On Friday, Adele released her long-awaited fourth studio album, 30. Is it the album of the year? Does it work as a divorce album? What will 35 sound like? Our staff discusses.
1. What is your tweet-length review of 30?
love the new Adele album but somehow coming across her last name for the literal first time in my life has shaken me even more pic.twitter.com/bNGKfZ0pNq— Kate Halliwell (@katehalliwell) November 19, 2021
Alyssa Bereznak: A year’s worth of therapy elegantly condensed into a single emotional 58-minute session. Tears included.
Jonathan Bartlett: If you are that good you could read the phone book and still captivate an audience. It doesn’t matter what she says, but she sure says a lot, rather it’s how she says it. 30 lives up to every bar she has ever set for herself.
Lani Renaldo: Adele is tired. Can we all just be tired? She’s sipping her wine and doing her best. In a way, I would say that she has nailed being a white woman at 30. Isn’t that all we can ask for?
Katie Baker: [The handshake meme, with Judy Garland on one side and Eagle-Eye Cherry on the other.]
Justin Charity: Adele thinks she’s Rick Ross.
Adele is a top two “get goosebumps whenever she sings” artist, and she ain’t 2— Kellen Becoats (@KellenBecoats) November 19, 2021
2. What’s your favorite song on 30?
Charity: “Woman Like Me.” It’s this very strangely diplomatic but exacting love song. She’s so menacing. Her voice doesn’t even have to get out of the chair on this one. “Are you crazy?” Jesus Christ.
Bereznak: “To Be Loved.”
Halliwell: “To Be Loved” is the most impressive, but I like “Oh My God” the best. Fun Adele is underrated!
Renaldo: “Oh My God.”
Baker: “Oh My God” (which is sandwiched between two of my other favorites in “Cry Your Heart Out” and “Can I Get It”).
Bartlett: “To Be Loved.”
Becoats: “Oh My God.” I love the Afrobeat inspiration—if Adele ever got on a song with Burna Boy or WizKid, I might disappear into the ether—and the general vibes of the song. This is the song I can see myself most likely sliding on a playlist after I spin 30 a few more times.
3. What’s your least favorite song?
Baker: I feel so rude saying this but: While I respect the sound of “My Little Love” and I’m all for a good cry, it’s just a leeeetle too raw for me to really want to listen to again and again. I’ve got enough “Mummy’s been having a lot of big feelings recently” in my daily life already. Also, while I’m here being honest, I guess I should admit that I also don’t love “To Be Loved.”
Renaldo: “Cry Your Heart Out.”
Bartlett: “My Little Love.” Only because I’m a new parent and this just rips at your emotions. It’s too stressful. I can’t listen again!
Charity: The first track, “Strangers by Nature,” made a bad impression on me personally. The instrumentation sounds a bit too reminiscent of a youth choir in its synthyness. No offense to youth choirs—but the album is called 30.
Bereznak: “My Little Love.” Not for musical reasons, mostly because I was overwhelmed by the rawness of those damn voice memos. I’m thankful, even humbled by her vulnerability. But three songs in, I felt a knee-jerk inclination to recite the “emotional capacity” copypasta.
Becoats: I’m really not trying to diss any part of this album but “Strangers by Nature” sounds like it was made for a Disney Classic Soundtrack and I wasn’t really rocking with it.
Halliwell: “Strangers by Nature” is a nice, dreamy little intro, but I don’t see myself revisiting outside the full album.
4. Best lyrics?
Becoats: “It’s about time that I face myself / All I do is bleed into someone else” from “To Be Loved.” The past 20-some months spent mostly inside and away from friends and loved ones gave me time to truly reflect on who I am and the shortcomings I’d been ignoring during my regular day-to-day life. So Adele summing up my feelings of discovery as opposed to just being a supporting actor in someone else’s story gets my vote here.
Bereznak: “When I was a child, every single thing could blow my mind / Soaking it all up for fun, but now I only soak up wine.”
Halliwell: “Hold on, let time be patient / You are still strong, let pain be gracious” (sob).
