There were many stunning images in Adele One Night Only, the concert–Oprah Winfrey therapy session that aired on CBS on Sunday night. But one really captured the simultaneously lovely and pretentious air of the entire special, a broadcast TV prelude to the week’s major Adele event: the release of 30, her first album in six years.
As the singer crooned the first single, “Easy on Me,” from the steps of L.A.’s Griffith Observatory and the sunset sent streaks of pink and orange across the sky, she looked over her right shoulder, her long lashes just visible above the raised neckline of her evening gown. In the background, slightly blurred, the Hollywood sign could be seen looming in the hills above Los Angeles, an image director Paul Dugdale returned to more than once.
The moment looked like a movie. It sounded like a song. And it raised the question, Has Adele gone a little too Hollywood?
When Winfrey introduced Adele at the top of the evening, she insisted of the artist, “She’s as real and as down-to-earth as we all believe she is.” But the fact that the Griffith Observatory was packed with celebrities on the night the special was recorded flew in the face of that claim, although, in Adele fashion, she tried to undercut that notion. “I wanted to feel safe in my first little comeback thing,” she explained after performing her first song of the night, “Hello.” “So I wanted to do a mixture of people that I know and love, people that I’ve met a few times, and some of you I don’t know at all. But hi.”
It was a fun game to figure out who fit in which category. Leonardo DiCaprio, who gave a standing ovation in a baseball cap and a hoodie, mask slung over his chin, as if he were planning to pull off a heist after the show: Someone she has met a few times? Lizzo, wearing what Adele referred to as a “poncho-coat,” seemingly made entirely out of flowers: Also someone she has met a few times but possibly someone she knows and loves? Aaron Paul, Ellen DeGeneres, Jesse Tyler Ferguson: Look, I don’t know.
I don’t begrudge any of these people the opportunity to see Adele, an executive producer of One Night Only, in such a stunning setting. Seth Rogen was there too, and I want nothing but the best for Seth Rogen. But in addition to being a vocalist of enormous power and a writer whose songs sound like they were crafted specifically about your personal heartbreaks, Adele has always come across, to Winfrey’s point, as relatable. She looks high glamour, but she has always seemed humble, and that dichotomy has deepened the public’s love for her. Adele’s persona is sophistication tempered by a loud cackle.
During much of the concert and her conversation with Winfrey, which was conducted in Winfrey’s rose garden (!) and interspersed between songs, she still seemed grounded and self-aware, discussing everything from her divorce from Simon Konecki, an experience that informs many of the songs on 30, to her weight loss. During her onstage banter, she sounded no different from the Adele we’ve known, or think we’ve known. But something about the production and the way Winfrey kept referring to Adele’s “journey” — and also how Winfrey literally said “Are you, Adele, getting better at this game of love?” right before Adele sang another new song, “Love Is a Game” — seemed a little more pretentious than what we (fine, I) typically expect from an Adele experience.
Yet as tempted as I was to roll my eyes or recoil at the sight of yet another famous person — is Gordon Ramsay someone Adele knows and loves or someone she has met a few times? — I also found myself moved by her heartfelt performances and the soaring sound of her voice. When she orchestrated a surprise proposal from a guy named Quentin to his girlfriend of seven years, Ashley, I teared up because I am not a monster. When she serenaded them with “Make You Feel My Love,” suddenly and involuntarily — this, embarrassingly, is true — I burst into tears.
In that sense, Adele One Night Only did its job. Despite the rarefied air it occupied — “How posh is this?” Adele asked early in the special, to which the answer obviously was very — it also reminded her fans why they missed her. Her voice is like a memory and an active emotional trigger, a robust glass of Zinfandel that heats your insides and makes you wistful. (Every one of Adele’s albums has been released in either late fall or winter, and that feels absolutely right because that’s when their warmth is most needed.)
The production of this reintroduction of Adele Laurie Blue Adkins may have been a lot at times. But given what she brought to the stage as a performer of talent that somehow feels more immense than all those wide shots of L.A. transitioning from dusk to dark, I’m inclined to go easy on her.