…sullivan’s music (well most of it), but not her voice. Let me explain.
Adele, after a four year hiatus, is releasing her highly anticipated third studio album, “25,” on November 20th. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t wake up at 5am to hear “Hello” and proceeded to replay it at least a hundred times that day; or that I’m not religiously counting down the days until the release of her new record while alternating between “19” and “21” on my Spotify playlist. In short, I love Adele, but my excitement was quickly subdued by the widespread criticism by Black Twitter of Adele’s return.
After reading these tweets and an article from HelloBeautiful on why Adele outsells your favorite black singers, like Jazmine Sullivan, I was really in deep conflict because… While I’ve fallen in love with Adele, in contrast, I, too, do not enjoy Jazmine Sullivan’s music. It’s not just “Reality Show,” her newest album out, but all of her previous records just don’t seem to touch me in the same way the sound of her vocals do. Jazmine Sullivan’s voice alone is out of this world and songs like “In Love With Another Man” and “Forever Doesn’t Last” still bring me to tears because of the power and soul in her voice. It’s her voice that has always brought me back to her, but her collection of music, in my opinion is only.. lackluster.
So what does it mean for me to ride off Jazmine while praising Adele? Am I perpetuating the racism in the music industry by supporting Adele? As a black queer man who supports black women, I needed to understand what was creating this conflict in myself. The only path towards an answer was through the music…. and after listening to Adele’s record then Jazmine Sullivan’s record, I think I’ve come to understand why.
- Expectations of Sounds —
Adele has created a distinct sound, it mirrors a very “90s ballad with a small flavor of pop” melody. For me, growing up listening to and loving balladeers such as Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston, when Adele came on the scene with that sound, I instantly fell in love. In contrast, Jazmine Sullivan’s sound seems to differ on every album. It doesn’t help that when I hear her voice that I imagine it accompanying a more contemporary ballad or jazz kind of sound. And, the songs that appeal to me from her collection are these ballads and jazz-influenced songs because when I hear those songs, I feel they complement her voice. However, I acknowledge this is a personal preference. In all fairness, Jazmine doesn’t have the production money to produce the quality of music that Adele’s team could produce. It already puts her at a disadvantage. [No shade, it’s just the truth]
- Relating to the Music —
Adele’s music is like water. It can form into anything that is containing, or listening to it. It is relatable to anyone. When I listen to “Hello,” I’m not thinking about how hard this phone conversation is for Adele; I’m thinking about how hard this phone conversation is for me. I become the person in the song. Her music lends for you to get transported into the song and experience it through your own life. In contrast, Jazmine Sullivan, at least in her newest record, is telling the stories of real women with distinctly different personalities in each song. “Reality Show” is about the lives of these different women and because it’s about them, I play a bystander when listening to her music. There is no access point for me to join in because the songs are about these women. I am thankful for their stories, but sometimes I want to join in on the experience as well. Being able to relate to these experiences is what makes music memorable.
However, this still leaves the question, vocally, is Adele better than Jazmine Sullivan? No. So, to answer my original question, am I perpetuating the racism? Yes, I am. At the core, the reason I am attracted to Adele’s music is because there is a level of hollowness to the lyrics and the sound. Adele’s music is safe. She sings of “safe heartbreak” and relatable love stories. While these songs are beautiful and identifiable, they are a far stretch from the racialized reality of the songs Jazmine creates. Adele’s pain could never match the pain of black women, which is so effortlessly evident in Jazmine’s voice. That soul and pain performed by Jazmine is sometimes uncomfortable and ain’t always pretty. I have to admit that the rawness of Jazmine’s sound and realness of her stories are not what I always want to hear, so I turn on Adele. My act of turning on Adele is affirming that I don’t always want to hear the reality of a black woman’s heartbreak and the black love story that ends in pain. Adele is a musical escape for black folks like me who want to laugh and cry over love but not laugh and cry over black love, it’s a complicated relationship with a racist America. Yet, it has me falling in love with Adele and out of love with Jazmine.
I look forward to Adele’s “25,” but until then I’ll give Jazmine Sullivan’s “Reality Show” another try. Maybe, my love for Jazmine is just somewhere lost in the lyrics.