I had lost my interest in pop culture. It’s cheap, it’s short-lived, it’s flavor-of-the-week. “What’s here today is gone tomorrow.” There won’t be “classic” radio stations playing our music in 50 years…

Further, being in “Churchy” environments all my life, I’m tired of Christians spinning secular songs and “discerning” morals in them. That lost its gusto years ago when one girl tried to tell me that Lady Gaga’s “Born this Way” was about being “who God made you to be.” Not.

While I’m skeptical of pop culture’s value for us as men, I’m very aware of its influence on those we love and even ourselves. It brainwashes all generations into a secular conformity. Song after song, show after show, and article after article portray skewed visions of the human person (and the dignity and role of the man in particular). For this reason, I let the “hits” come and go with indifference. And no, I’m not 75 years old.

But I must confess that Adele’s “Hello” has me startled. I didn’t seek it out; it sought me out through my friends. From seminarians and lay people and from men and women I was asked, “Have you heard Adele’s new song?” Of course, I had not.

One man told me that it “moved” him, and so much so that he gave a talk about prayer using it is a framework. Another man said that he just couldn’t watch the music video anymore. Moving his hand to his heart he said: “It just hurts.” And he’s a bearded man’s man who could take down a bear with his bare hands…

So I did some research. The stats on the song are incredible. “Hello” is the #1 single on iTunes in 102 countries world-wide. The album on which the song appears (named “25”) is #1 in 93 countries and it doesn’t even come out until November 20! The music video had 23.2 million views after one day, making it the biggest one-day performance in music video history. YouTube reported that the video was watched 1.6 million times in a one-hour time frame outperforming the new trailer for “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens.” As I write this, “Hello” has over 309 million views on Youtube. I’m not the only one the song has startled…

If you haven’t seen it, here’s the music video:

If you don’t have time for that, here’s the chorus:

 Hello from the other side / I must’ve called a thousand times / To tell you I’m sorry for everything that I’ve done / But when I call you never seem to be home

Hello from the outside / At least I can say that I’ve tried / To tell you I’m sorry for breaking your heart / But it don’t matter, it clearly doesn’t tear you apart / Anymore

What is it about this song? How has it captivated so many people across the world? Sure, there are many factors at play here, many of which do not concern us on Those Catholic Men’s blog. For example: It’s been 4 years since Adele’s last album… Her voice is as powerful as ever since her vocal chord surgery… The videography is stunning… Fine. But we can say more than this.

A song speaks to us when it touches something inside us. That is, when a song hints at a truth that is lodged in our hearts, we listen to it over and over again. We don’t do this because it teaches us something, but because we know of the experience to which it speaks. This is how, as my friend said, it “moved” him. And this is why so many people told me about it. She sings about something true.

What is that experience in “Hello”? There are two. One is obvious. And we share it with our secular peers. The other can only be appreciated through the lens of faith. I’m afraid I’m doing that “discerning” thing that I said I hated…

I) The song is about a woman (Adele) trying to get back in touch with a man whose heart she had broken many years ago. She tries. She “must’ve called a thousand times.” He doesn’t respond. He’s moved on. It’s heartbreaking for her.

For something to “move” our hearts it doesn’t need to line up perfectly. And it doesn’t here. We’re men after all and the lead here is a woman. But we have likely experienced trying to reach out from “the other side / the outside” in vain. And their faces are lodged in our memories… We share this experience (as long as we have fleshly hearts liable to loving and breaking) with our contemporaries.

II) But, as I listened to the song over and over as I drove across the country (amidst chapters of my audiobook on How the Stock Market Works), the thought occurred to me: As much seeking as I might do, how much more often God must be seeking me!

St. Augustine understands God this way. He exclaims in his “Confessions”: “Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you!… You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness.” For St. Augustine, God is the seeker. We are the sought. It is He who constantly calls out to us “from the other side / the outside” in our day-to-day lives. Yet, how often His communications go unheeded. And this reminder from Adele’s “Hello” brought me to my knees…

A friend once wrote to me that if only I was more aware, I would see more clearly the traces of God (as Father, Son, and Spirit) and the Blessed Virgin Mary in my life. And they were right… We often resort to operating as though (if not also outright confessing) that we are in control of our lives and our destinies. But this is precisely wrong. Msgr. Luigi Giussani was apt to say: “Jesus Christ is the protagonist of our lives. He is the prominent figure. His face is at stage center.” This is our task: to become more aware of how God is seeking after us “from the other side” within the reality of our daily lives, and empowered by this grace to respond in the most manful way possible.

11 11 2015
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  • Bucky

    You gotta do some knee-strengthening exercises, man.

  • William Rudolph

    Sorry. The song doesn't move me in the least. It could be because I've been married for 40 years, I'm in my 60s and have nine grandchildren three daughters. But to tell you the truth I never did like the type of music in the first place. Reading your article, I was immediately deeply moved by the recitation of Saint Augustine's words starting "late have I loved the...." Yes, are used to, and still can feel that the words of love songs from the 40s 50s 60s really can express the souls love for God. But "Hello" doesn't come close.

