Adele is one of the most extraordinary singers of her generation, and her global rise to fame happened suddenly. "The kind of level of fame that I'm dealing with now . . . it was overnight," Adele tells Anderson Cooper. "Literally on a flight to New York. I landed, and I seemed to be the most talked about artist in the world that day." Talked about and best-selling. Adele's sophomore album of intensely personal songs has sold close to 18 million copies and has spent more weeks at number one than any album in nearly 20 years. All of that success seemed in peril last year, when Adele developed serious vocal cord problems that required surgery. Would she sing again? As you'll hear in this profile, yes!
The following script is from "The Year of Adele" which aired on Feb. 12, 2012. Anderson Cooper is the correspondent. John Hamlin, producer.
Whitney Houston died yesterday in Los Angeles as the stars of the music world were descending on that city for tonight's Grammy awards. The cause of Houston's death has not been revealed, though her life, as one of her generation's best singers, was plagued by drug abuse. Whitney Houston was 48 years old and tonight's Grammys will be an occasion to mourn her loss.
It will also be a night to celebrate the past year in music. And in many ways 2011 will be remembered as the year of Adele. The 23-year-old British singer has been nominated for six Grammys. Her sophomore album, has sold almost 18 million copies. It spent more weeks at number one than any album since Whitney Houston's soundtrack for the movie "The Bodyguard" nearly 20 years ago.
What makes Adele's success so extraordinary is that she's unlike most other contemporary female pop singers. She doesn't have runway model looks, doesn't dress provocatively, and has no gimmicks added to her music. Few people have heard Adele's voice however, for the past four months. Vocal cord problems forced her to cancel dozens of concerts, and threatened to end her young career. Tonight, Adele breaks her silence for the first time, revealing how her voice is doing now...and how she is handling her sudden and very unconventional rise to fame.
Adele's music is intensely personal. She sings almost exclusively about love and the men whose love she's lost. She wrote this song, "Rolling in the Deep", heartbroken and angry the day after breaking up with her boyfriend. The song became the top selling single of 2011 and catapulted her to global stardom.
Adele: The kind of level of fame that I'm dealing with now, it's obviously gotten bigger over the year but it was overnight. Literally on a flight to New York. I landed and I seemed to be the most talked about artist in the world that day.
Anderson Cooper: What's that moment like?
Adele: I thought it was hilarious.
Anderson Cooper: Hilarious?
Adele: I thought it was funny. I wanted to be a singer forever. But it's not really my cup of tea. Having the whole world know who you are.
Cooper: It's not your cup of tea?
Adele: No. I find it quite difficult to think that there's, you know, about 20 million people listening to my album that I wrote very selfishly to get over a breakup. I didn't write it being that it's going to be a hit.
Cooper: You really wrote it to help you get over something?
Adele: Yeah. So the fact that so many people are interested in that, and want to cry to it, or want to feel strong to it, or whatever. I find really--it's just little old me.
There's nothing "little" about Adele's voice or the emotion her songs convey. Last September, standing almost motionless center stage, she had London's Royal Albert Hall, mesmerized.
This performance, which she considers one of the best of her career, was also one of her last.
Cooper: When you did you first start to notice a problem in your voice?
Adele: A year ago, my voice went live on air, a radio show in Paris.
Cooper: When you say it went, what do you mean?
Adele: It was literally like someone switched like a click off in my throat. And it just turned off. Like someone pulled a curtain over my throat. But I sounded, I'm not a soprano singer, but say if someone's singing soprano and then listen to a baritone singer. It sounded like that. My voice went. It was so much deeper. It was--
Cooper: And did you know something was happening? I mean, you must have known.
Adele: Yeah, yeah. And I could feel it. It felt like something popped in my throat.
It turned out she had a polyp in her vocal cords that had also hemorrhaged.
Adele: Really, I should-- I should've stopped singing for six months really. And properly rested my voice. But it's kind of impossible to do when you're in the eye of the storm.
