The past 12 months have been a whirlwind success for Adele, topped off with six Grammy Awards and two Brit Awards this month.
But why is she so successful and why do people get so emotional when listening to a song like Someone Like You?
According to a psychologist at the University of British Columbia, it is Adele’s clever placement of musical ornamentals that creates such a tearjerker reaction in her listeners.
Speaking to the Wall Street Journal, Martin Guhn, who in 2007 co-wrote a study on the subject, explained that ornamentals “generates tension in the listener”.
“When the notes return to the anticipated melody, the tension resolves, and it feels good,” he explained.
His research follows a 20-year-old study by British psychologist John Sloboda, who asked music lovers to identify parts in songs that make them cry or provoke goose bumps. Out of 20 chosen passages, 18 were found to contain an appoggiatura, an ornamental that clashes with the melody to create a dissonant sound.
Adele’s number one song, Someone Like You, has appoggiaturas throughout.
Dr Guhn also observed that in the song’s chorus, Adele modulates her pitch at the end of long notes before the accompaniment heads into a new harmony, which further creates roller-coasters of tension and resolution.
He added that when Adele jumps an octave to sing the chorus after starting with a soft and repetitive pattern, another spine-tingling moment is created due to the ‘surprise’ of a change in volume, timbre and harmony.
Even solving the riddle of why people love the song so much, Dr Guhn told the news provider that when the music breaks from its expected pattern, the listener’s heart races and they go into a state of either positive or negative arousal, feeling happy or sad, caused by a release of pleasure hormone dopamine.
The effect is just like the feeling of food, sex and drugs and is almost like being addicted to the song, even if emotions are sad on hearing the song.
With tricks like this, Adele is sure to recreate her success with her next album.