It's humiliating to be imparted a thuddingly obvious life lesson by an individual 14 years your junior. They've circumvented the familiar doctrine that age brings wisdom. In the new video for her massive hit "Someone Like You" (at 7.9 million YouTube views and counting), English soul singer Adele traverses the Pont Alexandre III in Paris. Nearly 20 years ago, I rubbernecked through the French capital on a whirlwind tour of Europe and hurried across this famous bridge on my way to some expensive Paris cliché. Adele demonstrates how to do it correctly; she walks the bridge slowly.
"Someone Like You" is the rare music video that succeeds in enhancing a song's themes. Filming in black and white -- a decision that wonderfully aligns the video's images with the track's stripped-bare piano sound -- director Jake Nava amplifies the sense of empowerment and perseverance and wistfulness, the idea that Adele is shedding her skin and growing a new one. She's not tearing up those old photographs of the man she loved, but instead keeping them in a shoebox tucked away in a closet. The video is primarily one extended shot of Adele walking through an empty Paris cityscape. (Think the opening scene of Vanilla Sky, only starker and with a protagonist who's much easier on the eyes.
"Someone Like You," for all its severe simplicity in both sight and sound, feels like one of those select pieces of pop culture that will be leaned on during my declining years, a song and video that will help bring clarity when faced with moments of hardship, a piece of art that will deliver comforting and much-needed messages. There are things that you can let go of and things that don't let go of you. Adele has sunk her lacquered nails into my skin and tightly closed her fists.
What I find interesting is how folks have managed to escape such a grip. In Dublin, Ireland, for example, employees at the Opus II music store posted a Wayne Campbell-inspired sign that reads "Strictly No Adele." This was in response to customers frequently testing out the store's pianos and keyboards by playing "Someone Like You"'s instantly identifiable melody. "The sign was a bit of a joke," said one shop employee, "but the song can drive you mad."
But what about when it drives away the madness? The video for "Someone Like You" possesses a romantic readiness that makes love-at-first-viewing a near certainty. The black-and-white photography lends a beautiful softness to the Parisian landscape. Nava's shooting evokes familiar images associated with the city, images of deep affection and spontaneity and timelessness, celebrated photographs where even the most trivial poses have cosmic meaning, such as Robert Doisneau's "Kiss at City Hall," or the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson.
The video opens with Adele walking slowly along the right bank of the Seine. The wan light and noted absence of humanity suggests that it's dawn. Has Adele been grief walking through Paris' streets all night? (Even though she does look immaculate as ever.) She appears ashamed, her eyes downcast; it takes her a full 74 seconds to make eye contact with the camera. This occurs during the chorus, the song's moment of gut-twisting emotional release. "Don't forget me, I beg," she sings. But it's more than a beg -- it's a desperate plea in the shadow of the gallows.
Nava's camera then moves away from a tight shot of Adele, the director giving the singer space to recompose herself, before executing a 360-degree pan of the Paris scenery. We see: the Pont Alexandre III; the Eiffel Tower in the distance; La France Pacifique, a sculpture that sits at the base of the four 17-meter-high socles positioned at the four corners of the bridge; the glass vault of the Grand Palais; an eerily empty Av. Winston Churchill; and the equestrian statue of Venezuelan revolutionary Simon Bolivar.