Cooper: So you had to have surgery?
Adele: I had laser surgery, yeah.
Cooper: And what do they actually do?
Adele: Put a laser down your throat, cut off the polyp, and kind of laser your hemorrhage back together and fix it.
To help her heal she was also ordered not to speak a word for much of November and December.
Cooper: That's got to be hard.
Adele: Yeah. It was really hard.
Cooper: I sense you like to talk.
Adele: Yeah, I love talking.
Cooper: So how'd you communicate for five weeks?
Adele: By pad. I had a notepad. And I also had an application on my phone and that you type the words into it and then it speaks it. But the great thing is I love to swear. Most of 'em you can't swear on, but I found this one app where you can swear. So I'm still really getting my point across.
[Adele in concert: The guy that this next song's about, not enough time has gone by since he was a f*****g p***k to me!]
The swearing is back, so too the thick Cockney accent and her confidence in her singing voice has never been higher.
Adele: I can't remember a time where it felt so smooth to sing and not be paranoid onstage, you know.
Cooper: What do you mean?
Adele: I used to always wonder will I hit that note, even when I wasn't ill. It's basically a clean slate in my throat. And it's just clear. Doesn't mean it would never happen again. If I decide to go on a 200 date world tour, it would happen again.
Adele: Yeah, it will. You know, just the exhaustion.
Hardly anyone has heard Adele sing since the surgery, so sitting with her in a small London recording studio a few weeks ago, we just couldn't resist.
Cooper: Can you sing a little "Someone Like You"? Or--
Adele: I can do it a capella.
Cooper: Yeah? Sure--
Adele: I'm fine doin' that, yeah. (singing) Never mind, I'll find someone like you. I wish nothin' but the best for you too. Don't forget me, I beg. I'll remember, you said. Sometimes it lasts in love. But sometimes, it hurts instead. Sometimes it lasts in love, but sometimes it hurts instead.
"Someone Like You" has become another Adele anthem, written about that same boyfriend who broke her heart.
The song is incredibly sad, and her fans cry right along to it. So much so it became a running gag on Saturday Night Live.
[SNL clip: "And...play... (cast members cry)
Adele (watching monitor): That's what I was doing when I was writing it!]
She can laugh about it now. She says she no longer feels the same way about the song, or the guy she once did.
Adele: "Someone Like You" was about him getting engaged really quickly after we broke up. And I wrote that to feel better about myself really, and it was about trying to convince myself that-- oh we will meet someone else and I will be happy.
Cooper: And you have met someone else?
Adele: Yeah. Who is much better than him. In fact, next time I sing "Someone Like You", I'm gonna be like, "Never mind, I found someone like you. Please forget me."
Her new boyfriend is a 36-year-old British entrepreneur who also runs a charitable foundation.
Cooper: So you're in love now?
Adele: Yeah. Love it. It's great.
Cooper: Your face lights up when you talk about it.
Cooper: Do you think you could write without having your heart broken?
Adele: Well I hope so. 'Cause I'm madly in love and I don't want to be like "Babe, I'm sorry, we've got to break up. I've got a new album to deliver." He'd f*****g hate that. Also, I can't write another breakup record. That would be a real cliche. It would be just like a boring, running theme. I think people would be like, "No, that's enough now, cheer up." You know what I mean? I'm not worried about it. If it gets like five, 10 years down the line, I will. I'll break up with him.
She was born Adele Adkins in a working class section of North London. An only child raised by a single mom, she attended a high school for the performing arts, and just three days after graduating was offered a recording contract. She was 18 years old.
Her debut album came out in 2008 and earned her two Grammys, including best new artist.
Despite her success, she was concerned about losing touch with new music. So she did something unusual for a Grammy winning artist. She got a part-time job sorting and labeling CDs in the back of a record store.
Cooper: You started working here after your first album?
Adele: Yeah, after the Grammys.
