Today's Evil Beet Gossip

Stephin Merritt Thinks You’re Racist for Liking Adele

A photo of Adele

You guys know who Stephin Merritt is, right? He’s the main singer in the Magnetic Fields, a band that I absolutely love. This is him, ok?

Seriously, the Magnetic Fields is one of my very favorite bands ever. I’m sure that’s a very hipster thing to say, but I came across “Book of Love” while listening to an Indie Weddings mix a few years ago, which probably says a whole lot more about me than I’d like, and I’ve loved them ever since. 69 Love Songs is an amazing, wonderful, magical album, and please give it a listen if you’re into that sort of thing. I can understand where a lot of people would not be into that sort of thing.

But why am I telling you guys about Stephin Merritt at all? Am I just rambling pointless about something I love to try to convert you? No, I usually reserve that kind of behavior for the weekends, but thanks for noticing. Actually, I’m telling you guys about Stephin Merritt because Stephin Merritt just made a few remarks about Adele, and as you know, we don’t need any excuse at all to talk about Adele.

Here’s what he had to say during an interview with L.A. Weekly:

I like Adele, though I have some reservations about why people like her. She really has a lovely voice, but I only get suspicious when people get excited about British people who sound like American black people. Basically she sounds like Anita Baker. And people are not, you know, wild and crazy about Anita Baker. And I think about the whole, with the racism, when people love when British people sound like American black people.

And there it is.

I know I talked up Stephin here quite a bit, but of course I disagree with him. Adele is popular because she’s an amazing singer with a charming personality who happened to write a beautiful album. That’s why people are so excited about her, not because they’re a bunch of racists who finally get to hear a nice white lady sing with some soul. And I’m pretty positive that people who love Adele aren’t forbidden to also enjoy black artists.

Also, I’d wager that people aren’t as wild and crazy about Anita Baker because the last album she released was a Christmas album back in 2005. That probably has a little something to do with it.

But hey, maybe I’m being crazy here. Maybe Stephin Merritt totally has a point with the racism thing, and I just can’t see it because I love Adele too much. Somehow, I don’t really think that’s it though.

What do you guys think on this one?

28 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Interesting. Before Amy Winehouse died, a Brit comedienne called Katy Brand did a parody song (to Rehab) about Amy Winehouse being drunk all the time. At the time, I remember thinking “Why would you take the piss out of that, when you could take the piss out of the fact that she’s a wealthy Jewish girl from north London who tries to sound exactly like a black American soul singer?”

    But the racism suggestion is ludicrous – people are interested in Adele (and Amy Winehouse) because she’s an excellent singer who is current and exciting. Anita Baker, while an amazing singer, is not. But there is also Corinne Bailey Rae and other black Brit singers – soul-styled or otherwise – who are very popular too.

  • I am sure it only entered his head as envy of her success, never crossed my mind to think oh.. I have heard this type of voice before.. now anyone who likes that type of singer is a racist, and the singer of that type of voice.. is a sneaky pirating copycat. He’s a weird one..

  • I mean, I can see it if nothing else because there are so many black soulful singers right now that don’t get the airplay that Adele does. Perhaps the novelty of Adele is that she has a voice that’s unusual for a white person. But I saw shades of racism even when people talked how cute Adele was for giving the finger but slammed M.I.A. for doing the same. I don’t think it’s intentional racism, but unconscious racism is still racism.

    • I think the difference between Adele giving the finger and M.I.A. giving the finger had more to do with venue than anything. And speaking for myself, the reason I like Adele better than, for example, Anita Baker, is that Adele’s *songs* are better than Anita’s. Adele’s a fantastic songwriter, and sings her songs with raw emotional power. That would hold true whether or not I knew what color she is.

      • Well put, Harriet! This squealing of racism every time you turn around these days reminds me of when I was a kid, and everyone was always accusing someone else of having “cooties”. Geez. Enough.

