By Jon Bream
Like Amy Winehouse a year ago, Adele is a young, big-haired, R&B-tinged British pop singer who’s a Grammy winner even though she’s hardly a household name in the States.
Unlike Winehouse, Adele phones on time. The oft-troubled Winehouse canceled four telephone interviews last year before we connected, but Adele nailed it the first time — calling last month from a boisterous bar in London where her songs were playing on the jukebox.
What stands out about Adele Laurie Blue Adkins, 20, are her big voice and even bigger personality. Though hyped as the next Winehouse, she came across more like the next Annie Lennox last summer during three minitours of the United States. She showed a luxurious, versatile and emotional voice that, at turns, also recalled American soul great Etta James and fellow Brits Alison Moyet and Lulu.
One of the highlights, of course, was “Chasing Pavements.” She said the dramatic, Burt Bacharach-like tune was inspired by a “boy who cheated on me and I found out, and I went to a club and punched him and I got thrown out.” Afterward, her friends found her walking outside and asked: “What are you doing? You’re not chasing anyone?” She said, “I was chasing pavements.”
She liked the phrase, went home and wrote a few chords, and a hit was hatched.
Adele’s debut disc, “19” — her age when she recorded it — is entirely about that boy. She’s called the music “heartbroke soul.”
“It’s a heartbreak record, and there are certainly elements of my music that are soul. I don’t think my genre is soul, but parts of my voice are,” she explained.
In tabloid-obsessed England, Adele is the kind of star who generates breathless press coverage, even without the kind of vices that made Winehouse notorious (she does have a two-pack-a-day cigarette habit, however). Most recently, she stirred a controversy for reportedly saying she doesn’t want a Grammy. She said she was misunderstood; she meant that she didn’t want her career to peak with her first record.
“I thought I was being really gracious with it, and the British media made it sound like I was being ungrateful,” she said. “I hate that about the media. Sometimes I think I ask for it because I’m so mouthy and opinionated.”
Adele has an outsized personality to match her proudly plus-size figure. The newly minted star has already made pronouncements that she has no interest in going into acting, starting a fashion line or writing an autobiography.
What is she like? “Funny, giving, lazy but motivated,” she offered. “Naive. Quiet when I’m not singing and stuff. Very shy. Domestic — I like cleaning — and I love a party.”