Cooper: After you'd done the Grammys?
Adele: Yeah, yeah, I came and worked here for a little while. No one knows I did it here, no one knows. I just did it for myself.
Cooper: Did they think it was odd that you--
Cooper: --came here to volunteer to work?
Adele: Yeah, absolutely, very much so. They were baffled by it.
The other baffling thing about Adele is that - despite being known for the power of her live concerts - in front of audiences she experiences near crippling stage fright.
Cooper: How does it manifest itself?
Adele: It starts from the minute I wake up. If I know I've got a show, it starts. I mean, I just try and putter around and keep myself busy and stuff like that. And then I got to go down and sit in the chair for a couple hours, have my hair and makeup done.
Adele: But it has gotten worse as I'm becoming more successful. My nerves. Just because there's a bit more pressure and people are expecting a lot more from me.
Cooper: So what's that fear?
Adele: That I'm not going to deliver. I'm not going to deliver. That I'm not going to-- people aren't going to enjoy it. They're-- they're going to-- that I'll ruin their love for my songs by doing them live. I feel sick. I get a bit panicky.
Cooper: Have you ever thrown up?
Adele: Yeah. Oh yeah. Yeah. A few times.
Adele: Yeah. Projectile. Yeah. 'Cause it just comes (makes noise) it just comes out. It does.
That kind of candid talk is typical Adele. She is naturally generous with the details of her life, but her success is changing that. Fed up with paparazzi staking out her home in London, she's just rented this very large, but very private home in the English countryside.
Adele: This here, this is just safety, this house. Come on Louie!
Anderson: That's why you're out here? Just because...for privacy?
She's learned about fame, the hard way. In the past, too many personal details of her life ended up in the tabloid press. So she set traps to catch the sources...
Adele: I plant stories and see who leaks them and then I get rid of 'em, yeah.
Cooper: Really? So you would tell them something that--
Adele: I'd tell, like, a group of people who I was suspicious of, I'd tell them a different story with different details in it, but all roughly the same story so I could keep my eye on it. And then when I knew it would come out, yeah, I knew who it was.
Cooper: That's kinda depressing.
Adele: Yeah, it was still-- it's quite fun as well-- not firing people that you love, but yeah, it's necessary.
Inside the rented mansion there are 10 bedrooms, 9 more than she needs, and almost no furniture.
Adele: This is, this house is a bit of a cliche, really. This bit's all quite scary, really. It was a convent for a little while.
Cooper: Ever seen "The Shining?"
Adele: "All work and no play."
Adele: And then this is the pool.
Adele: Do you have a pool?
Adele: So these wings... (laughs)...these wings that way and that way is empty, really. There a couple of space bedrooms 'round there and this is my suite.
Cooper: I love what you've done with the place.
Adele: I've been busy.
She's about to get a lot busier. Now that her voice has healed, demand for her to tour has never been higher.
Cooper: Did you ever feel pressure to, "Well, I gotta look a certain way, I have to--"
Adele: No, never. I've never seen magazine covers and seen music videos and been like, "I need to look like that if I want to be a success." Never, I don't want to be some skinny mini with my t**s out. I really don't want to do it. And I don't want people confusing what it is that I'm about.
Adele: I'm not shocking. I just stand there and sing. And I don't do stunts or anything.
Cooper: But I think that's one of the things that is so remarkable about your success. And-- is that you're kind of the anti-pop star. I mean, you're not--
Adele: No, I am.
Cooper: You know what I mean. I mean, there aren't any gimmicks. It's basically the power of your voice and what you're singing.
Adele: If I wanted to do all that, I don't think I'd get away with it. I just I don't think people would believe me.
Cooper: But in your songs, I think people believe that you have experienced what you're singing about. I think that comes through.
Adele: I'm just writing love songs. I'm not trying to be pop. I'm not trying to be jazz. I'm not trying to be anything. I'm just writing love songs. And everyone loves a love song.
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