Adele in the Attic

It’s 2011. Adele is finally granted a visa to visit America:

It’s fascinating watching an artist grow. Four years earlier, and just one year after graduating from the BRIT School for Performing Arts and Technology, Adele was scooped up by Pete Townshend and Rachel Fuller for their In the Attic Road Show :

Adele is a perfect reminder that the way you sound when you speak is not necessarily the way you sound when you sing. When she speaks, Adele is pure Sarf London. When she sings, she isn’t.

She stays true to herself. Adele’s singing voice is Adele’s voice, and recognisably so. She’s true to herself and true to what her songs need: varying vowel depth and width that isn’t a standard part of the South London spoken accent.  So, for the sake of the emotion her words need to carry, she gives her vowels plenty of space all round when she sings.

Even singers like Alex Turner of the Arctic Monkeys, famous for keeping his Sheffield accent when he sings, bends and stretches into a heightened, languorous version of his voice to suit the music:

Ray BLK sounds like this when she speaks. When she sings, she smooths and lengthens her vowels, to suit the melancholy pride of her song My Hood:

Why does it matter? Because all the best singers shape their English to suit their song. If you speak English as a second/third language, make a choice. You can choose to sing as you speak, or you can choose to expand and contract, round and sharpen your vowels as the emotion and meaning of the song requires. It’s up to you, but if you don’t suit your English to the song, your words will be too short or too neat and tidy. They won’t fit the mood and they won’t fit the music.

Always shape the sounds of English in the service of the song. Never just roll out the standard shapes you learnt in school. Unless you went to the BRIT school.

Here’s Adele again. No visa problems in 2015:

© Sing Better English 2018


8 thoughts on “Adele in the Attic”

  1. I agree with Jimmy Kimmel that she is a once-in-a-generation artist — but your post has helped me better appreciate why. Thank you for this wonderful compilation of work by an artist I only *thought* I knew! Fingers crossed for no more visa problems. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. She’s come such a long way in a very short length of time, hasn’t she? It must have felt like a ride on Space Mountain. I wonder where she would have been if she hadn’t had her heart broken so meanly. Imagine if she’d had amicable break ups, or married her very first love and lived happily ever after. I wonder where her songwriting would have taken her then.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Sometimes great pain makes great art, sadly … but now you do have me wondering how her work would have differed in a kinder, more just world. You are so great at considering things from perspectives no one else thinks of!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. I imagine she would have had a longer lead-up to full blown, Albert Hall-filling career. Don’t know if you’ve seen this interview with The Guardian from back in 2009 when she talks about how hard it was to cope with being so famous so suddenly, and how she went a bit ‘doolally’ with it all:

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      3. I hadn’t seen that video — but thank you so much for answering a question I’d been pondering since I first read your post (“How does Adele feel about her sudden fame?”). It’s something every young person who wishes to be famous should watch.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. There’s a myth that fame = happiness, isn’t there? That fame is the end point, the top of the mountain. But sudden fame, or continuous, relentless fame, is like being rushed to the top of Everest without any oxygen and left there, exposed.

        And the other side of it is the myth that famous people, especially if fame has brought them wealth, have ‘no right’ to complain or even to express discomfort at the sudden, extreme attention and expectation that fame carries with it. There’s a TV presenter here in the UK, Anthony McPartlin, who is famous as a presenter, and as half of Ant & Dec. He’s grown up in the spotlight. In 2015 he was given Tramadol as a pain killer after a knee operation and the opioid nightmare began. Background depression and a liking for alcohol mixed with the stress of being perpetually in the public eye and he began to have hallucinations. He booked himself into a rehab centre, but then was found guilty of drunk driving and has now stepped away from TV work. A great deal of the reaction to his problems was of the ‘how can he let himself get into that state when he’s so rich and could buy help?’ or ‘how hard can it be to go on the telly? I work hard every single day and I’m not addicted to opioids.’

        The famous life looks so easy and shiny and special. We don’t see the hours when the spotlight is turned off and the musician is back in their lonely hotel room, far from home, friends and family. Or when the TV presenter is off stage, driving for hours to visit ageing parents or racked with guilt for missing yet another school sports day.

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      5. What a sad story that is about Anthony McPartlin. My heart goes out to him — both for the private hell he must endure, and for the public who judge him so harshly. And your third paragraph is spot-on! I used to know a semi-famous musician and got to see a few glimpses of life backstage. It was surprisingly lonely, in spite of (or maybe because of) the people who surrounded him almost at all times. Notoriety robbed him of both privacy and self-determination, because there was always someone booking his next gig, managing his time, handing him outfits, etc etc. It looked almost like a form of imprisonment to me! So it’s easy to understand why people crack under the pressure, or rebel, or simply quit.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. Yes, it’s what I imagine being a member of the Royal Family to be like. I’ve seen a bit of it too and it was nothing like the special treatment and VIP everything that I’d imagined. It stopped feeling ‘special’ very quickly and became rather more like a relentless random mystery tour with places to be and deadlines to keep, whether you felt well or ill. And in the case of people I knew who toured America there’s the shock of the distances they had to cover, the gruelling journeys between gigs and the feeling that they never had a chance to really see anywhere because they were either travelling, soundchecking, performing or sleeping. I think people would chase fame with less enthusiasm if they actually knew what it was like on a day after day after day basis.

        I think it must feel more comfortable when fame builds slowly and is based on respect for your craft – though, saying that, Jarvis Cocker of Pulp had 12 years before fame found him, but when it finally found him, his ‘look’ exactly fitted one corner of the tabloid triad of Britpop bands so his fame was a rush of intense interest. In an interview 20 years later, after he’d run away to Paris, Jarvis said: “If you’re an inadequate person, you make this thing called a group to give you something in life that you’ve got some control over, a little bit of a fantasy to escape things. And then that thing becomes popular. So that very personal almost self-medicating thing you’ve invented gets taken way from you and becomes a product. And in some way, your personality and your funny clothes and your funny glasses also become a product. So you start feeling you’re part of some capitalist system. Something personal has been made into a commodity that is considered valuable. And I hated that.”

        Liked by 1 person

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