      • Adele gave the finger at the Brit Awards, which are widely watched much the same way the Grammy’s are in the U.S. It’s fine that you like Adele better than Anita Baker, but Adele gets attention in the music industry that many other singers (usually black) do not get despite having similar talents. This isn’t necessarily a harmful thing per se, but show biz in general is focused more around white celebrities and people generally respond better to white celebrities. I think an easy example of that is the way that the casting of a black girl as Rue in the Hunger Games was treated by many members of the public. YOU may not be racist, but unfortunately a large portion of society still is and are wont to be more sympathetic to a white performer than a black one. Also, MW, the difference between racism and cooties is that racism kills people and is actually a real thing. Cooties don’t and aren’t.

      • Ugh, the racism regarding the casting of Rue in the Hunger Games really pisses me off, too – it’s just sickening! But there’s a difference between people being *upset* that a black person was cast in a role they didn’t expect them in (because apparently they didn’t read the books very carefully) and someone claiming that the fact that people like Adele better than Anita Baker is racism, when Adele is – let’s face it – better than Anita Baker. Plus, MIA did not give the finger at the Grammys, she gave it at the Super Bowl, which is watched by MOST families in the US… (not to mention the fact that MIA had no reason to give the finger. It was gratuitous and purely for shock value, whereas Adele had every reason to give the finger to the people trying to get her off the stage when she’d barely had any time at all to give her thanks)…Anyway, I thought both of them were in poor taste…

      • MIA was in the middle of a performance, and shot a bird for no reason. Adele was in the middle of a speech, was cut off, and shot a bird at the a-holes who cut her off. BIG DIFFERENCE.

      • Whoa, Adele better than Anita Baker!?!? See…that’s precisely the problem. You have never heard an Anita Baker song in your life and make that claim. Try listening to Rapture by Anita Baker. Which btw, won two Grammy’s itself and would’ve have won more most likely if all black R&B singers weren’t pigeonholed. But Adele gets to be pop while biting off of the same formula. It’s tired and the fact that dummies like you Harriet seem to overlook that is no longer my problem. Before Elvis, there was Little Richard and Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters. But the white guy sold better. Before Eric Clapton, there was Jimi Hendrix. But the white guy sold better. Before New Kids on the Block, there was New Edition (which is as blatant a case of ripping a look/sound off as there ever was. Maurice Starr managed both groups and just figured, ‘white boys sell more than black boys’. Before there was Vanilla Ice and the Beastie Boys there was ANYBODY ELSE. but the white people sold more. See the pattern here ostrich? Get your head of out the freakin’ sand and wake up.

  • “when people love when British people sound like American black people.”

    Note how he uses the term British people as if they’re all white.

    Note again how he doesn’t cite black British people with amazing voices who tried and failed to achieve Adele-level success. For example, in the 1980’s, we had Sade, who was at one time as popular as Adele. (Des’ree to a lesser extent.) He’s young, so he probably doesn’t remember.

    Note again how Anita Baker no longer has youth no her side, as the entertainment world pushes success at a young age and we as a society support it.

    The guy is talking out of his *ss. Sorry.

    • Nice cherry picking mireee. But Sade isn’t ‘British’…she was born in Nigeria and merely raised in the UK. And if it’s all about ‘youth’, how is it that Eminem sold the most albums in hip hop pushing 40 over guys like Lil’ Wayne and Drake? Try again. Sade was NEVER as popular as Sade. She was more talented though. Oh and btw…since you don’t seem to know much about what you’re talking about…Sade was NOT a solo act. She was the front woman of an actual group. It’s a shame that this bastardized version of ‘soul’ music is passed as being anything remotely authentic. If it’s about the art, it wouldn’t be as popular. But if it’s about the PACKAGE…you’re damn right there’s something to it.

      • CJ,
        Some people consider where they’re raised as defining their national identity. Or at least a great part of it.

        And, when it comes to women, yes, youth plays a much larger card and it’s easier for a young artist to break out verses an older one. No, Sade was not as popular as Adele, but the band sold mostly on its lead singer, did quite well for themselves in the 1980s.

