celebrity

Adele, Lorde, Taylor and the rise of the reclusive pop star.

Adele's new single, 'Easy On Me', was always going to be a massive hit.

1. It's her first music in six years, 2. She's Adele, one of only a handful of artists that are guaranteed to pull huge numbers in a music industry dominated by streaming, and 3. In the years since her last album, 25, she's been through a divorce - and nobody does heartbreak ballads like her.

She could've released anything, and it would've caused hype. Such is the power of Adele.

All of this made reading Adele's recent Vogue profile all the more interesting; particularly where she reflected on her new single in the context of her biggest ever song: 'Hello'.

"There isn't a bombastic 'Hello'," she said, talking about what to expect from her fourth album, 30

"But I don't want another song like that. That song catapulted me in fame to another level that I don't want to happen again. I'm not saying I've got Hello's in my pocket. I was just conscious that I didn't want my story on this album to sound like that."

We would all love Adele to pump out 'Hello' after 'Hello', and if music was her only consideration, maybe she would. 

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In that same interview, Adele spoke about her love for Amy Winehouse and how terrified she was of going down a similar path.

"I got really famous right as Amy Winehouse died. And we watched her die right in front of our eyes," she told Vogue.

"It really offended me. I picked up the guitar because of Amy's first album. She means the most to me out of all artists. Because she was British. Because she was amazing. Because she was tortured. Because she was so funny. I'm not having these people I don't know take my legacy, my story away from me, and decide what I can leave behind or what I can take with me."

To avoid this, she became accustomed to staying out of the public eye for long periods of time.

"I thought, I'm just going to lock myself in a house. That's what I did. I was very reclusive. It paid off, I think. People are used to me being a recluse."

Image: Vogue/Instagram. 

There's a weird thing that happens when someone is in the public eye: we feel a sense of ownership over them, like we know or are entitled to all the details of their lives.

With musicians, especially those like Adele whose art is like a diary, this is even more pronounced. They are telling us intimate details in their songs, after all.

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It took Taylor Swift a number of years to realise this kind of public ownership wasn't what she wanted. There's that now infamous Swift quote, referencing her even more infamous 2016: "Nobody physically saw me for a year."

The 31-year-old was at the absolute height of her fame when she disappeared, spurred on by the #TaylorSwiftIsOverParty, which saw hundreds of thousands of people call her a liar and a 'snake', following a disagreement with Kanye West and Kim Kardashian.

There's another narrative here about the way people love to see a famous woman fall, but that's for another day. 

Since her return in 2017 with Reputation, Swift has been much more careful about what parts of her are available for public consumption. The daily catwalk-style photos of her leaving her New York apartment are gone. The squad has dispersed. We can count the publicly available photos of her and Joe Alwyn, her boyfriend-of-five-years, on our hands.

Watch: The Miss Americana trailer. Post continues below video.


Video via Netflix.

In 2020, Swift released Miss Americana - a documentary about her metamorphic 20s, from America's darling during 1989, to the fall of her reputation, to the private rebuilding of her identity.

Releasing a documentary about your life may seem like a contradiction in this story about how pop stars shun fame, but Miss Americana was a smart move. It gave the public the insight it desperately wanted, while also setting a new precedent.

Swift acknowledged that for years, she used to quantify her own self-worth by her ability to be loved by the general population. Then her mum, Andrea, was diagnosed with cancer, and she fell in love with a man who lived a much more low-key life.

Now, Swift's private life is now as private as it possibly can be when you're one of the most recognisable faces in the world. We know who she's dating, and we know from her music that she is happy. But on a day-to-day level, we no longer know where she is or who she is hanging out with, and for Swift, that has taken a load of pressure off.

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"I know the difference between making art and living your life like a reality star," Swift said in a 2019 interview with The Guardian. "And then even if it's hard for other people to grasp, my definition is really clear."

Image: Getty. There's plenty of blueprints for Swift to follow: Adele, of course, but also a notoriously private Beyoncé.

Many celebrities today are 'hyper online', giving us a front-row seat to whatever they're up to via social media. Beyoncé's Instagram is at first glance, one of them. There are photoshoots, and full-glam selfies.

But Beyoncé's feed is perfectly curated, maintaining her persona without actually giving much about her personal life away. 

Most of the time, she doesn't even write captions. She doesn't need to: she's Beyoncé. She's already a cultural force.

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For her, it's important to keep her work and home life separate, and, like Swift learned, let her art do the talking.

"Throughout my career, I've been intentional about setting boundaries between my stage persona and my personal life,” Beyoncé told Harper's Bazaar in August 2021.

"It can be easy to lose yourself very quickly in this industry. It takes your spirit and light, then spits you out... I've fought to protect my sanity and my privacy because the quality of my life depended on it. A lot of who I am is reserved for the people I love and trust. Those who don't know me and have never met me might interpret that as being closed off. Trust, the reason those folks don’t see certain things about me is because my Virgo arse does not want them to see it... It's not because it doesn't exist."

Lorde went even further, completely abandoning social media for much of her four-year 'disappearance'.

Much was said of her return to music earlier in 2021. The New Zealander released Solar Power, her first album since 2017's Melodrama.

By the sales and chart standards Lorde's previous music had set, it underperformed. As it turns out, that's what she wanted.

Image: Lorde/Universal Music New Zealand. 

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She vowed to the New York Times never to reach for the heights of 'Royals', a global smash that catapulted the Kiwi to international stardom at just 16.

A hit like that comes with acclaim, praise and money, but also notoriety and intrusion. After Melodrama, she realised she didn't want that.

"I went back to living my life," she said of her hiatus, identifying as "a hothouse flower, a delicate person and a massive introvert".

"The question I've gotten a lot recently is, 'What have you been doing?' I'm like, 'Oh, no, no, no — this is a break from my life.' I come back and perform these duties because I believe in the album."

Hiatuses aren't uncommon in creative careers, but this new narrative - from those at the very, very top of the pop game - is fresh. 

Topping musical charts and releasing music that people are going to listen to because your name is attached to it is a great privilege, and it probably takes a certain level of pop star to be able to weave in and out of the public consciousness so seamlessly.

Image: Getty. 

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But it's also interesting that artists are now comfortable admitting the negative aspects of fame, and put in place boundaries that protect themselves from it, without facing the wrath of an entitled public.

It's a shame that people in the public eye (and, it's worth noting, all of these examples have been women), have such negative experiences that this is something they feel they need to do.

But if you look at past celebrity culture - I'm particularly thinking of the late 90s and early 2000s era, where women like Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan were eaten alive - it's comforting to know that this can work for pop stars going forward.

So no, Swift is probably not going to post cute couple pics with Alwyn. You won't see Beyoncé mothering her children on Instagram. Lorde may go back to New Zealand and live in obscurity for another four years.

There's a part of us that is sad about this, because there's an innate interest into famous people's lives. The popularity of celebrity gossip like deuxmoi, which shares even the most mundane of celebrity interactions with an audience of more than a million people, is proof of this.

Adele joked to Vogue that she was ready to become famous again in the lead up to 30

Once she's finished with that, the reclusive Adele could return.

We would, once again, miss her.

But if protecting themselves from the invasiveness of fame means they'll continue to produce art for us to enjoy, then the reclusive pop star may just be my favourite type.

Chelsea McLaughlin is Mamamia's Senior Entertainment Writer. For more pop culture takes, sarcasm and... cat content, you can follow her on Instagram.

Image: Getty.

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