Adele’s had a pretty good month. OK, scratch that. Over the last 30 days or so, she’s been as hot an artist as there’s been in this age of digital downloads. Sound like hyperbole? It’s not (even though I am given to that little problem every now and then).
The British neo-soul singer’s third studio album, 25 (named after her age when she recorded it, similar to her first two albums, 19 and 21), has absolutely obliterated some longstanding album sales records most music prognosticators thought would stand forever.
25 sold 3.38 million copies in the United States alone in the week following its Nov. 20 release, topping *NSYNC’s record (set in March 2000, before the downloading era began in earnest) of 2.42 million albums. On top of that, she’s become the only artist ever to break the million-sales mark in an album’s second week. By week four, 25 had sold nearly 6 million copies. She’s sold more albums in a calendar year than anyone since Usher sold 7.98 million copies of Confessions in 2004, when the music industry was a very different beast.
To put those staggering numbers in perspective for other number nerds like me, Billboard reports that 25 accounted for 41% of all albums sold its opening week, selling more than twice the combined total of Nos. 2 through 100.
Suffice it to say that Adele’s appeal is massive. In my Plugged In review of 25, I wrote, “Adele has that alchemical, once-in-a-generation appeal that connects viscerally with a vast audience of lovelorn fans who, in this case, seem eager to submerge their emotions in an 11-track collection of soaringly beautiful yet still wildly weepy piano ballads.”
It’s that last part—the “wildly weepy piano ballads” part—that I want to touch on just a bit more here.
About halfway through listening to 25, I simply had to take a break. Here’s why: Even though there are some isolated moments of inspiration and empowerment here, the majority of 25 pitches its thematic tent in breakup regret territory. In other words, I found it deeply depressing … and I’ve been happily married for 11 years.
Song after song after song about things not working out just began to feel wearisome after a while—especially given the fact that Adele herself has been has been reportedly very happy in her four-year relationship with fiancé Simon Konecki.
Adele’s discreet lyrics never wander in really racy directions (though there are allusions to sex in several songs). But more often than not they do focus on the past—sometimes the distant past—and Adele’s seeming inability to let go of it. In “When We Were Young,” for instance, she longs to stop time after reconnecting with an old friend from her youth: “My god, this reminds me/Of when we were young/Let me photograph you in this light/In case it is the last time/That we might be exactly like we were/Before we realized/We were sad of getting old.”
All of us get “old” eventually, one day at a time (if our lives are not cut short prematurely by tragedy, that is). And it’s human nature to wistfully recall cherished memories from years and decades past. But in Adele’s case, it often feels like she’s stuck in those places, that she struggles to look forward toward what should be an incredibly bright future.
Given that, I can’t help but wonder about how this collection of weepy songs about getting old and regretting the past might influence millions and millions of listeners putting tracks like these on repeat. While they could be cathartic for some listeners struggling through similar hurts, I also think it’s possible that Adele’s songs could reinforce other fans’ sense of regret, their own sadness with getting old.
As rabid media scares go, I’m aware that this is a subtle one. No boycotts or online campaigns here. That said, sometimes it’s the most subtle influences we need to be most attuned and alert to, because they have the power to shape the way we feel, the way we see ourselves, our lives, our mistakes, our past, our future.
So if you’re one of the many millions with Adele parked in your CD player or your latest playlist, I’d encourage you to pay attention to how binge listening on 25 influences you. If you find yourself feeling kind of down—as I did listening just once—it might be a sign to push pause on 25 for a moment and replace it with less weepy fare.