Bartlett: “I’ll stand still and let the storm pass by” in “To Be Loved.” A short, to-the-point statement of strength at the end of an emotional album in (IMHO) her best song.
Baker: “When I was a child, every single thing could blow my mind / Soaking it all up for fun, but now I only soak up wine.”
Charity: “Are you crazy?”
5. Does 30 feel like an album that can only be made by a 30-year-old (or a 32-year-old) Adele?
Baker: Never thought I’d be saying this, but aspects of 30 (the first song in particular, but also the lyrics about the difficulty of hooking up when you’re mad famous) remind me of Billie Eilish’s latest album?? Much to consider here …
Becoats: You always hear people say that you don’t really figure out who you are until about 30 or so, but I don’t know if I believe that. (Full disclosure: I’m 26 and have absolutely no idea who I’ll be in four years.) I tend to think it’s less about age and more about where you are in life. And Adele seems so much more comfortable where she is: career-wise, romantically, as a parent, etc. Is that a feature of her age or just finding a sweet spot in her life that wasn’t available to her before? I don’t want to speak for her but I’m happy that she seems to be in a better place than when we heard her on 25.
Bartlett: The album feels timeless. Heartache, self-reflection, and family matters live on forever.
Halliwell: Absolutely. She’s sad and tired in a way we’ve never heard from her, but she’s also having more fun than ever before. (I’m not 30 yet, but I assume this is pretty much how it goes.)
Bereznak: Yes. Speaking from experience, surviving your 30s means loosening your grasp on absolute, black-and-white thinking that casts you as the victim and the person who broke your heart as the villain. This album is humming with graceful wisdom and an acceptance of the uncontrollable. It trades the emotional vividness of a bitter kiss-off for the emotional depth of a reflective ballad.
6. How does this album work as Adele’s quote-unquote “divorce record”?
Halliwell: It’s a very thorough vent sesh, and it’s an honor and a privilege to be invited.
Bereznak: As on Kacey Musgraves’s ‘Star-crossed,’ the fantastical expectation that one’s favorite female pop star will torch their ex-husband can sometimes end in a collective deflation. If my ’90s rom-com education has taught me anything, simplifying the idea of divorce makes it more palatable. Which is why it’s all the more brave when an artist resists that trope, and gets tender and mushy and self-reflective. It works as a divorce record, but it probably won’t play well in a women’s-empowerment-themed Peloton class.
Becoats: I don’t see why we have to make it a thing. I mean, I do for the #discourse but she seems to have moved on and have a healthy enough relationship with Simon, so why not leave it alone? Rebrand 30 as a “finding yourself” album and I’m all in, but as a “divorce” record, I think it’d be viewed as pretty mild, the many stories proclaiming that 30 will “hit children of divorce hard” notwithstanding. She doesn’t outright slam her ex; she just states that she wasn’t happy, wasn’t herself, and needed a change. I’m glad she got it.
Baker: People are calling it her divorce record but as Adele herself has explained, it’s really her Saturn return record, which is far more powerful!
Renaldo: I think this album is maybe more of an apology record to her son, tbh. In her promotion, she definitely talked about her divorce, but I don’t feel like she really captured that in this album. It really felt more like a general heartbreak/break-up record.
Bartlett: If you didn’t know her personal story, I don’t think those themes will hit you over the head. The lyrics remain vague enough that the listener can project their own experience onto them.
7. Speaking of which: How much does what you know about Adele’s personal life affect your enjoyment of 30?
Bartlett: However—it definitely helps! Like reading the book before watching a TV show interpretation.
Baker: I don’t really know anything about Adele’s personal life, which is how I just found myself REELING about 20 minutes ago while perusing a recent profile and getting hit with the news that her new boyf is … RICH PAUL????????????????!
Halliwell: Not much, honestly—it’s not like she’s dropping in Easter eggs and sneaky references like Taylor Swift. I don’t need to know all the details of her relationship to feel for her and feel with her!
Renaldo: I honestly believe knowing what we do and her being so open about this chapter in her life has helped the experience rather than tarnish it. Again, I don’t feel like she ever confronted her divorce head-on in the record, so being able to pull from her stories, contextually, made the listening experience a bit more enjoyable.
