Vocal WOW Factors & Soaring Power
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Adele spent over three years in silence.
Not literally, of course. However, prior to the release of Hello, Adele hadn’t released a song since 2012.
What a return Hello turned out to be. Since its release, the song topped over 40 charts throughout the world, and its accompanying music video scored over a billion views on YouTube – the sixth most of all time. This massive success can be partially attributed to the long wait between releases, but the key to the song’s incredible popularity is its compositional strength.
In this article, excerpted from our Hello Deconstructed Report, we examine two key factors that helped put the song over the top – Adele’s vocal WOW factors, and its soaring power.
Adele’s vocal delivery throughout Hello is exceptionally strong and evocative. However, there are certain points where she prolongs a certain lyric or leaps to a pinnacle pitch, which takes the impact of the section, and the song, to the next level. Examples of these vocal WOW factors can be found where it counts the most – in the chorus and vocal break sections.
The first two lines in the chorus both begin with an eighth note ascending “platform progression” via F-F / Ab-Ab / Bb-Bb on the following lyrics:
Line 1: “Hel-lo from the oth-er…”
Line 2: “I must-‘ve called a thou-sand…”
Essentially these progressions function to provide the setup for the vocal “magic moment/WOW factors” that follow:
Line 1: “si-i-de” (Bb-Ab-F)
Line 2: “ti-i-i-imes” (Bb-C-Bb-Ab)
The last lyric on lines 1 and 2, “side” and “times,” are held for almost a whole note, with the emphasis being put on “i” in both. This achieves the following:
- When coupled with the chorus vocal starting a sixth above where the pre-chorus left off and the changeup in the accompaniment, it shifts the song from Ballad to Power Ballad.
- It provides the listener with the “magic moment” that they were longing to hear in Adele’s new single– the passionate, soaring vocal that she’s so well known for. As a result, this first instance of her soaring vocal officially signals to the listener, “Adele’s back!”
Additionally, notice on line 2 that following the prolonged Bb, which is the pinnacle pitch on line 1, Adele’s vocal briefly bumps up to C (sixteenth note), before descending via Bb-Ab to conclude (line 1 concludes on F). This bump up to C achieves the following:
- It functions as a second magic moment in the section. It might seem minor, but it takes the emotion to a heightened level.
- It provides subtle, yet effective and infectious contrast relative to the similar melodic structure of line 1 that precedes it. As a result, these two back-to-back lines keep the memorability factor at a high while remaining fresh and engaging.
Note that this melodic progression is repeated almost verbatim on lines 5 and 6 in the chorus as well:
Line 5: “Hel-lo from the out-side”
Line 6: “At least I can say that I’ve tried”
Line 3 in the chorus begins where line 2 leaves off, on Ab. In contrast to lines 1 and 2 where the first two and three syllables, respectively, have the same pitch (F), the second syllable on line 2 leaps a fifth up to Eb:
“To tell you I’m sor-ry for ev-’ry-thing that I’ve done”
This leap, which is further accentuated by the drop down a fourth to Bb on the lyric “you” that follows, provides the section with a standout moment that both showcases Adele’s stellar vocals and accentuates the engagement factor and impact of the section.
Line 4 that directly follows features a similar vocal “magic moment/WOW” factor. However, instead of leaping up a fifth as is the case on line 3, here Adele leaps an entire octave on the third syllable following the two Eb notes that precede it:
“But when I call you nev-er seem to be home”
Not only does this more pronounced leap take the emotional impact of the section to the next level, its similar characteristic relative to line 2 helps to reinforce it in the listener’s head.
In lieu of a bridge, the vocal break provides the most stringent departure in the scope of the song from a vocal standpoint. Here, Adele really gets the chance to flex her vocal muscles and remind the audience of her stellar talent after a lengthy hiatus (remember – Hello is her “comeback” single).
The section consists of two primary elements – Adele’s infectious “oou” melismas, and the “anymore” vocal that follows. However, it’s the leap that occurs on line 2 that really takes the impact of the section to the next level.
Line 2 features a very similar melodic structure as that of line 1 with one key difference. Following the descent from F to Eb, Adele’s vocal leaps up a fourth to Ab, which is the pinnacle pitch in the entire song. Not only does this WOW factor take the evocative impact of the section to the next level, but it also substantiates Adele’s stature as one of premier vocalists in today’s mainstream.
Typically in a mainstream hit (and non-mainstream, for that matter), following a prolonged period of heightened intensity, an intensity respite is instituted in order to provide the listener with a break before heading back into a powerful section. This can be implemented in a multitude of ways, but most commonly via a lower energy level bridge, or a lower-energy (breakdown) first half of a final chorus.
In Hello, however, this respite is not provided, which is quite rare. Instead, the song remains in a high-intensity Power Ballad state for almost two-straight minutes/40 bars, or 43% of the song’s total composition. It begins at the onset of the second chorus (2:37), traverses through the vocal break, and peaks in the third and final chorus of the song.
These sections feature a full accompaniment and Adele’s soaring vocals, which keeps the listener in a heightened state of excitement. The respite is finally provided at the tail end of the song in the brief six-second outro, which gently puts the listener back down on the ground via the reversion back to the solo acoustic piano that defines the intro and turnaround.
However, this brief outro isn’t enough to erase the prolonged sonic bombardment that the listener just experienced. It’s left resonating in their head at the end of the song, enticing them to go back for another listen.