Let's hear it for the girls!
Published 06/09/2011 | 05:00
The charts are filled with female singers, but Adele goes one step further as she bids to win the Mercury Prize tonight
You know you've arrived as a pop star when an X Factor judge grumbles he's fed up hearing your music. Such was the honour bestowed on soul sensation Adele who last week managed to raise the ire of Take That frontman-turned-Simon Cowell wannabe Gary BarlowHis gripe? Every second X Factor hopeful was arriving at auditions bashing out an Adele cover.
"This year has been all Adele -- and we're sick of Adele," said the usually amiable Barlow.
Barlow might be bored with Adele but it would seem he's a minority of one.
Tonight, the 23-year-old Londoner with the skyscraper voice will find out whether she is the winner the Mercury Music Prize, the UK's prestigious album of the year award.
Should she get the nod -- and at 6/1 she is by no means a shoo-in -- it would crown an incredible year for an artist whose path to superstardom has been all the more remarkable because she has refused to follow the conventional route.
At a time when even mega acts such as U2 and REM are struggling to sell albums, it is no exaggeration to describe Adele -- who is also the cover star of the next issue of British Vogue -- as a phenomenon.
With little advance publicity, her second record 21 is on course to become the year's biggest seller, having shifted an astonishing eight million copies worldwide, including an impressive 25,000 units in Ireland.
In the US it has created history, having stayed at number one for 12 consecutive weeks and then returning to the number one spot on another six occasions.
What's the secret of her success? Setting aside her catchy soul sound, Adele's major calling card is no doubt her claim to authenticity.
In the era of X Factor, Fade Street and Lady Gaga going around dressed as a man, this has proved enormously attractive. Sick of synthetic entertainment, the public has rallied around Adele and her perceived 'realness'.
"Adele appeals to people's more natural sensibilities. In a pop world where artists are heavily manufactured to look and sound perfect, Adele has a far less robotic look and sound, which to many represents something far more relatable," says Pete Jarrett, music editor of the British recording industry digest Record of the Day.
"She's managed to make all the right key TV appearances to keep her profile up without ever becoming annoying like so many others."
"It has to be the voice," adds 2FM presenter Larry Gogan. "While some artists depend mostly on personality or gimmicks, like Lady Gaga with her meat dress, Adele just has to open her mouth and has you spellbound. She doesn't need anything else."
A straight-talking London girl from the none-too-salubrious suburb of Croydon, in person she is down to earth and even a bit shy.
Not even their biggest fans would make the same claim of Lady Gaga, Rihanna or Katy Perry. Those artists may as well have come from another planet. Adele looks as if she might live at the end of the street.
In fact, she was raised in Tottenham by a single mother. As a child she adored the Spice Girls and had a life-changing moment when she saw Pink perform at Brixton Academy when she was 14.
Shortly afterwards, she enrolled in the BRIT school, a hot-house for up-and-coming UK talent whose other alumni include Amy Winehouse and dance singer Katy B, one of her rivals for the Mercury tonight.
A sort of real-life version of the Fame academy, at the BRIT school her talent was obvious.
The day she graduated, record labels were practically queuing up outside and she immediately signed a deal, though tellingly she turned down all of the majors in favour of an independent London label.
She has played a canny game ever since, refusing to jump through the hoops pop stars are expected to. This has won her the respect of her audience, as well as reinforcing the perception that she isn't the puppet of some cynical record label. For instance, she refuses to allow her music to be used in adverts.
"I think it's shameful when you sell out," she says. "It depends what kind of artist you want to be but I don't want my name anywhere near another brand."
She has only given a handful of interviews and refrains from discussing the heartache that informed 21 (the record chronicles the end of her first serious relationship).
"I don't want to be in everyone's face. I'm a big music fan and I get really pissed off when it gets like that."
Even more unusually she refuses to perform at music festivals. Feeling her smoky, intimate music would lose some of its resonance in a big muddy field, Adele has turned down every festival request that has come her way.
"The thought of an audience that big frightens the life out of me. I don't think the music would work either. It's all too slow."
This isn't to suggest she's never put a foot wrong. In Britain, she raised a rumpus over the summer by complaining about the tax she had to pay by dint of her success.
Suddenly she looked like just another moaning millionaire. "I'm mortified to have to pay 50pc! I can't use public transport any more. Trains are always late, most state schools are shit, and I've gotta give you, like, four million quid -- are you having a laugh? When I got my tax bill in from [the album] 19, I was ready to go and buy a gun and randomly open fire."
The temptation is to regard Adele as a one-off, but it would be more accurate to see her as part of a wider trend in music, one that sees women taking over.
Nowhere is this more pronounced than in Ireland. Last month the album chart had the distinction of having just one non-female entry (a Thin Lizzy greatest hits) in the top 10.
The remaining places were taken by Adele, Amy Winehouse, Imelda May (twice), Rihanna, Beyoncé and Lady Gaga.
Plus there has been an upsurge in home-grown talent, including the aforementioned May and singers such as Cathy Davey and Lisa Hannigan (see panel).
For the first time in the history of pop it's a woman's world. Regardless of whether or not Adele wins tonight, that is a situation that is unlikely to change in the short term.