On Episode 44 of Hall Watchers, Eric and Mary made a case for Sade to be in the Rock Hall. Here is an edited and updated version of the argument.
Take shelter from the Quiet Storm, because the next artist to be championed for Rock Hall induction is Sade, eligible since 2009, but never nominated.
Sade is the band; Helen Folasade Adu is the lead singer. Sade is a perfect candidate for the Hall – if one considers recent Rock Hall history, such icons as Janet Jackson and Whitney Houston have earned induction, and Chaka Khan has received several nominations, so Sade should also have a seat at the Rock hall table. Rock and roll can be a loud, uncivilized and brash listening experience, to be sure (and thank god), but hey, Cleveland, try a little tenderness.
Over the course of her career, Sade Adu has become this timeless icon, setting the template for pop stars and rappers alike. It's a good bit of fun to view her as the female James Bond – an aspirational figure that will always be so much cooler than we’ll ever be. (Agent Adu, you are hereby licensed to "chill").
How exactly did this happen – how did this diamond form? One wonders how Sade Adu came to be. This Nigerian-British sophisticate's identity was formed from her past lives as a model, fashion designer, backup singer, and stylist to acts like dapper New Romantic crew Spandau Ballet. She paid her dues doing gigs on the London club scene at venues like Heaven alongside creative partner Stuart Matthewman. It all materialized, with international gigs and the Sade debut Diamond Life dropping in 1984. The rest is history.
Adu's philosophical approach, life experiences and long-gestating "thing," if you will — being "Sade" — has been a graceful, slow-burn process. These things don't happen overnight, and the best things never do. It's precisely why she and her namesake group stand alone – Sade is effectively its own musical genre. Indeed, there’s a singular strength to Sade and her musical expression. She demonstrates that you can be heartbroken but still maintain your game face through it all. She’s been hurt, but she’s a survivor.
Another reason Sade is exactly the type of artist the Hall should recognize: She’s always played by her own rules (a totally rock and roll attitude), creating and releasing her compelling music on her terms. In fact, she’s turned away from fame, letting it all come to her. She shuns the promotional process, doing very few interviews, demonstrating a wise self-preservation. It's basically non-existent in the social media era, but there's something to be said for mystery in popular music. Adu has maintained that mystery in a digital age where we know way too much about every public figure. There’s an absolute dignity and grace there that sets her part.
Sade’s suave and sophisticated music is a beautiful thing worthy of praise and contemplation. Bonafide musical excellence can be heard across the Sade discography, from 1984's Diamond Life to 2010's Soldier of Love. Both ice and fire are found in this musical realm — a silky, assured blend of R&B, soul and jazz that has aged like fine wine, and well-exemplified on “Smooth Operator,” “Is It a Crime,” and “No Ordinary Love." A relaxed, romantic sentiment is woven into this music's braids, of course, but there's so much more. Listen again to the percolating escapade of “Paradise” and the striking “Soldier of Love,” which marked an evolution in her sound that nodded at industrial sonic textures, and featured these lyrics: "I'm at the borderline of my faith/I'm at the hinterland of my devotion/In the front line of this battle of mine/But I'm still alive." A torch song, if there ever was one, and verses that encapsulate the entire Sade mission statement.
Sade wields an outsized influence on modern R&B, and she’s influenced everyone from Janet Jackson to D'Angelo to Beyoncé. In fact, Drake loves Sade so much, he literally got a tattoo of her face. (It's now abundantly clear who should induct her...)
There is also remarkable influence into the 21st century. Sade’s breathy, whispery vocal style prefigured, and was ASMR before ASMR was a common term. Thus, a direct connection must be made from Sade to ASMR icon Billie Eilish – if you listen to such Eilish tracks as “When the Party’s Over” and “Everything I Wanted” you can hear that influence, clear as day.
In closing, Sade has been a shining example to so many after her. She is a North Star to a legion of other artists. That she influenced Gen-Z hero Billie Eilish (whether or not Billie realizes it) is no-brainer criteria for Rock Hall consideration. It’s time for the Nomination Committee to put Sade on the ballot. The qualifications of influence and musical excellence are very much in evidence here, combined with a host of intangible qualities that transcend verbal articulation.
Put Sade in the Rock Hall.