The Hope Behind "Hello"
Fifteen years ago, while most of us with iPods were navigating the Awkward that was high school, a few college kids and bored reprobates developed file-sharing software that made music free to the masses. Illegally so, but free nonetheless. The record industry ruled by reps and three-piece suits has been crippled ever since, anxiously avoiding its demise. All those high schoolers of yore have grown up and bolstered what used to be a quite fledgling independent industry. Social media built the bridge between artists and fans. Promotional protocol has all but been reduced to Twitter. Say what you will about their artistic integrity, but the last magnificent sales record that I remember belongs to *NSYNC's platinum-in-a-day, diamond-in-a-week No Strings Attached.
That was three months shy of being a '90s album.
Adele just plucked her head out of the sand after the several years-long public silence she entered once she finished shattering the de facto auto-tuned Top 40. It had been years since we'd heard a truly gifted 'big voice,' and all the ones we knew before had by then been reduced to abusive relationships and substance addictions.
So last month's release of "Hello," the first single off Adele's forthcoming 25, didn't only grab our attention because it is a great song, or was set to an accompanying short film managing to restore a shred of dignity to music videos. It also grabbed attention because it set the highest sales records since Napster.
Meaning this: the decline of the record industry hasn't been simply because of online accessibility. Steve Jobs successfully intervened years ago. Nor am I remotely concerned with creating art that sells—near as I can tell, the commodification of creativity was the first in the series of steps that sent us over the cliff to begin with. What Adele's latest achievement reminds us is this: Great art still matters.