Music News

Sade Lets Her Music Do the Talking

It seems pointless to define the music of Sade (either the female lead singer/songwriter or her group of the same name) as "sexy" at this point. "Sexy" is as Sade does.

Sure, sexy will always have a place on the radio, but it's Sade's career model that flies in the face of modern marketing: She shows up every decade or so, drops an album, tours a limited number of dates, and then retreats behind the wall she's built to shield herself from celebrity concerns.

For an artist who lives in England, a country that does celebrity obsession better than anyone, it's a remarkable feat: a rare example of a star who's famous for the music and not TMZ-baiting headlines.

I may be wildly paraphrasing here (and fact-checking my memory in this case seems beyond my Google abilities, so this all might just be the product of a fever dream, but it seems plausible), but there was some moment on TV, ages ago, when Kiss' Gene Simmons made an offer to alt-rock acts like Pearl Jam and Nirvana, which seemed so conflicted about their new-found riches. Essentially, his take was that if Cobain, Vedder, and others didn't want too be vexed by being wealthy, they could solve that particular issue by writing Simmons a check for the contents of their bank account. He had already figured out how to manage fame as a musician, so the idea that someone had the right to complain about the perils of success seemed ridiculous. If you don't like it, either don't play the game or just change the rules.

It's probably easier to make money in the music business by getting out there all the time, making every aspect of your life fodder for discussion, both online and elsewhere, but it's apparent that's not the only option. The "personal life" section of Sade's Wikipedia page is remarkably sparse for a reason. When she does interviews (which isn't terribly often), she doesn't pepper stories with anecdotes about her kids, her dating life, or what she thinks about politics. Sade simply stays focused on her albums.

It's not that there's something inherently wrong about being a public person, but it's fair to expect that publicity will be a mixed bag. Did Taylor Swift get extra press by marketing her new album as hate mail to her exes, naming them in an elaborate code on the album's lyric sheet? The saga probably strengthened her bond to her devoted fan base, but there's no question that there's a trade-off, sacrificing her privacy and attracting the scrutiny of the press.

So, when Sade takes the stage, her performance won't be processed through how we think of her as a person or her history; the audience can just listen. "Soldier of Love" doesn't need to be analyzed to find psychological clues to her past relationships. She can just be great. Her band can ably back her luxurious voice. We can just be thankful that she's coming to town.

Then, Sade will disappear again. We won't be waiting for a constantly delayed album that threatens to tear the band apart. Maybe she'll come back. Maybe she won't. Her label released a greatest hits collection this year that would make sense as a capstone to her career.

What we will know, either way, is that someone can make the music industry work for them without giving away everything. And for the fan, the music is allowed to stand alone, a relationship between the listener and the art that's charming in its simplicity.

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Gibson, Dan