On Sunday night, CBS broadcast “Adele, One Night Only,” a concert special aired in anticipation of the Nov. 19 release of her new album, “30.” I was thrilled when I began watching: Adele has easily been my most-played artist for the better part of a decade, beginning when I first downloaded “Rumour Has It” onto my red iPod Nano and up through today. My junior year in high school was a disaster. I missed my U.S. History class because I tried to get tickets to Madison Square Garden’s performance one day. Unfortunately, the attempt was not successful. Even six years after she released her last album, “25,” its songs sound fresh each time I listen, like they have only been released a few months before.
But by the end of Sunday night’s special, I felt a sort of disillusionment, a cognitive dissonance. Whereas once Adele’s music and persona exuded humility and a sort of selflessness, “One Night Only” showed me a version of Adele who has branched away from my own experiences, a singer who has become so embedded in the cultural exclusivity of Hollywood that she is no longer relatable.
I wonder if Adele has lost touch with the realities of everyday life that allow her music to resonate so well with so many people.
It is a joy that she was able to work with, and even become friends with other artists. The strongest friendships are built around what people share in common. (And I cannot complain with the results, since one of these new friends, Bruno Mars, helped write my favorite song from any of Adele’s albums, “All I Ask.”) I would also be remiss not to mention that in the wake of a difficult period in her life, Adele is figuring out how to become her most authentic self, just as we are all called to do. I may be a bit selfish trying to preserve a singer image that isn’t compatible with her current self.
However, even though she is now living in Los Angeles, it makes me wonder if her everyday life has changed.
The concert was pre-recorded at an invite-only event, where 150 or so of Adele’s friends and acquaintances watched her perform onstage on a picturesque hilltop in Los Angeles. Throughout the night, the camera panned to celebrities in the audience, including Lizzo, the chef Gordon Ramsay, James Corden (you know, the one from “Cats”) and Ellen DeGeneres (you know, the one with a hostile workplace). Oprah Winfrey interviewed Adele, and prerecorded clips were played between numbers. The final result felt more like a Hollywood cocktail party, with a wider audience as an afterthought.
The Adele who used all kinds of astrological language for her current stage of life felt like a stranger to me, the person whose music was my favorite as I was growing up.
She was allowing me to express my emotions through her songs, which she did by sharing from her own life experiences.
In my teenage years, Adele was a wonderful person for me. It was almost as if I saw her once and suddenly recognized her face. She was glamorous, not in spite of what might be called her averageness, but because of it: She made no attempt to hide her strong Cockney accent or her cleft chin (or, as she has jokingly called it, her “bum chin”), and she often burst the bubble of decorum at her sold-out concerts as she let loose dozens of swears. Even though her weight and figure were the subject misogynistic comments and jokes in internet culture, she was not afraid to be herself.
In the same way, Adele’s music on her most influential albums, “21” and “25,” did not attempt to sugarcoat the roughness of human emotions. The songs she wrote expressed the defiant anger and heartache that followed a bad breakup. However, she didn’t shy away from writing music that expressed her feelings for her son and gloated about an ex-boyfriend.
I first heard her music before I was old enough that I could relate to many of the stories she tells. But even so, Adele’s music was there for me as I grappled with my identity in middle school and high school—making sense of my sexual orientation, my spiritual and political beliefs, the type of person I wanted to be. She sang to me and reassured that I wasn’t a freak because I didn’t have all the answers. She sang about her own experiences, sure—but in doing so, she was providing me with a way of articulating my emotions when I, as a teenager, did not yet know how to voice them.
This relatable magic of Adele was unfortunately missing during the CBS special. Adele instead seemed to indulge in a self-love so indulgent that it bordered on egoism. As she sang “When We Were Young,” the walls of the Griffith Observatory behind her were emblazoned with projections of photos of herself from throughout the years. It was almost as if she had lost her self-respect and believed that she wasn’t worthy of the fame and fortune she has been given.
Adele’s music on her most influential albums, “21” and “25,” did not attempt to sugarcoat the roughness of human emotions.
Then there was the bizarre engagement announcement that Adele made in the middle the TV special. The opportunity was presented to a man who had been chosen randomly to propose to his girlfriend, in front of Adele and the audience. While it may seem like a good idea, it was just as inauthentic as someone throwing an extravagant party for them. Rather than being a genuinely moving moment focused on a couple’s love for each other, the proposal felt more like just another segment of a variety show hosted by Adele.
It appeared that Adele was intently directing all the attention to herself and minimizing the impact of relationships on other people. When asked by Oprah whether “30”should be thought of as a “divorce album,” Adele replied that the record was really about “divorcing myself”—separating herself from who she used to be, and thereby removing even her ex-husband from something that directly affected his life as well. Of course, some level of this is inevitable for an artist who is promoting her upcoming album—but during the concert broadcast, it felt like Adele was not putting on a show, so much as making herself the show.
At the end of the broadcast, Oprah concluded the interview by expressing to Adele her wish that she receive “all the things your heart desires”—a humanist “prayer” that solidified the evening’s self-congratulatory tenor.
I make my critique from a place of love and respect, as someone who has cherished and will most certainly continue to cherish Adele’s music. But in all of this, maybe I am pining in vain for a time that has come and gone, just as the lyrics of “Someone Like You” go: “We were born and raised in a summer haze,/ Bound by the surprise of our glory days….”