Music

Adele’s ‘Hello’ Is Perfect For When You’re Stuck In A Pharmacy, But Not Much More

Every time a new song reaches No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, Shut Up And Listen To The Hits will examine that song, filtered through the perspective of admitted not-cool person Chris Morgan, who doesn’t listen to popular new music. Get off his lawn.

It has become apparent, in retrospect, that I picked an inauspicious time to begin the Shut Up And Listen To The Hits experience. The reasons are two-fold.

First: The song featured in the first edition of this column, “The Hills” by The Weeknd, proceeded to sit atop the charts for six weeks. That meant that I wrote a column, and then had to sit around for over a month before I could do it again. Not exactly the ideal way to build momentum.

In the interim, I have made an active effort to avoid hearing any pop music in order to… do better writing about pop music. Granted, the entire point of this column is that I have spent years passively avoiding pop music, but I never tried to excise it from my life. Now, however, I feel the need to cloister myself. What if I heard a pop song that then hit No. 1? That would run against the entire ethos of this column. I have a complicated, interesting life.

Second: “The Hills” is a terrible song that I despised. I came into this project with a vague concept of “pop music” in my head. I was hoping that I would find myself exposed to big, dumb, glammy music. That would be fine. But my reintroduction into what’s topping the charts was the odious music of The Weeknd. You remember that episode of The Simpsons, Lisa’s Sax?” At one point, kindergarten-aged Bart is really sad and draws a picture full of dark, alarming imagery. Marge takes it to Homer and is all like, “Look at what Bart drew.” And Homer takes it and doesn’t really look at it, but begins speaking effusively about it, because he’s got this idea in his head of what “child’s art” is, and how one is supposed to react to it. Then he actually looks at it and is filled with an immediate, implacable terror. That’s sort of what listening to “The Hills” was like for me.

I can put that behind me now, though. Adele’s “Hello” has risen to No. 1 on the charts. Before listening to this song, I had heard exactly one Adele song, because I saw Skyfall. I did once hear comedian Matt Besser, in the guise of Bjork, perform a parody of “Rolling in the Deep” that was, primarily, about masturbation. I don’t think that counts. I had a feeling this song would be topping the charts, though, because even though I don’t listen to pop music, I still write for a music website, so I saw the millions of articles we wrote about Adele’s first new song in years, and I saw the trillions of shares those pieces got (Editor’s note: numbers may not be entirely accurate). This time, I knew enough to not expect something big and dumb and poppy.

First, I get why people were doing all that Adele/Lionel Ritchie stuff. The way they both sing the word “hello” is eerily similar. Second, generally speaking, when writing a column like this it’s good to have a strong opinion. Strong opinions are the lifeblood of the industry. In the first rendition of this article, I lucked into having a strong opinion, because it turns out The Weeknd is a creep and I thought “The Hills” was sh*tty. When it comes to “Hello” by Adele… I feel kind of blasé about it. Well, that may be overly apathetic. It’s a perfectly adequate song. Does that sound any better?

It’s a pretty basic song. Adele is speaking to a former lover, or at least trying to. The song seems to indicate very clearly that her calls are going unanswered, she presumes because this gentleman is over her. Maybe the entire song is all one long phone message, or a series of phone messages, like that one episode of Seinfeld. Or Swingers. This is a perfectly acceptable subject for a song, handled completely professionally. There is a real sheen of well thought out professionalism on this song. I very much enjoy ‘60s girl-group music, with all its Wall of Sound perfectionism, so perhaps my real issue is that her sheen is too slick and not pretty enough for me.

All that being said, Adele’s voice is fantastic. The softer parts of the song are mediocre, just sort of meandering on. They don’t take full advantage of Adele’s vocal skills. Then, the big, bombastic choruses kick in. The sweeping instrumentation of those choruses is nice, too. Adele is the star, though, as it should be. “Hello” makes me feel that, somewhere in this wide world of ours, there is an Adele song I would really like. Maybe even a couple.

This is not that song, though. It just doesn’t grab me. It washed over me, more than anything else, but then it was gone. If I were in a pharmacy, and “Hello” popped on, I would hope I was near a speaker when the chorus kicked in, and I might linger in, you know, the cereal aisle or whatever while I enjoyed it. Then, it would be over, and that would be enough for me.

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