As Adele steers through a South London high street in her four-door Mini Cooper, with her toddler’s vacant car seat in back and the remains of a kale, cucumber and almond-milk concoction in the cup holder, a question occurs to her. “What’s been going on in the world of music?” she asks, in all sincerity. “I feel out of the loop!”
The only possible response is way too easy: Well, there’s this one album the entire industry is waiting for…
“Oh, fuck off!” Adele says, giving me a gentle shove and letting loose the charmingly untamed laugh — an ascending cascade of forceful, cartoonish “ha‘s” — that inspired a YouTube supercut called “The Adele Cackle.”
“Oh, my God, imagine,” she continues, green eyes widening. “I wish! I feel like I might be a year too late.” It’s as if her last album, 2011’s 21, hadn’t sold a miraculous 31 million copies worldwide in an era when no one buys music, as if it hadn’t sparked the adoration of peers from Beyoncé to Aretha, as if it hadn’t won every conceivable award short of a Nobel Peace Prize.
“But genuinely,” she says, “I’ve lost touch with music. Not, like, all music” — she’s a fan of FKA Twigs, loves Alabama Shakes, snuck into the crowd at Glastonbury to see Kanye — “but I feel like I don’t know what’s going on in the charts and in popular culture.” She laughs again. “I’ve not lost touch with, like, reality. Just with what’s current.” Her Cockney accent is softening lately, but she still pronounces “with” like it ends with a “v.”
She’s driving under a sky that is gray and dismal even by the standards of early October London afternoons. Rain is coming, threatening Adele’s plans to take her three-year-old son, Angelo, to the zoo later. No one in the passing vehicles recognizes her. They never do, not in this car. “Maybe if I went out in full, done-up, hair-and-makeup drag,” she says. “Which it is: borderline drag! I’m not brave enough to do it.” Instead, she’s dressed like a grad student who barely got up in time for class, in a drapey blue-black sweater made of some hemplike fabric — it could almost be from Kanye’s dystopian fashion collection — over black leggings and white low-top Converse. Her golden hair is gathered in a loose bun, and she’s wearing twin hoop earrings in each ear. Her makeup is minimal, and though she claims to be developing a wrinkle or two, she looks strikingly young, with a clotted-cream complexion worthy of the cosmetics endorsements she’s turned down.