Should Adele be forced to hide behind the white pantsuit? | Saheela Begum

As a super fan of Adele, I have been eagerly waiting for the singer’s eponymous new album. This is partly because, as a fan of both Adele and soul-informed black music, it was beyond time she released a new album. But it is also because I was anxious she’d use her platform to promote something else.

Illustration: Sali Hughes

After the first part of the interview broadcast on Wednesday’s episode of Oprah’s Master Class with Adele aired, I felt a mixture of relief and a nagging fear that this interview might become another typical glamorisation of public sexism. It was disappointing to see that this episode wouldn’t even offer the merest glance towards the dark underbelly of Adele’s career or her historic relationship with women.

I am always so disappointed when performers like Adele tiptoe around the subject of sexism, for fear that even a touchy topic will preclude anyone from seeing their artistry. R&B artist Brandy said recently: “I just read in the paper about how I was going to have to undergo breast reduction surgery. I’m like, ‘I was a sashayin’ teen girl!’”

It’s regrettable that we have lost such an influential woman as Adele in the fight against sexism. However, I think she is the best champion of body image and female sexuality in pop music.

The white pantsuit interview

I was disappointed that, when Adele chose to perform her new single, with lyrics such as: “Time was taken off the clock … all that I dreamed and still I waited, don’t need to blame you for my heartache,” she chose to wear a huge white suit with sequinned shoulder pads.

Hypebeast scolded the audience for wondering “what the fuck is she wearing”, but I understand the commentary better than they do: white pantsuits are a trope with a long history in popular culture and most notably in sports: track and field athletes, including track and field icons Bob Beamon and Steve Prefontaine, sported them. However, to me, white pantsuits trivialise the pain and struggles of weight loss and are often seen as a way to shoehorn in a jab at a flat chest.

Adele’s ‘white pantsuit’: easy to scoff at but does not trivialise her struggles with weight loss. Photograph: Ola Messina/Redferns

This specific look also does a disservice to her struggle with her weight, because as I wrote in my article about Blackpink’s promo campaign, their colourfully decorated custom g-suits and crop tops are fierce examples of empowerment through dressing to your full physical potential.

A lengthy pre-recorded interview with Adele

In my email to her record label, I asked if she’d be available to answer questions about her creativity and approach to her music. It was an enthusiastic response: “Yes! She’ll do any and everything!”

So I’m underwhelmed that a six-minute interview that was supposed to be an intimate conversation with Oprah Winfrey has been so long. It’s such a strange setting for an intimate discussion about artistry, yet you feel as if Winfrey has her foot on her chin. Why should she sit there in such an uncomfortable, high-profile situation – with no yellow flowers or room for close-ups?

Similarly, Adele gives away so much personal information that it’s difficult to come away feeling anything special about her. She details childhood struggles, reveals the secrets to her success, and talks candidly about her struggles with mental health. A few details do make sense: she does not fit into the shadow of legendary singer Amy Winehouse and her father, who suffers from HIV, was sent to prison in 2001.

In what is always a busy time for journalists, this interview left me feeling very disappointed. But, let’s be honest, this interview is not Adele. This interview is a grand public policy examination of the over-sexualisation of high-powered women and a critique of the internet culture in which Adele operates.

I still love Adele. I just wish she took the advice offered by R Kelly to keep her private life private instead of hiding behind white pantsuits.

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