Summer of 2011—I went to the beach for the first time. Among my first time swimming in the ocean, trying new seafood, and eating peach cobbler with fresh South Carolina peaches, I discovered a new musical front. That February Adele had released her second album, 21, in North America. By summer, her singles Rolling in the Deep, Set Fire to the Rain, and Someone Like You dominated the radio.
It was the first time I had heard bluesy, soulful ballads. I had never heard a voice as powerful as Adele’s. The tracks were piano-driven and possessed a depth of sound that other pop songs lacked. The imagery was vivid. At the age of nine, the lyrics created an emotional reaction within me whereby I became a woman so scorned by love that I could “set fire to the rain.”
I was hooked immediately.
By the end of that summer, I knew every word to her singles. I made a trip to Walmart to purchase the album on CD, and it played on loop from my round, blue radio until I had learned the words to every song on the album. I sang along loudly—and often out of key—to my parents’ misfortune. As a child who loved music and dreamed of making a career out of it, I resolved to replicate Adele’s vocal abilities and lyrical persuasion.
When I started middle school, I became engrossed in pop punk and emo music. I abandoned the women vocalists who had inspired me until that point—Adele, Sarah Bareilles, and Kelly Clarkson—in favor of a male-dominated genre. I swapped out their CDs for hand me down Foo Fighters, Green Day, and My Chemical Romance albums.
My shame for my past musical inspirations smouldered inside me as I dove deeper into a genre that better resonated with the emotional nature of an adolescent.
Present-day, I cringe as I remember my ventures into a Hot Topic–ified persona. I had rejected pop music in favor of what I thought made me appear “cooler” or “edgier.” It turns out, it was a phase. I now feel remorse for smothering the love for those female pop singers. I regret convincing myself that what I listened to defined my personality or made me better than anyone.
As a peace offering to my younger self, I attempted to reignite my past love with Adele’s recent release, 30.
The album’s single, Easy On Me, offered promise. It was repetitive, but it was simple: a stripped-back, piano ballad that reminded me of the tracks that first caught my attention. The album acts as a raw, diaristic release from the emotional weight of Adele’s divorce. She delivers a more vulnerable side of herself.
While heartbreak fuels many Adele tracks, 30 feels different. Songs like “Someone Like You” make listeners feel sorry for anyone who dares to break Adele’s heart. She stays reserved with new tracks like My Little Love, where listeners instead feel sorry for Adele. Instead of a soundtrack to make you feel like the main character going through a breakup, 30 acts a soundtrack for Adele’s own experiences. It is more personal and “less relatable.”
She also practices more vocal control. Instead of belting melodies that match the intensity of a heartbreak, she gracefully glides through songs with the maturity of someone who has reached the acceptance stage of grief.
I commend Adele for the courage it took to write and release the songs on 30, but it failed to excite my love for music like 21 did. Instead of wanting to sing along and embody what she created with the album, I found myself wanting to skip through slower, less dynamic tracks, such as Woman Like Me.
It was unfair of me to expect the album to hit with the power of 21; both Adele and myself are in completely different times of our lives than we were 10 years ago. We’ve both grown and changed as people. But I’ve realized that, even if I didn’t grow alongside Adele’s music, I can still return to the tracks that deepened my love for music in the first place.
I don’t need to love everything she puts out in order to love the person who first fell for 21. I can look to my past without shame while looking to my future excited for change.
Maybe we always feel a little shame for what we loved in the past because we know that we’re different now. Maybe, as we grow, we’ll always experience the cyclical embarrassment for who we were and what we loved five years ago.
But we don’t have to.
The summer of 2021 looked drastically different from the summer of 2011, but each evokes memories that I can hold onto for years to come. Over 10 years later, I choose to practice patience and understanding for my younger self.
As for what I loved five years ago… I’m working on it.