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Moment that mattered: Adele breaks Madonna’s record

British singer-songwriter Adele poses for a portrait in West Hollywood, Calif., Monday, Feb. 2, 2009. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

“The moment that Adele took Madonna’s 21-year-old record for the longest time at number one in the UK album charts was the moment it appeared female artists no longer have to be sexualised to be successful. To an extent, of course, Adele is manufactured, as is the case with almost every successful pop star. But her success is built around talent and an amazing voice. Her songs resonate with people, and it’s so refreshing that we’re more interested in her music than what she looks like, what she’s wearing or who she’s shagging. Most pop stars look like they’ve been created using a ‘sex symbol’ iPhone app, but Adele is different. So many female pop stars look identical – I can’t tell one ‘Saturday’ from the next.

Unfortunately, Adele is the exception and not yet the rule. My gym plays MTV’s “Debase Yourself” channel, or whatever it’s called, on a loop, and it’s a reminder that sex still sells – the images in those videos! They’re kind of extreme, with lots of nearly naked women writhing around. Adele has managed to resist the trend of sexualisation being pushed further and further. I remember when ‘I Want Your Sex’ by George Michael came out in 1987 and people were freaking out over the lyrics to the point where, when it got to Number 1, Bruno Brooks introduced it as “I Want…” and they wouldn’t play the video. He was only talking about wanting to have sex, which seems lame compared to what we have nowadays.

On the whole, male performers aren’t sexualised in the same way as women. They tend to be branded as soppy romantics and perfect boyfriends – soft lighting, floppy fringe, vulnerable lip quiver – because their largely female audience is more likely to respond to romantic rather than sexual images. Look at boy band The Wanted. Girls want to go out with them but wouldn’t necessarily want to sleep with them, whereas when men talk about Rihanna they don’t discuss whether she’d be good wife material. Adele is an overdue relief from the endless fantasy shag parade.

While I’m delighted by her achievements, I find it really disappointing that we’re talking about her breaking a record for a female solo artist – as Adele said, female is a gender not a genre. Why do we still have to measure female artists against male artists? People do the same thing in comedy – why can’t a female comic (I don’t use the word ‘comediennes’) just be somebody’s favourite comedian? It’s like saying “You’re my favourite disabled comic,” or “You’re my favourite black comic” – why separate people like that?

Adele can be a positive influence and an inspiration for women who don’t fit in with the industry’s idea of what a female pop star should look like. Maybe one day the mood will change and she’ll become a Lady Gaga character dry-humping the stage with flames coming out of her bikini, but I can’t see it. The only change I can foresee is her cheering up a bit. All those songs about heartbreak. She’s got the world at her feet at the moment, so she hardly has to worry about some bloke or a push-up bra.”

Andi Osho is a comedian, actor and writer.

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