I remember exactly where I was the first time I heard Adele’s radio single, “Someone Like You.”

As the notes of the gentle piano ballad breathed through the summer air, I abandoned the soapy water in the kitchen sink, dried my hands on a dish towel, and went straight to Google. I needed to know who moved my soul with the sheer strength of her vocal chords.

After a few clicks, I discovered this voice belonged to British phenomenon Adele Laurie Blue Adkins. Adele’s two albums, 19 and 21 — which released in 2008 and early 2011 — draw their names from the ages she was at the time they were each recorded. To say that she’s taken the world by storm is an understatement. In less than four years, Adele has broken chart records again and again. Her recent win of six Grammy Awards in one night confirms to me that I’m not the only one affected by her growing talent.

I decided to buy 21.

As I listened, my appreciation for her giftedness grew. At the same time though, I developed a sense of wariness when it came to the underlying messages of some of her songs. I became increasingly aware of subtle nuances that didn’t mesh with my worldview as a Christian. Nuances that tarnished otherwise captivating songs.

Take, for example, the song that first drew me to her, “Someone Like You.” Adele starts off this “love song” — which in the summer of 2011 was the first ballad to top the Billboard Hot 100 in three years — with:

Heard that you’re settled down
That you found a girl and you’re married now
I heard that your dreams came true
Guess she gave you things I didn’t give to you

So far, so good. But she goes on to sing:

I hate to turn up out of the blue uninvited
But I couldn’t stay away
I couldn’t fight it
I had hoped you’d see my face and that you’d be reminded that for me
It isn’t over

It’s supposed to be “romantic,” but I can’t help imagining the scene. This poor guy has just settled down happily into the covenant of marriage; maybe Matthew 19:6 — “Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate” — was even read at his wedding. And here comes his old flame, hoping to remind him that she still loves him. I have to think to myself, How could this be helpful in any way? What exactly is she trying to accomplish? By attempting to divert his eyes back to herself, isn’t she trying to separate what God has joined together as one? But it’s just a song, I might have thought once. Sure, a song about trying to start something with a married man.

Then there’s “Rolling in the Deep” — 2011’s best-selling song in the United States. Its pulsating beat makes it seem criminal not to tap at least one appendage. Again, my heart can’t resonate with the lyrics. The entire undertone smacks of bitterness, resentment, unforgiveness, and revenge. I’ve struggled with all of these issues at some point, but none are found in my personal list of “Things to Strive Toward” as a Christian. Instead, the Bible tells me to forgive as I have been forgiven (Colossians 3:13), to turn the other cheek (Luke 6:29), to not keep a record of wrongs (1 Corinthians 13:5).

The alarm bell in my mind goes off again in “Turning Tables” when she claims:

Next time I’ll be braver
I’ll be my own savior
When the thunder calls for me
Next time I’ll be braver
I’ll be my own savior
Standing on my own two feet

From this, it’s my guess that she has yet to meet the one, true Savior. I pray that she does, and if and when that glorious day takes place, she may have Someone else to sing “Lovesong” to — a moving proclamation, but not at all biblical. As a Christian, the only One who can ultimately make me feel home again, whole again, free again, clean again, is Jesus Christ.

A sadness has come over me as I’ve listened to the divinely uninspired sentiments articulated in “Take it All,” when she sings that “Nothing is better than this. And this is everything we need.” Could that really be true? Does it really not get any better than this? And is this really all that we need? I sincerely hope not.

I’ve been challenged recently by a chapter in John MacArthur’s book, Right Thinking in a World Gone Wrong: A Biblical Response to Today’s Most Controversial Issues. In the chapter titled, “Glorifying God in the Gray Areas: Christian Liberty and the World of Entertainment,” MacArthur outlines seven basic principles that can guide us as we consider the music we listen to and the movies and television programs we watch. He challenges us to ask the questions:

Will this activity:

  • produce spiritual benefit?
  • lead to spiritual bondage?
  • expose my mind or body to defilement?
  • benefit others, or cause them to stumble?
  • further the cause of the gospel?
  • violate my conscience?
  • bring glory to God?

The final question on this list brings to mind 1 Corinthians 10:31, which says, “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” Is this Adele’s motif? On the contrary, in “Take it All,” she sings to a prior love, “Everything I do is for you.”

I still admit adoration for Adele’s phenomenal vocal ability. But while her voice is heavenly, the words she sings are not. Drawing upon MacArthur’s checklist, I have to admit that singing along to her lyrics produces no spiritual benefit to me, nor does it further the cause of the gospel or bring glory to God.

So the question that remains is: Now that I’ve been convicted, what am I going to do about it?

James 1:22 comes to mind: “Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” Instead of filling my mind and heart with Adele, my goal should be to practice Philippians 4:8, “…whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things.”

Needless to say, my copy of 21 is now collecting dust.