        Merrit’s choice to use Anita Baker as an example to prove his point was a poor one, considering she’s not British. She does have an amazing voice though, especially on Sweet Love and Giving You the Best That I Got. But, she’s also over 50, and most teen and 20-somethings (Adele’s main audience) aren’t going generally embrace a female artist if she’s 50, especially if her popularity has waned decades ago.

        You have made some very good points, otherwise, CJ. There probably is an underlining subconscious (or otherwise) racism that the British music industry pushes and ensuing hunger it feeds in American audiences. I’m not going to discount you on that. I’ll wholeheartedly admit I don’t seek out truly unique singing voices for my listening pleasure, because I don’t have the time and music doesn’t take as high of a priority in my life.

        However, you can’t deny that there was a built-in racism in Merrit’s use of the term “British people” to begin with and the implication that they’re all white. So, maybe my argument wasn’t as sound as I originally thought, but, yes, I kind of do know what I’m talking about on some counts. And, while Merrit has a point, he has some self-examinations on the assumptive tone of his own language.

        Have a nice day.

  • wow good way to just take the focus away from real racism. just claim everything is racist until noone believes there is racism. i hate people like that.

    its like lying about rape, you spit in the faces of the real victims.

    • That’s because this isn’t a new pattern. White people call blacks racists for voting for Obama after never having anyone with a REMOTE chance of being President in 232 years, but it’s just fine for white people to prop up inferior talents in sports, music, arts, etc. It’s just fine for white people who would never even listen to hip-hop otherwise to buy Eminem and claim he’s the best ever. It’s just fine for bigots to espouse the virtues of people like Larry Bird. Calling Elvis the King when he stole his entire persona from black blues singers on Beale Street in Memphis. Give me a break. It’s the hypocrisy of our democracy. White people have shown time and time again they will ignore things on the whole that don’t suit them, go out of their way to support anything similar to them (the only way you can explain Vanilla Ice or any white American heavyweight in the last 40 years). Please…you’re no different, you’re just so myopic and two-faced about it…some of you actually believe the garbage that comes out of your mouths.

  • I don’t think that racism is the right term but the fact is that there are incredible British acts who happen to be black who don’t get the same attention that Adele, Duffy, or Amy Winehouse received when they came onto the scene. I love all three of those artists but I also love Emeli Sande and Lianne La Havas and it’s a fact that the latter two won’t get the same amount of love for writing great songs and singing them as beautifully as Adele sings her songs.

  • Well, sounding black worked out well for Elvis, and Elvis was easier for America to tolerate than the American black folks who originally sang the songs he sang to us. But that was decades ago, and I would have hoped it’s all about the music these days.

    Then I saw this — wow, this country still got some ugly:

    And that’s not even considering the inappropriate reactions to Martin (140 lbs, skittles) and Zimmerman (250 lbs, loaded gun). I certainly will be avoiding hoodies. No wish to get shot.

    Rivera and O’Reilly, however, rock the hoodie look:

  • It’s mostly about the songs people….I swear, even though Kelly Clarkson won the first AI, and has a nice voice, what made her big was her songs….perfect songs for the time and women responded to her “anthem” empowerment songs…Taylor Swift, not a great singer, but her first album was incredible..almost every song was a perfect pop/country ready hit….all perfect for radio play….Adele has some of the most covered songs by aspiring artists trying to show their vocal range…Rolling in the Deep, Someone like You, Set Fire to the Rain, etc. It’s the songs dude….simple….yes, very good voice, but without the hit songs she would not have the attention she has been getting……look at Katharine McPhee, much better voice than most current top artists, and beautiful to boot…but she doesn’t have the arsenal of great songs to push her to the top….(maybe the series “Smash” will help her though)….anyway…show me a great singer who has really “made” it without great songs…none…but I can name a few not so great ones who have with the right songs…

  • I can understand when black people get suspicious when white people like Elvis; Emminem; Adele; Amy Winehouse etc.., get more praise for singing “black” music than black people due. Cannot deny the talent though and I like all those people. Best to just enjoy the music. After all Elvis and Eminem did open many doors for other black artists whether they intended to or not.