    • Phil G

      William, I agree with you. and I am not in my 60s and have no grandchildren yet.
      I am in my mid (OK late) 30s and have five sons. This song doesn't talk to me either.
      I do believe that the skill to create musical compositions and the ability to sign that Adele has is definitely a gift from our Creator. I do not believe however that this song should be overanalyzed and made into a Christian one.
      This is pop culture! and it's master manages to trick us so many times and so many ways into thinking that it is more than what it is. We need to stay focused....
      God bless.

  • Pat_h

    "A friend once wrote to me that if only I was more aware, I would see more clearly the traces of God (as Father, Son, and Spirit) and the Blessed Virgin Mary in my life"

    I haven't listed to the song yet, but St. Augustine's quote brings to mind a question I recently heard posed on Catholic Answers, that being why doesn't God make his existence plain. St. Augustine, after his profound conversion, realized that the existence of God was virtually screaming at him, as it is at all of us. Everyday God's existence is plain for those who care to see it, and his hand in our lives is likewise always there, although we fail to detect it so often.

    Which is why even if God directly intervened in everyone's life, many would fail to see it. We don't see it, as we're blind, we don't know how to appreciate it, we're dulled to it, or we don't want to see it.

  • John Janaro

    Adele is a true artist, and I'm not surprised by this moving song, not only because of the lyrics but also because of her mastery of a singing style that has its roots in Gospel-music, which modulates vocal tones to resonate with emotion. It works artistically because it is a "focused affectivity" that takes the experience of "sorrow" and the human sounds that sorrow brings forth, and makes them into music.

    The problem so often in music is the commodity-driven "pop culture" -- but there have always been artists in contemporary music. Many of them have been (and have allowed themselves to be) manipulated and degraded into "celebrities." But artistry and humanity (and therefore the human longing and the needs that constitute the human heart) have never been entirely suffocated. I hope that your generation of *real musicians* (I say "real" because there is an unprecedented degree of cheap fabrication) has more interest in staying true to their art and their humanity. I think Father Giussani (precisely because we believe that "Christ is the protagonist of our lives") would encourage us to be interested and attentive to musicians and artists who are human beings, to *listen* not only for explicit affirmations of Christian themes or the endorsement of particular moral norms, but also for everything that expresses in a genuine way the real position of the human heart in front of reality, in all of its struggles. Christ is the protagonist of every human person's life. We must never forget that. We will find signs of the human heart that (even unknowingly) begs for Christ in places that may surprise us. Of course when we listen we must form judgments about what we hear, but let us permit Jesus Christ "the protagonist" to free us more and more from the *discouragement* that our present environment so easily engenders in us. Then our judgments will be more adequate, more attuned to reality in all its factors. I think we will be surprised by what we find, and by the ways we can be constructive.

    • J T

      I wished to comment only on your first paragraph in terms of the objective observation. In my experience, I thought it very perceptive and true:it seems to me this song and music aptly reconstruct a form of deep despair. Listening again without paying attention to the words themselves, the sounds present a driving desire in the face of being overwhelmed. … My perception is that Kate Bush's works exhibit the quality of artist I understand you mention (but in her style). Her Hounds of Love album, such as "Running Up that Hill (A Deal with God)", or "Hounds of Love". Kate's work is not Christian. Without seeking the trouble of an answer, I do wonder if you considered Kate's work to match what I understand you describing. Regardless, Hello exhibits the despair and sorrow emotions sung as you describe which is pretty unusual for pop-culture.

  • Charles

    I like your reflection because it provides an alternative perspective than my initial interpretation. For me, the song presented a reversed point of view. Rather than a narrative of God seeking humanity, it felt like the all too familiar example of a person crying out to God, but finding no response, only an "empty tomb." (JN 20)

    / Hello from the other side / I must've called a thousand times / to tell you I'm sorry for everything that I've done / But when I call you never seem to be home /

    The genuine contrition and desire so palpably manifests themselves in these words. However, in spite of this God still "doesn't answer her a word." (MT 23)

    / Hello from the outside / at least I can say that I've tried / to tell you I'm sorry for breaking your heart / But it don't matter, it clearly doesn't tear you apart / Anymore /

    At the risk of "discerning" meaning all too liberally - this, more than anything else, puts into words Humanity's heartbreaking response toward God. In my experience, people have not grown arbitrarily apathetic. But rather, feel "outside" - unheard and unanswered.

    Abiding - in spite of the Silence of God - this is the courageous task of modern man.

    • Emily

      This is how I felt when I just listened to the song for about the 15th time or so, and I realized, before reading this article that it sounds like Adele is praying to God but here's no answer.

      • Emily

        ^^^ Probably because when you are famous there are gifts everywhere so it's hard to see a sign from God, you already 'have it all' in a way I don't know, maybe not but, basically when you're not famous the gifts of God are more of a surprise and we appreciate gifts more than someone who is rich and famous

  • Michael

    Fantastic reflection ... I will have to listen to it again ...Thank you for directing me back to it with a fresh breath