On this Valentines day, here is a short meditation on dealing with relational destruction. Clearly I’m a cheery one. Actually, this is provoked by my annoyance with the recent ubiquity of Adele’s song, which I find insidious. Considering that Saint Valentine was martyred––a witness to the truth––I think he would agree with the need for honesty. Especially on a day that is his namesake.
If you haven’t heard, Adele did quite well at the Grammy’s a few nights back. She has a very good voice, and I’m sure a good human being, more or less. However, her song, “Someone Like You” is disturbingly dysfunctional:
Of course such an observation of dysfunction in pop music is nothing new. Indeed, codependency is one of the major pathologies of pop music today (to call it a theme would give pop music too much credit), but here we also have wires crossed in another way: the sublime is beauty; chaos and pain is now what is beautiful; its concept of fittingness is dysfunction.
The video exudes ‘classy’: set in Paris (which, by the way, is a city that I love, and I am particularly fond of the Latin quarter); black and white; Adele appearing rather chic; and a soulful sound to the song, if not haunting. Thus by most standards the video’s appearance of aesthetics, coupled with the strong, intimate voice, qualifies as beautiful. It depicts a ‘classy,’ exposed heart that pulls on the audience’s heart strings, and this somehow passes for beautiful. Perhaps the song and video are pretty, but they are not beautiful.
Why? This is ultimately an attempt to transcend a destructively, tragic memory of a failed relationship by aiming to relive what she will not let go. Instead of growing beyond the flaws that proved fatal for the relationship, Adele sings about finding someone like the person she refuses to truly get over it. The refusal to make the healthy move results in the warping of one’s aesthetics. Rather than call the unhealthy what it is, which challenges the decision to remain unhealthy, Adele instead simply calls beautiful the memory of the tragic destruction. This, then, is yet another glorification of tragic dysfunction, but at the same time also gets the aesthetics horribly wrong to ensure that the challenge to make healthy steps is cast aside. In theological terms, it’s like a bad theology of the cross. It is certainly a living death that poisons her future by trying to make it like her past. In sum, the video distorts other transcendentals: it is not a good life and it warps the truth.
As a constructive response, I do not suggest a perfect song, but one that is certainly much more honest by its naming of “an addiction to a certain kind of sadness” (which Adele seems guilty of), the ability to allow for estrangement, and the inclusion of the second voice sung by Kimbra. Indeed, the the song and music video may qualify as beautiful. It is Gotye’s “Somebody I Used to Know”:
And, uh, happy Valentines day.
Update: I try to refrain from psycho-analyzing people, especially people I do not know. That is why the above is focused on the songs/videos rather than their personal lives. There is a development that may, however, pertain to future songs: Adele is taking the next five years off for love. I’m not sure what that truly entails, but I do wish her well.
Update again: The Daily Mail lied, er, was horribly wrong. Probably for advertising hits. Clearly they’re not so good at hacking phones anymore. No more updates.
About the Author
David Horstkoetter is a doctoral candidate in systematic theology at Marquette University. He completed his MA with Gary Dorrien at Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York. Horstkoetter’s interests include history, social ethics, and systematic theology. He also likes to take pictures and drink good beer.