Adele's "Hello" and Why It's So Damn Important
When Adele's "Someone Like You" was released as a single in 2011, it restored something that radio didn’t know it had lost. Mainstream pop stations are consistently dominated by mainstream pop songs, of course, and most of these hits are bubblegum pop, with very little depth and a distinct lack of noteworthy lyrical nuance. But on rare occasions, a song like "Someone Like You" makes its way to the top of the charts, and, if it’s sung by Adele, it stays there for a very, very long time.
Deciding which songs on an album will be released as singles must be mostly based on projected commercial success. This philosophy is what sends the glut of simple, shallow pop songs to the Billboard Hot 100 every year. And it is completely reasonable to consider the potential sales of a single before its release; in fact, it would be irresponsible not to do so. But the repeated mistake lies in the expectations for the average listener. Artists and labels and radio station directors too often assume that an explicitly personal and intelligent heartbreak ballad wouldn't appeal to the masses. Thus radio is flooded with the catchy, the easy, the fun. Adele, however, is the game changer. The 5x platinum certification of "Someone Like You" in the U.S. proved the potential of the average commuter to appreciate piercing, poignant lyrics accompanied by only a simple piano melody during drive time. The shallow songs need not be banned—"Call Me Maybe" and "Watch Me (Whip/Nae Nae)" are good songs in their own right—but the percentage of Carly Rae Jepsen vs. Adele on radio should be reversed.
Adele is proving radio wrong once again with her newest single "Hello." The song just reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100 faster than any song in the last 22 years. At the end of the day, Adele is a lyricist and a musician, and she has yet to mute those qualities for even a single track. So when she chooses which album cuts will become singles, there is nothing but rich material in her repertoire. And other excellent songs have been wildly successful in recent years as well; when Sara Bareilles released "Brave" and when Ed Sheeran released "Don't" the same concept was proven. It could have happened with Taylor Swift's "All Too Well," which has a bridge that's been unanimously deemed the best thing she's ever written and released, but the song was tucked away and lived only as an album cut. Its radio play very well may have reminded the public that she was a songwriter back in 2013 when the media seemed to completely forget that essential fact.
According to Adele's "Hello" (and it's safe to assume the rest of her album will support this), radio is in fact a place for our best songs. The pessimistic belief that a song automatically loses some merit once shared with a wider public is antiquated and flawed. In a music industry where album sales are declining, the stark contrast between the types of songs written to be singles and the types of songs written to be album cuts needs to fade. Most great content will not fail to be recognized if we give it the opportunity to be. But if we are too afraid to release our favorite songs on a medium designed specifically for that, then we may as well rid ourselves of radio altogether. We mustn't expect the worst from pop music lovers.
So, carry on, Adele, and continue to remind us that we underestimate the average commuter. And use your commercial success to prove us all wrong.