Dazzling in a shimmery gold gown and pinup-perfect high bun, Adele looked like a holiday miracle in the center of New York City’s Radio City Music Hall on Nov. 17. The British songstress toppled seemingly every record in music history when her studio effort 25 strutted onto the Billboard 200, and on that particular night (several days before the album’s official release), Hollywood’s brightest were in attendance, from Matthew McConaughey and Bill Murray to Jennifer Lawrence and presidential candidate Donald Trump, as well as the many emotional fans ready to burst into tears once Adele uttered a note.
Packaged as an NBC special airing Monday, Dec. 14, the network’s late-night mainstay Jimmy Fallon offered a comical intro by saying the name of Adele’s comeback record “Hello” in nearly every language. The mood immediately shifted once the curtains lifted and the British siren, perhaps the only human capable of making stone-cold loners turn into emotional puddles, emerged with her billowy ballad “Water Under the Bridge.” Against a stage-to-ceiling projection of Adele glamor shots, she almost spoke on behalf of the crowd when she sang, “If you’re gonna let me down, let me down gently.”
The occasion wasn’t just a hotbed for teary-eyed breakdowns. Adele flaunted her inner-comedian as the queen of one-liners, giving executive producers reason to keep one finger on the censor button in between performances. “I’ve been dying to do a fucking show,” the songstress said after admitting that she was ready to scram to the nearest exit before hitting the stage. During another pause, she even reminded the audience in her British accent, “Obviously this is gonna be on TV, so don’t pick ya nose.”
Her thirst for live performances showed. With her eight-person band and a rising orchestra that popped up several times throughout the nearly two-hour affair, her comeback show didn’t carry the trappings of a has-been trying to find her footing — rather, it felt like a decorated artist who probably still pinches herself every time an award comes rolling in. The mother of one has reinvented herself on her own terms (and timetable), leaving other chart-toppers to do the standard social-media fluffing and press runs while she celebrates her homecoming as a relative recluse (minus a handful of features for outlets like Rolling Stone and i-D) before gifting her new LP.
At the heart of Adele season, she employed her hearty vocals for the one-night-only concert, blending old jams with newer 25 gems like “When We Were Young” and “All I Ask,” the hyper-emotional farewell to a lover co-written by Bruno Mars (whom she described as “cool as fuck” in the studio). On that one, she stirred up memories of lost love on behalf of every attendee in the venue by cooing, “And since you’re the only one that matters, tell me, who do I run to?”
One of the more in-your-feels moments came when Adele performed “Hometown Glory,” an ode to London that she wrote when she was 16. “Tonight, this is for everyone’s hometown,” she said before images of Paris — the city where 130 lives were lost after terrorist attacks — flashed across her setup. The stage was even lit in blue, white and red as a nod to the French flag.
Later, her manicured digits grabbed hold of a guitar. While she admitted to being “a snail on the piano,” she strummed her heart out for a rendition of her 2008 breakout hit “Chasing Pavements” from her debut 19. It was a full-circle moment for the British songstress, who has seen millions of records sold since she began naming her albums after poignant time markers in her life (19 was followed by the certified-diamond 21 and recent release 25). Adele’s gift in live settings, though, is not singing at her listeners but rather holding their hands through their own bouts of heartache and fears of adulthood.
She closed the show with thunderous standing ovations to her monster records “Someone Like You” and “Rolling in the Deep,” both the shiniest emblems on her catalog, genuinely thanking her audience for embracing her pain and talents.
“I could sing high, I could sing lower. I could do whatever, but when it’s time to do it front of you lot, I shit myself,” she joked to the crowd at one point. But for the sake of the Internet and her pristine public image, Adele kept it together effortlessly that night while the rest of us tried to do the same.