Bereznak: This is rare for me, but I knew virtually nothing and I still enjoyed it. Not every album needs an extended universe of paparazzi pics as a road map!
Becoats: Outside of the fact that I wanted her to mention Rich Paul because their relationship still perplexes me? Not much. We live in an age when everybody’s business is in the streets, and you typically hear about celebrity gossip whether you want to or not (see: the Taylor Swift–Jake Gyllenhaal discourse last week that was fun until it was all anyone wanted to talk about). Adele seems to have found solace in lifting, in sobriety, in spending time with Angelo and focusing on herself. I’m ecstatic for her, and no odd photos or constant chatter about her love life were going to affect how I consumed 30.
Charity: Again, I’ll note, the album is called 30. We are too old to be psychoanalyzing and fanfic-ing this woman to death. Her recent summit with Oprah notwithstanding, Adele is a mercifully elusive celebrity and I prefer to keep it that way.
8. In a recent Vogue profile, Adele said she didn’t want to make another “Hello.” Does that hurt or help the record?
Bereznak: God I love the drama of “Hello,” and I’d be lying if I didn’t say I missed it on this album. But I cried a lot more listening to this one, which makes me think she’s still doing her job pretty well.
Becoats: I respect any artist trying to diversify their portfolio. While talking with Oprah during their Adele One Night Only special on CBS, Winfrey—who cringingly sang the greeting to Adele during their first interview segment, to which Adele responded, “I don’t really say ‘Hello’ anymore. … It’s like a joke”—commented on how the 15- time Grammy-winning artist had opened her private show with her biggest hit. “I’m always going to have to start with ‘Hello.’ It’d be a bit weird if it was like halfway through a set,” Adele said laughing. It’d be wild to have one song feel like it defines you as an artist, and I respect the hell out of Adele’s desire to get away from that, flex on us, and say that she’s more than “Hello,” even if it means fewer bangers on the album.
Bartlett: Adele has the power of time on her side. “Hello” was six years ago? No expectation for her to remain in that lane.
Baker: First of all, that Vogue article is hilarious! “‘Whispering Angel’ turned me into a barking dog. It did not make me whisper.” Second of all, while I don’t think it actively harms the record, I am pro-Hellocore at all costs and hope she reconsiders this (humblebrag of a) stance.
Halliwell: I would have welcomed another huge radio hit like “Hello,” but I think several songs on this album have the potential to go the distance. Never underestimate Adele!
9. Throughout 30, Adele and her collaborators play with different styles of music (e.g., Afrobeat on “Oh My God,” soul and reggae on “Cry Your Heart Out,” everything going on “Can I Get It”). What works and what doesn’t?
Baker: Those are my favorite songs on the album, so I guess it’s working!
Halliwell: I liked the more experimental songs on the album! We all need time to emotionally recover—get up and grab some tissues, maybe refill our wine glasses.
Bartlett: This is the part that I’m less a fan of, but after a second listen I find myself less annoyed with it. For my money, ultimately, give me Adele, a mic, and a piano and I’m good.
Becoats: Honestly, I enjoyed most of it. The only thing I really didn’t enjoy was feeling like I was listening to the Peter Pan soundtrack whenever “Strangers by Nature” came on.
10. Where will Adele be at by the time she makes 35?
Becoats: Hopefully in a more secure and happy place romantically and a Halsey-esque staple sitting next to Rich Paul and Angelo at the Crypt. Also, please don’t take another long layoff, Adele, I always need more songs to (poorly) belt out in the shower.
Bartlett: Probably looking back and thinking she was way overthinking things … and hopefully happy about it.
Baker: [I will not make a Pete Davidson joke, I will not make a Pete Davidson joke.] In all seriousness, I read in one of the profiles that Adele has started to befriend the celebrities in her neighborhood, one of whom is Jennifer Lawrence, so I look forward to seeing how those very specific vibes get incorporated into her future work.
Halliwell: Hopefully happy, self-fulfilled, and still just as good at cranking out six-minute, soul-crushing ballads.