Vogue. I want to be on the cover of Rolling Stone or Q … I’d rather weigh a ton and make an amazing album than look like Nicole Richie and do a shit album. My aim in life is never to be skinny.”

As journalist Alex Macpherson pointed out on his blog, Adele implies that being on the cover of Q is of greater virtue than gracing the cover of Vogue; seemingly forgetting that three of the four women – herself the exception – who have had standalone Q covers since April 2009 have been in some state of undress or porny suggestivity, without wanting to get all Mary Whitehouse about it.

April 2009, Lily Allen stands topless, surrounded by panthers. February 2010, a close-up of Cheryl Cole’s face, drenched in water, suggestively licking her jewelled finger from behind red lips. April 2010, Gaga, topless with a dildo down her trousers. May 2010, Florence Welch (one of two covers) starring as part of “The 100 Greatest Frontmen featuring The Best New Frontwoman”, wearing a black cut-out swimming costume. July 2011, Adele, fully-clothed. As Jude Rogers commented in an article for the Guardian last year, “Q magazine still treats ‘women in rock’ as a genre all of its own.”

Macpherson also points out that Adele criticises a woman who has had extremely public struggles with her weight, somehow drawing the absurd conclusion that looking like Nicole Richie is synonymous with being a rubbish musician. Hopefully that isn’t what she meant, but she could have been more careful about how she made her point. Adele’s comments only reinforce stereotype and the idea that how much you care about your body image is inherent to your worth as an artist.

As for Russell’s opinion that “it’s just really good music”, firstly, you’d be a fool to totally ignore the impact of Adele’s accessibility on her sales. Secondly, “it’s just really good music” is the preserve of the unimaginative, those who spout self-defeatist nonsense like “we do this for ourselves and if anyone else likes it, it’s a bonus.”


Earlier this year, former NME features editor James McMahon wrote an article for Shortlist entitled ‘The Rise Of The Superstar’, drawing on Gaga’s arrival at the Grammys in an egg, and Janelle Monáe and Nicki Minaj’s respective pop characters Cindi Mayweather and Harajuku Barbie as “the moment pop stardom began to fight back.” He spoke to noted author and critic Jon Savage, who lent his support to this new wave of brilliant pop outrageousness, saying, “Pop stars are supposed to be glamorous and exciting. It’s pop. It’s meant to take you out of yourself.”

You’d have to be a grey-hearted, indie churl to agree with Russell’s statement that, “It’s just really good music” is grounds for success alone. Body size isn’t intrinsic to success as a popstar, but a considered, interesting, unique image is still massively important to making pop feel exciting, no matter how daft. Janelle Monáe’s superb album, ‘The ArchAndroid’, would still sound as brilliant if she performed it in her undercrackers or sackcloth and ashes, but her androgynous, besuited look makes her intriguing in a way that someone who, to put it bluntly, “gives away the farm” isn’t.

And Adele, for all her self-professed lack of affectedness, is still sold on image; otherwise, why the fifties puffed hair, the cigarette, the languid eyeliner? Adele and Russell may claim that her success is down to the music alone, but you’d have to be a halfwit to believe that her appearance is any less considered than the crafty conceit of Monáe, Gaga, Minaj or Rihanna. Memo to Richard Russell: pinpointing Adele’s success on it being “just really good music” is as two-dimensional and loaded as the cartoon popstar with whipped cream all over her boobs.