When Adele Adkins went up on stage to collect her Grammy Award for Album of the Year, flanked by skinny-suited men -- all those invisible people who make a record happen -- she did what all winners are obliged to do and made a speech. A few lines in, her hands flapping around her tear-streaked face, after she'd thanked her mum, her record company and the man who signed her, she touched her nose and interrupted herself: "Ooh, I've got a bit of snot!" And then she let out her signature gut-powered cackle. The packed hall at the Staples Center in Los Angeles responded in kind, their laughter tinged with utter bafflement. You don't mention snot in your Album of the Year acceptance speech. You just don't do it. If you were Katy Perry, or Rihanna, or Beyoncé, or Lady Gaga, there is no way in any chamber of hell that you would mention an untoward biological function in front of the music industry elite and a television audience of 40 million.
On Grammy night, Perry and Rihanna and co were all primped and primed (Gaga, predictably, held a gold cane and had black netting glued to her face). These women are all supremely talented in their own ways (apart from Perry -- "Firework" is the norovirus of pop songs) but they are all, somehow, constructed. There's nothing necessarily untruthful about Rihanna's vampy schtick, Beyoncé's girl power or Gaga's loopy outfits, but these signature styles are like accessories, artfully assembled for performance, to sell tickets and records, to dress up and consolidate a brand.
Adele, by contrast, is what she is. People bang on about her being down to earth, but that's not quite it. Stars who are credited with being "down to earth" say things like, "Oh I really love going to the local supermarket with my old schoolfriends". It's just another look they're trying on. Adele just is. Exhibit A: on Graham Norton's show in May last year, she told a story about being on a US television show. When she went to the loo, she found herself in the cubicle next to Jennifer Aniston. "She was like, 'How are you, honey?' and . . . I said, 'I'm fine thank you, Rachel.'" She hooted with mortification. "And then I actually heard Jennifer Aniston's piss come out!" You could list the ways Adele is a formidable singer, but somehow it's the fact that she can perch on a chat-show sofa and talk about A-list urine that makes her great.