The power of Adele and the power of a white lie

·6-min read

Spotify and an Australian journalist both made more headlines for one of the most influential pop stars on the planet

You’d have to be chronically deficient in empathy not to feel sorry for Australian TV reporter Matt Doran. I suspect he’s currently discovering quite how many people on the internet suffer from that condition. He’s the guy who screwed up the Australian media’s big interview with Adele by admitting he hadn’t listened to her new album. As a result, Sony will not release the interview footage and the big exclusive deal that Doran’s employer, Channel Seven, struck with Adele’s team, at a reported cost of A$1m (more than £500,000), is ruined.

The mistake he made, he has subsequently confessed, was failing to notice an email giving him pre-release access to the album, which at the time of the interview was not yet generally available. But was that really the big mistake? I accept that, ideally, he’d have checked his email and had a listen, but I don’t think that omission made his situation hopeless. He’d done most of the interview, without mentioning the album, and it had seemingly gone fine. But then Adele understandably asked: “What do you think of my album?”

This was the moment of truth. But it should have been the moment of lying. He should have said: “I thought it was great.” That’s what he’d have said if he’d listened to it. Whether he’d loved it or hated it or not known what to make of it, he would have said it was great. He’s sitting there with Adele. He’s been selected to do his country’s only interview with Adele about her album. There is no space for him to say it’s not great. There’s probably no space for him to think it’s not great. He is a contracted staff member of Team Adele’s New Album Is Great. Listening to it is not going to meaningfully inform his answer to the question.

I’m a musical philistine and have never listened to an album properly. I am always doing other things at the same time

Also, it is impossible to conceive of a lie less likely to be exposed than him telling Adele that he’d enjoyed listening to her album. She is totally going to believe him. I’m sure she’s afflicted with a reasonable amount of creative self-doubt, but she wouldn’t be a big star if she didn’t also reckon she’s pretty good at music. Tell her that her album is great and she will believe you have listened to it. She’s not going to go: “Ha ha! Got you! You can’t have listened to it because, if you had, you’d know that it’s shit!”

“But what if there were follow-up questions?” you may be thinking. OK, fair point, but what if there weren’t? Adele’s on a tight schedule – she’ll have another interview coming up two minutes later. There’s a high chance he wouldn’t get found out and, if he did, he’d still be no worse off than he is now. Also, and here’s the clincher, he had heard one song from it, Easy on Me. So he can say that’s his favourite! He’s got something to talk about! He’d be fine!

I wonder if there wasn’t a slight petulance in his honesty, not directed at Adele but at her surrounding team and the self-important heightened security that executives love to introduce to creative launches. Not having noticed the email giving him access, he might have assumed that he wasn’t allowed to listen to it yet. This is his chance to shop all those haughty suits to Adele herself. “This is the ridiculous situation they’ve put us in, Adele. You and me. They come between us. I just think it should be about the music.”

But is not listening to the album better or worse than listening to it in the wrong order? It was announced last week that, in response to a request from Adele, Spotify will no longer give a “shuffle” option when people are listening to albums. This will make it harder for them to listen to the songs in a different sequence from the one intended by an album’s creators. “Our art tells a story and our stories should be listened to as we intended,” she said.

I found this both intimidating and exhilarating. Intimidating because I’m a musical philistine and have never listened to an album properly. I sometimes have music on but always while doing other things at the same time. Christmas carols while decorating a Christmas tree or… actually that’s basically it. I’ve never sat down and listened to a whole album all the way through, as if I’m watching a film but with no pictures or talking. I think my eyes and mind would wander. Is having a sandwich or reading a book or chatting better or worse than shuffling the track order?

Exhilarating because, as someone who is involved in the making of TV shows, it had never occurred to me that there was anything you could do about how your stuff gets consumed. I have sat in my living room with small groups of close friends watching programmes I’ve invited them round to see in which I’m almost constantly on screen and, even under those circumstances where you’d think I’d created an overwhelming social pressure for people to focus on the show, still they chat away and miss important bits and pop into other rooms for snacks, while I silently seethe and resist the impulse to rewind and point out highlights.

Of course, I’m failing to make allowances for the stultifying nature of my own oeuvre, but I’d still say it partly shows that, however great the effort and detailed work that goes into making a TV show, viewers generally only keep half an eye on the screen. It’s only the telly. If they then miss a key moment, they’ll blame the programme for not making sense. I always assumed it went with the territory of a popular art form that it’s the art’s job to grab people’s attention rather than the consumer’s job to concentrate.

But Adele hasn’t admitted defeat on this and why should she? She literally wants a proper hearing. It’s inspiring to see how much she cares about the detail of her fans’ experience when the world is at her feet. In career terms, she is in a position of enormous power and, in this era of fear, dishonesty, anger and incompetence, it’s refreshing to see power used for good.

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