There’s exactly one moment in Adele’s “Hello” video that breaks the tension, really before it even gets started: Upon arriving at her country home, our heroine re-creates one of those banal “can you hear me now?” Verizon commercials that already feel like bygone relics. Naturally, she’s rocking a flip phone, like Cool Girls are wont to do. The device fails her. She’s over it — which, for Adele, is not all that surprising.
While other pop stars race to stay current, Adele takes her time on classic. This inclination defines her long-awaited 25 lead single (her first since 2012’s “Skyfall”) and its Xavier Dolan–directed, Tristan Wilds–featuring video, which flips between the present (teary-eyed pleading into rotary phones) and the past (playful dinners at home, fights in the rain). Through these all-time hallmarks of relationship nostalgia, “Hello” disregards the existence of social media and texting as a means of keeping tabs on former lovers. The song is, after all, a typically dramatic piano ballad about trying and failing to reach a brokenhearted ex on his home phone, its video one that vaguely yearns for now to be then. Is she using a flip phone still because he did years ago? Does she think that’s the trick to reaching him? How do phones even work?
Questions remain unanswered, but it’s certain that Adele is one of those millennials (I know, it sounds weird, she’s like the most mature-seeming millennial going) who would just prefer to pick up the phone instead of texting out a novella, wearily sending it out into the ether and praying the other person doesn’t misinterpret her tone. When he doesn’t respond, she’s not driving herself mad by creeping on this dude’s Twitter to see if he’s straight-up ignoring her or just busy (more likely: “Sorry, wasn’t looking at my phone,” hokay). She’s drinking tea and crying alone in the woods in fabulous outerwear — essentially, sadness with a little more dignity than the digitally neurotic set. Sure, she’s adamant — “I must have called a thousand times,” the song echoes, as the video shows Adele leaving what sounds to be a voice mail (girl, no, we don’t do that anymore). But there’s something kind of refreshing about the way “Hello,” specifically the song, disregards the way we communicate right now.
Adele wants to hit listeners deeply on an emotional plane, not casually relate to them in a hypertimely way. To that end, she’s aiming bigger than the real-time Zeitgeist. It’s one of the many ways she’s set herself apart from her emoji-abusing, hashtag-aping, Insta-flexing peers (even Beyoncé), but she does so in a way that, generally speaking, has enough modern taste to cut through the schmaltz. “Hello” crescendos nicely with the subtly current sound of airy beats after leading off with a classic pop strings/piano combo and a technically strong vocal performance. Overtly chasing a youth audience would not even make sense given Adele’s penchant for classic blue-eyed soul and Tapestry-style confessionals, though in glossing over the technological nuances of communication circa 2015, she’s made sure not to alienate the older audiences who helped make 21 one of the biggest-selling albums of all time. (After all, younger listeners alone can’t drive those miraculous kinds of sales these days.)
Essentially, Adele wants to have one of the biggest heartbreak songs of all time, not of this moment. (It’s the opposite of the pop-star game played by someone like Drake, though they apparently both agree that calling is the way to go.) While I don’t think “Hello” is chill-inducing enough to achieve the former, I appreciate her continuing to shift the pop-star modus operandi — and urging people to still use the damn phone!