    • Where Mike? Where did those doors open? Who has Eminem benefited? Dr. Dre was a hip-hop icon WELL before Eminem. 50 Cent was so hot, it was a bidding war to get him signed to his first record deal. No one from his crew (D-12) has managed to benefit from Em’s presence. Hell, the best rapper in the game right now, the criminally unknown Royce da 5’9″ did a track with Em and still languishes. Why? Because it’s not about the art. It’s about the package. White people will listen to Eminem be as misogynistic, as vulgar, as violent as any rapper…but he’s WHITE. And that’s why he flies off the shelves. AT LEAST Marshall Mathers has the guts to admit as he said in “White America”…quote: “Let’s do the math. If I was black, I wouldn’t have sold half.” It didn’t stop with Elvis. It didn’t even START with Elvis. Inferior big band/’jazz’ musicians like Glenn Miller and Dave Brubeck outsold Duke Ellington and Miles Davis because of racist America. So I don’t want to hear this garbage about anything OTHER than the facts. Because we’re about 75 years deep in them.

      • Sure cj, just keep spewing your one-sided fantasies. Guess you’re SUCH the expert on music that we should all bow down to your superior intellect? Right.

  • This has been happening for at least a hundred years- who do you think the rolling stones were influenced by? Their first US tv appearance they demanded that Howlin Wolf appear with them on stage to show their US listeners where their influences came from and it was Wolf’s only tv appearance ever. why do you think there was such a push from the uk for chess record mail in’s for imports of “authentic” black music from the south esp. new orleans jazz? Where do you think rhythm in music comes from? You have bands back in 59 who would rip off black artists (Sh-Boom by the chords) by all white bands (Sh-Boom by the crew cuts) and then once again ripped off by a black band (Harvard Din& the Tonics) and then Sharon Lois and Bram back in 1995!

    People- music has been covered, ripped off, influenced by and injected with a ton of various backgrounds, which is what we have today. there is no such thing as a truly new sound without influence. So what she sounds like a black american vocalist, it’s been proven in the past to produce major sales and popularity. Chuck Barry tried for most of his career to sound white to sell better. Jamiroqui tried to sound purple.

    It’s just sound and noise at the end of the day.

    (sorry about the big rant)

  • I can see what he’s referring to with both her and amy winehouse, since they are basically soul singers – but it’s not like black female singers are under-represented on the pop charts or that only ‘white’ versions of ‘black’ music are popular. (Beyonce, nicki minaj, rihanna) There just aren’t any black singers (or americans in general?) doing this style at the moment. The only US one I can think of is Alicia Keys and she hasn’t done much in years.
    Overall I think the important thing as you pointed out is that amy and adele are both singer-songwriters. It’s the songs that these women wrote that has people buying records.

  • Ok. So just because some people like Adele more than other R&B singers makes them racist? I personally think it was brave of her to go into a business mostly dominated by Black Americans. I am not normally one for R&B myself, but I love Adele. It’s not just that it’s R&B, or the style in which she sings. I love her songs for what they are. She means what she sings and I love that. I’ll admit, I don’t listen to Anita Black. As a matter of fact, this is the first time I’ve ever heard of her. But that’s because I am not a fan of R&B, as I have stated.
    Adele is an amazing artist and she doesn’t copy anyone. I respect her, as do many people I know. (Some of those people are black, if that REALLY matters.) I think it’s just silly how anything between two races can be related to racism. Just because you like one person and not someone else doesn’t make you racist. And even if that IS part of the judgement, it’s not like people are doing HARM to any specic person. If you don’t like a certain artist, then so be it. It’s just an opinion and I don’t like all the constant shouts of “RACIST!” at every turn. It makes me sick.

  • Is it so hard to believe a white person has once again outdone black people at their own game?

    Deal with it, you primitive monkeys!!

  • ADELE is fucking amazing. And that`s why she is famous. She doesn`t sound like Baker whatever

    I dont like it but

    Is it so hard to believe a white person has once again outdone black people at their own game?

    Deal with it, you primitive monkeys!!