I did not buy Adele’s latest album. When she sang “Hello”, I said “goodbye”. (Don’t look at me like that. I’m a writer. I never give up the chance to make a pun.)
At first, I enjoyed “Hello”. It didn’t cut me to the bone like “Set Fire to the Rain” but I appreciated the sound of Adele’s voice, which is beautiful. I’ve always appreciated her range and quality.
But then I listened, really listened, to the words.
“Hello” is a song about having broken someone’s heart and obsessively trying to reach out to that person. It reminded me of a sad time in my life where I was obsessed over an ex-boyfriend. I didn’t break his heart (it was very much the other way around) but I was obsessed with the idea that if I could just talk to him, maybe apologize for whatever, then everything would be all right. The pain would stop. Maybe we could even get back together.
It was unhealthy and nearly ruined my life. And here Adele is singing about it as if it was normal and good.
It made me look back at her other songs. With a sinking sort of disappointment, I realized that most of her albums are comprised of songs about regret and obsession in various forms.
Adele, there is more to love than regret. And obsession is not love. When your art has fallen into such a rut as this, then it’s time to take a step back. It’s time to re-evaluate (or, evaluate for the first time) what your art is about. What is it that you wish to convey to the world? Is it really sad songs about how a love affair just didn’t work out? Or do you want to sing about other things?
Stories from a Fresh Perspective
The problem with Adele’s music brings to mind writers and themes. Writers tend to have themes we return to, time and again. I’ve noticed that the theme of free will and choice crops up a lot in my work.
Take Mercedes Lackey for example. The first thing I ever read by Lackey was Brightly Burning. It’s a tragedy that deals with love, duty, and family ties. It’s beautiful. It made me start consuming Lackey’s work at an alarming rate until I realized something terrible: with the exception of Brightly Burning, the vast majority of Lackey’s work is all the same.
The good guys are perfectly good. The bad guys are perfectly bad. Good triumphs in the end. We can all go home.
Like Adele’s music, it’s the same song over and over, only sung slightly differently.
I’m a firm believer that writers sometimes need to write things that are completely different from what we normally write. It doesn’t matter if that was written never sees the light of day. What matters is that we stand at a different angle from which to look upon the world and tell a story from that angle. It allows us to have a fresh perspective. It allows us to say something new and different.
Stories are meant to touch people. They are meant to teach, guide, comfort, and warn. They can’t do that if we’re just saying the same thing over and over. It’s that way with books and it’s that way with music.
That’s why I’m working on a science fiction short story. There’s nothing further from medieval fantasy than futuristic science fiction, I think. It forces me to use different writing muscles and to try to say something new. I’ll let you know if I actually succeed.
So, dear writers, dear Adele: beware the rut. Beware telling the same story every time you put pen to paper, or mouth to microphone. Open your mind. Stand in a different place. Give us something new and fresh.