Smooth Operator

I don’t know what jet-setting playboy Sade Adu was trying to write about, but she might as well be describing herself. Sade may not live the life drenched in diamonds and intrigue that her music implies, but we don’t know that. That’s what makes her so smooth. Sade’s career started in the 80’s and survived the cultural shifts of that decade and beyond. She breezed through the years when Madonna made it fashionable for female performers to reveal every inch of their bodies, then the decades when confessional singers like Sinead O’Connor made it seem necessary to reveal the deepest traumas. Sade did never did either. She revealed very little of herself, except her impeccable style. She has managed to keep herself in the public imagination for decades while keeping her private life private and making relatively little music. Her releases may be spaced far apart, but her music is trend-proof. Mystery and sophistication are in short supply, and Sade has been a main supplier, if stingy. That stinginess, though, is part of the appeal, part of the legacy. Sade shows how it’s possible to have a commercially viable and acclaimed artistic career without bending to what anyone else wants. Whether that may be musical trendiness, physical or emotional nudity, or just more and more albums, she’s not obligated to provide. She provides what she wants on her own schedule. That’s what makes her so smooth.