ONLY NOISE: 50 Shades of Sade

Something smooth is afoot. Suddenly, as if surfacing on the pop charts for the first time, Sade is played, sung, and mentioned in nearly every room I enter. “The Sweetest Taboo” slinks across my favorite coffee shop. “No Ordinary Love” sashays through my kitchen. “Smooth Operator” blares from restaurant speakers…or comes as close to blaring as a song like “Smooth Operator” can.

Have I missed something here? I feel like I’m unhip to some universal punch line – as if the town around me has burst into a choreographed dance routine and I’m the only one who finds it strange. Was there a neglected memo? Has a viral Snapchat eluded me? There must be a reason that only a few months ago, a friend on Facebook posted this ambivalent comment:

This acted as a double Sade nod, as her name was praised both by my friend and the good people at East River Tattoo. Several months later, this surfaced:

These posts were not isolated incidents of Sade-dom. It seemed that overnight everyone was digging these soft, jazz-rock fusion tunes unanimously. Everywhere I went: it was Sade all day. All the livelong Sade.

Not long after the Facebook posts above appeared, my eldest roommate J began playing The Best Of Sade on repeat while cooking, cleaning, rolling joints, and smoking joints. He had installed a groovy lighting scheme that synced with his iPhone a few months back for “ambiance.” As Sade whispered the words to “Jezebel” he would sink the lights to a sensual blue, recline on the couch, and blow a beam of smoke across the living room. I was almost annoyed when a mysterious, hat-wearing saxophonist didn’t appear from behind one of our large floppy houseplants.

I still didn’t connect the dots between these separate instances of Sadephilia – until my other roommate started playing her.

H, my youngest roomie, is hardly ever home. She has a demanding job and a fruitful social life, and rarely plays music through the subpar speakers in our kitchen…the kitchen being the hub of our household mingling. A few weeks ago, H was making a salad. In need of a soundtrack, she hooked up her phone to our shitty kitchen speakers, and out poured Sade’s sultry “Is It A Crime.”

“That’s it,” I thought. I asked H if she had heard J playing Sade not too long ago, or noticed the singer’s sudden ubiquity this year. H could offer no explanation, and I remained puzzled. I grew suspicious of this sudden trend; as I do with all things that I feel, well, left out of. Was Jung’s theory of the collective unconscious at work? Had Sade just collaborated on a fashion line with Kenzo? Did she have a fragrance now (perhaps…Eau de Sade)? Though I’d never discovered why every “hip” Brooklyn bar was playing New Order from 2008-2012, or why every restaurant was playing T. Rex in that same time period, I would damn well find out why everyone was swaying to Sade in 2017.

First, I turned to Spotify – to the record cover I recognized the most; that blue-filtered photograph where Sade is poised au natural, smirking into our souls under twig-thin eyebrows. The Best of Sade.

It was early in the morning, and I pressed play, my mug of un-sipped coffee in hand. About to take the day’s first tipple of holy caffeine, “Your Love Is King” blasted into my ear buds at top volume, its wailing, metallic, sax riff nearly causing my coffee cup to vault across the room. So far, it was the least smooth start to the day I could imagine.

I didn’t know how to feel immediately. This was music, in which the saxophone could be described as passionate, and I hated that…but I didn’t hate what I was hearing. Sade makes the kind of music I’m supposed to dislike, on paper at least. It is oppressively pleasant – the most jarring component being that damn saxophone squawking in and out of measures. Yet on a closer listen, a song like “Hang On To Your Love” stands out as a bouncy pop number, and I find myself anticipating its hooky chorus throughout. Sade’s vocal proficiency has never been questioned, but I realize – perhaps decades after everyone else in the world – the subtle chops of her band as well. But suddenly recognizing the quality in her music doesn’t explain the Sade renaissance. I had to know more.

“Why is everyone into Sade all of a sudden?” I ask J, the roommate fond of fancy lighting fixtures.

“Is everyone?” he asks.

“Yes. Everyone. What happened? Is it the twentieth anniversary of her death or something?”


“Didn’t she get shot? And there was a movie? J Lo?”

“That’s Selena.”


Now that I knew Sade was not in fact gunned down by a rabid fan, I flocked to Google for answers.

“Why is everyone obsessed with Sade in 2017?” yielded no solutions on the search engine, but it turned out that this very question was asked a few years prior.

The Guardian and The Vulture had the most info, the former running articles like, “Why Sade is Bigger in the US than Adele,” and “Why Does Sade Have Such a Poor Reputation in the UK?

In 2011, The Guardian printed another story entitled, “Behind the Music: The Secrets of Sade’s Success.” The paper interviewed Sade’s first producer Robin Millar, who said of the singer, “I’ve always thought there are certain voices that make people feel better: Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole and Ella Fitzgerald. And when I first heard Sade I really felt she had it … She also had an amazing effect on people in the studio, both men and women – her charisma and how she looked.”

That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t tell me anything. Feel-goodery couldn’t be the only explanation for Sade’s unofficial comeback. “Feel-good” does not = hip, and right now, Sade is hip as fuck.

But why now? She hasn’t dropped an album since 2010’s Soldier Of Love, and she certainly doesn’t crop up for interviews or public appearances on the regular. For this reason Sade is often compared to reclusive pop queen Kate Bush.

In 2010, Vulture published a story about Sade’s influence on rappers, citing remarks by likes of Missy Elliott, Rakim, and even Kanye West. Apparently the smooth crooner made big waves in the hip hop scene. Souls of Mischief’s Tajai claimed that, “When I was young, her record was one of the few my mom would play that I would enjoy, too. As a kid, I’d want her to turn off her music so I could hear LL Cool J or someone like that, but Sade and Luther Vandross were two records I dug, too. Sade transcends the age gap.”

Could it be Sade’s mere timelessness that resurrected this smooth jazz siren? I had to admit that no one’s current interest seemed to be a side effect of irony…was millennials’ attention to Sade as sincere as her music? After all, Sade was the woman who sang words of pristine devotion, like “I want to cook you a soup that warms your soul”– how could she possibly inspire sarcasm?

And then, in one final Google search, I found my answer. At the top of the page read:

Sade Supreme t shirt.”

So this is what it’s all about, eh? The wildly popular skating brand is retailing the screen print tee for well over $100 as part of their 2017 Spring/Summer line. Emblazoned on the front is a vintage black and white photo of the singer, with a gold, “handwritten” message proclaiming:

“To Supreme

Your Love Is King

Sade x”

Mystery solved? I hope not entirely.

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