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Kate Motaung grew up on the shores of Lake Michigan before spending ten years in Cape Town, South Africa. She is married to a South African and together they have three children. Kate is the author of the e-book, Letters to Grief, hosts the Five Minute Friday blog link-up, and has contributed to several other online publications. She blogs at Heading Home and can be found on Twitter @k8motaung.

  • OMG, I have been dealing with this kind of situation a lot lately. I start listening to a fav. song or watching an amazing fav. TV show…then something inside of me tunes me in to lyrics I have sung for many years.

    I’m beginning to ask myself…does this tell the truth of God’s Word or is it a direct opposite meshed in emotions and gooey feelings?

    I’m still struggling with my action especially when I can feel the HS’s nudging deep within me. Sometimes, I ignore the voice in my heart and other times I switch the TV or radio off. I need to do the former more often even if I just want to sing along or watch the show or movie to the very end. Sigh!

  • I like how you are developing a God-scripture-filter on what you put in your mind in these grey areas and how you are seeking God’s words/wisdom in this area. It can be tricky and then also showing grace if someone else disagrees.

  • Trista

    Awesome post! I LOVE music. Singing it, playing, listening, whatever, and as a teenager struggled back and forth between secular music and music that glorified God and encouraged me in His ways. He dealt with me many times over this issue and now as my husband and I are the youth leaders in our church I try to teach the youth just how powerful music is ( I could go on about this) and basically all that you’ve talked about here. Music was created to glorify God (He also loves music :). So, in whatever way I enjoy my love of music, I want it to reflect the love I have for Him.

  • Kristin

    Like you, I’m struck by Adele’s vocal talent. I haven’t purchased any of her CDs, but I do turn up the volume when she comes on the radio. While I respect your views on her lyrics, I do want to point out that the CD 21 was written after the ending of a relationship. For those without Christ, this can be an incredibly difficult time and women especially can believe–and then write–things they normally would not think “in the moment”. I immediately place the songs Someone Like You, Rolling in the Deep, and Fire to the Rain in the “breakup song” category and give Adele some grace. Especially since she obviously does not know the Lord. I did, however, want to respond to what I view as a slightly unfair interpretation of Someone Like You. When you only look at 2 short snippets it is going to look questionable, but I can honestly say I’ve never gotten the impression she was trying to break up a marriage or get involved with this ex. “For me it isn’t over” = she’s still feeling love for the guy. Nothing more. Then go to the chorus. “Nevermind, I’ll find someone like you. I wish nothing but the best for you. Don’t forget me, ah babe, I remember you said ‘Sometimes it lasts in love, and sometimes it hurts instead”. This doesn’t sound like a woman starting an affair. She’s getting closure and moving on, looking for a guy who shares some of the same characteristics as the guy she loved and wishing him well with his new wife. While we do have to be careful what lyrics we allow in our minds and hearts, I’m still looking forward to listening to whatever Adele puts out next time, especially since I’ve heard she’s found someone special and this one shouldn’t be as depressing. :P

    • Kate Motaung

      Hi Kristin,

      Thank you for your helpful comments and observations. You’re right to point out that I did not do justice to the full lyrics of “Someone Like You,” and I appreciate you giving a more complete perspective.

      I also appreciated the way you made the distinction regarding the response to a break-up as being particularly difficult ‘for those who don’t know Christ.’ There is no question that the pain of a broken relationship is just as excruciating for those who do have the Lord, but at least we, as Christians, have an unchanging source of comfort and hope in the midst of the pain. And I suppose this was one of my main reasons for writing this article. Admittedly, it was to challenge myself first and foremost, but also to encourage other believers to turn to that source of absolute truth in turbulent and trying times, as opposed to finding solace and sympathy for our emotions in the moving words of a break-up song.

      As for the full message of ‘Someone Like You,’ even if Adele was not intending to divert her former love’s attention back to herself, the rest of her claim remains problematic. The fact that she resolves to find “someone like you” means that she will likely be comparing every other guy that comes along against this ex, whom she is not over yet. Not only is that unfair to any prospective guys who try to win her love, it is a habit and practice that we should be wary of as Christians. As believers, the qualities we ought to look for in a husband should resemble the characteristics of Christ, as opposed to those that remind us of former relationships.

      Like you point out, we have to give Adele grace because she is not a believer, and I am not in any way trying to force her to conform to biblical standards. I am simply highlighting how subtle nuances in emotionally charged songs can resonate with us to such a degree that we miss the fact that they are whittling away at our worldviews and conforming our thinking to the patterns of the world, as opposed to transforming us in the renewal of our minds (Romans 12:2).

      Thank you again for challenging me and for making sure that fairness has been granted in the way that I represented (or misrepresented) the interpretation of the song.

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by Kate Motaung time to read: 4 min