By Speaking Up For Kesha, Adele Reminds Us That She's So Much More Than A 'National Treasure'
The Debrief: She was calling out people in that very room with her - and risked her own career in the process
A common criticism of the Brits is that it's so establishment. It's on ITV, Ant and Dec are presenting, (their biggest gag being that Ant’s in a panto-style dress for a bit) the shortlist has overlooked all the chart successes of grime acts, and lo and behold, Adele gets four awards. Adele’s been painted a national treasure; a beautiful voice, a face like a Pre-Raphaelite muse and a gobby Norf London accent. Her songs are perfect to wail along to in a minicab at 3am in the pouring rain, she apologises for swearing and at the Tory party fundraiser, tickets to see her perform on her upcoming tour were auctioned off for £30,000.
But while it’s easy to slip into the feeling that Adele’s just run-of-the-mill post-Dido fodder, primed for Middle England to enjoy in their slippers, it’s so utterly important to remember the biggest thing she did tonight. Accepting her first award - maybe she didn’t realise it would be the first of many, or perhaps she just needed to get the message out there - her voice cracked, she welled up, held her award high and said: ‘I’d like to take this moment to publicly support Kesha.’
Some might have been waiting on tenterhooks for each female recording artist present at the Brits to speak out on the issue of Kesha’s label tying her into a contract with a man she alleges raped her. And others might be more heartened by the fact that Chris Martin, after wondering ‘um, who are the other ones?’ into his microphone while thanking all of Coldplay’s co-nominees apart from Years + Years, did a shoutout to all the refugees in the world. Well, turning anyone’s ordeal, be it a refugee’s or Kesha’s into a competition - either for rankings of importance or for public acknowledgment only makes new bad guys and victims to distract us from the real ones.
Awards shows have long been used by the rich and famous to give back, to thank the fans and then use their platform to cast light on a sad, sorry situation. But there’s no obligation to say anything interesting at all. Especially when, in the case of Adele, your employers - at least in America - are Columbia, an imprint of Sony, who just happen to be the very company that is currently embroiled in a series of legal actions against Kesha.
Adele wasn’t only speaking up for Kesha, who is now in a tricky situation where she can’t release any music because a judge has deemed her financial contact to Dr Luke more important than what Lena Dunham called ‘the human contract that says we will not hurt one another physically and emotionally.’ Adele was speaking up for the countless women across the world locked into situations where they are forced to live, work or co-parent with a harasser or abuser. And not just that, she was calling out people in that very room with her and risking her livelihood to do so. The Mirror reports the audience ‘gasped’ at what Adele said, and this is because the Brits isn’t just the pop stars, it’s the execs who sign them up, work with them, make money out of them and sometimes, much worse.
Adele did begin her comments by saying ‘I’d like to take a quick second to thank my management and my record label for embracing the fact I’m a woman and being encouraged by it’, and it’s important to note that Sony is a sprawling company with many different sub-sections of departments who’ve probably never met. And it's worth adding that Adele has a separate British label, an indie called XL, who she's stuck with for years (perched alongside The xx and FKA Twigs).
Staying silent is totally an option - because why should every single Tom Dick and Harry (what’s the female version of that? because no male artist has been pressed to speak on this anywhere near as hard as any female artist has) have to speak up? Why should women be disproportionately risking their careers and progress and working relationships to talk about the awful actions of a man and his heavies?
If we’re talking responsibility, it’s a producer’s responsibility to not attack the colleague they’re working with and every record company’s responsibility to not destroy a woman’s career because she’s speaking out. There’s no onus or requirement for any pop star to be political. They’re just here to sing and dance, not try to change the world, even the strange one they live in. But when they do, there’s something so utterly powerful in it. It’s hard to imagine a situation where a woman who’s sold 30 million albums has anywhere left to punch up. But just like Beyoncé has legions to say on Black Lives Matter, and risked ire with her Superbowl performance, Adele has risked popularity and stability from within her own ranks by getting political. Joking that she was going to trip up over her dress was such an utter British establishment line you could expect it from a mumbling Hugh Grant in a Richard Curtis film. But Adele didn’t trip up. She stood up.
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