Had I been alone at the time I discovered it, I might have turned off Adele’s “Hello” after the first refrain. I might have slammed my laptop shut, too frightened to hear more, and turned on my iPod to try to clear my head with shallower tunes—like rinsing a bad taste from my mouth. I might have stopped listening sooner, but I didn’t. I heard every word from start to finish and I wish I hadn’t.
But the thing is, I like the song. I was happy to be reunited with Adele’s rich voice and the echo of her piano. I like the melody and the way the lyrics burst forth from the songstress’s plump, shiny lips.
Hello from the other side
I must’ve called a thousand times
To tell you I’m sorry for everything that I’ve done
But when I call you never seem to be home
Hello from the outside
At least I can say that I’ve tried
To tell you I’m sorry for breaking your heart
But it don’t matter, it clearly doesn’t tear you apart
I liked what I heard, but hated what I felt. The song is beautiful, but too real.
That’s the point of a good song, isn’t it? To cut you deep and pluck at your heartstrings, to remind you of your own relationships and make you feel like the song was written for you, to elevate your misery into a tragic or dramatic or humorous work of art. Hell, take your pick from Taylor Swift songs and you’re bound to find something you can relate to. A bad ex? Check. Heartbreak? Check. Crashed a wedding? Check. Female empowerment? Best friends? Haters? Check, check and check.
So often we try to fit ourselves into that mold because we want the artist to be speaking to us. She mentioned another woman and, no, there was no other woman in your relationship, but he was really into his dogs and that’s close enough, right? A two-year relationship caused her heartbreak and, no, yours was only six months but it might as well have been two years, so does that work? She sang about a ballgown or prince charming or fireworks and you own a sundress, a copy of “Grimm’s Fairytales,” and you once burned your finger on a cigarette lighter so clearly this song is about you, isn’t it?
Maybe we try to wriggle our way into these otherwise impersonal songs because we want someone else to make sense of our pain. We, the heartbroken, we’re too beaten down to write melodies or poetry. We can’t turn a 40-character text into a four-minute track or even find the words that rhyme with “It’s not you, it’s me.” Or maybe we turn to these singers and their works because the very thought of someone as untouchable as Adele addressing our heartbreaks makes them a little less real.
But what if she nails it? What if every lyric in her song wraps around your brain and makes a beeline for your heart? What if the video more than 200,000,000 people are watching makes you swallow the lump in your throat and recommend something else to listen to. What’s that like?
I could tell you.
It’s feeling disempowered and phony because someone else is writing your love story, a story you spent years piecing together from high school notes, inside jokes, his T-shirts, text messages, and long-distance phone calls.
It’s being reminded of the “thousand times” you tried to apologize and were only met with silence, annoyance, indifference and no one’s applauding you for trying.
It’s knowing that the “differences” and “million miles” between you and someone you once considered your best friend aren’t just in your imagination.
It’s realizing that you’re so far away from home, but he’s still in “that town where nothing ever happened” and maybe he’ll never leave.
It’s being told that when he handed back the last of your belongings and you opened the box with trembling hands and watery eyes, you’d never see him again.
It’s wishing you could blast these lyrics from the open window of your friend’s car on your way to the mall or dinner or out for drinks without feeling a thing and knowing there are some girls who can. While others giggle through a drunken rendition of “Hello” at a karaoke bar, you pray it doesn’t come on the radio when your little brother, excitedly carrying his new license, asks if he can drive you around town.
Or maybe it’s just throwing your hands up in defeat because you thought you’d seen it all with “Someone Like You” until Adele came back in full force.