A recent Guardian article has tried to understand why Adele is so popular, from the perspective of a radio presenter, a psychologist, a marketing expert, a music journalist and a music lecturer.
Psychologist Daniel Müllensiefen argues that “we find pleasure in sad music, very much like how we can find pleasure in drama and tragedy.” The reason we find enjoyment from something we would typically categorise as negative, such as sadness and tragedy, is because of the difference between felt sadness and aesthetic sadness. The aesthetic sadness allows us catharsis; sad music (on the whole) does not inspire the true neural connections related to sadness, but instead allows us a passive experience of the emotion that Greek drama theorists have discussed for so many centuries. Collective sadness also plays a big part in Adele’s success – the impact of the event of a new Adele song cannot be minimised. Mr. Müllensiefen draws parallels to the John Lewis advert, which plays on melancholy and the duality of Christmas’s joy and profound sadness to inspire a nation-wide sentiment of sadness. Adele’s music acts similarly, where the release of one song unites the world through internet coverage and radio play. HSPS and History applicants should consider how there are parallels between this collective emotion and collective moods throughout history, most notably The Great Depression.
Senior marketing manager of RCA Records UK, Anna Derbyshire, draws attention to the simplicity of Adele’s image: the “monochrome photos and promos, the linear logo, a number for each album title, the black A-line dresses” and the stripped back campaigns for her albums. Fine Art and History of Art applicants should explore how this simplicity can be found in other art forms, particularly artists working exclusively in monochrome.
Music applicants will no doubt be thinking that most of Adele’s appeal lies in the music itself; taking Hello as an example, music theorist Dr. Kenneth Smith notes the rising interval B flat to C in the opening ‘hello’, rising upwards into ‘from the other side’ in the chorus rather than taking the more obvious descent to the B flat. Dr. Smith argues that this causes an “atmosphere of lament”. Music applicants should consider further if Adele’s undeniable appeal is due to her music or the wider context of her popularity.