Few singers can command a crowd like Adele. She is not a sex symbol, a political artist, nor is she a controversial figure in the media. What she does have, however, is an intimacy that allows her to connect with listeners around the world. Heartbreak and love are things that everyone encounters, but Adele’s performances capture this in a way that’s both personable and passionate. There’s also her voice, which ranks among the most distinct, and powerful, in all of music.
Adele had a huge night at the Grammy Awards on Sunday, winning all five of her nominations including Best Pop Vocal Album, Song of the Year, and Album of the Year. The singer also performed a tribute to the late George Michael that resulted in the show’s most shocking (and unfortunate) moment. She stopped the performance mid-song, apologized to the audience for the flub, and proceeded to start her cover of “Fastlove” from the beginning.
In the wake of this publicized gaffe, we’ve instead decided to focus on the five best award show performances in Adele’s career.
1. “Someone Like You” at the 2011 British Awards
“Someone Like You” is inspired by a boyfriend who broke up with Adele. It was written in collaboration with producer Dan Wilson, and was actually one of the last additions to her 2011 album 21. In it, Adele sings of the pain that comes with being rejected by a lover, and the personal strength needed to bounce back. “When I was writing it I was feeling pretty miserable and pretty lonely,” the singer told Digital Spy, before going onto explain that the song was about the fear of not finding true love.
This performance at the 2011 British Awards is one packed with powerful emotion. “When I sing it,” the singer explained in a video interview, “it still changes a little piece of me.” As the video goes on, you can see the catharsis on Adele’s face as she belts out the heartbroken notes. She definitely wasn’t the only one with tears in her eyes when the song was over.
2. “Hello” at the 2017 Grammy Awards
Adele’s experience at the 2016 Grammy Awards was not a pleasant one. Whilst performing her song “All I Ask”, a stage microphone feel onto the piano, ratting the singer and causing her vocals to be noticeably pitchy. Adele discussed the experience when she appeared on Ellen, saying that she was very “embarrassed” and “cried pretty much all day” the following day.
The stirring rendition of “Hello” at the 2017 Grammy Awards was a triumphant return to form. In typical Adele fashion, she took the stage alone, stood directly in the spotlight, and belted out her number one single to soul-rattling effect. The tune would later go on to win three awards including Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Pop Solo Performance. If that wasn’t enough, Adele gave an adorable shout out to her son Angelo Konecki.
3. “When We Were Young” at the 2016 Brit Awards
The most wistful of Adele’s live performances, this ernest rendition of “When We Were Young” is less emotional than its peers. The song was written after Adele struggled with writer’s block and a crisis of confidence. At the suggestion of Rick Rubin, who produced several of the songs on 21, the singer started from scratch, and wound up writing this gentle tune as a result. The song’s producer, Ariel Rechtshaid, told The Fader that the song “has an old soul vibe to it… a lot of different vignettes, reflecting on different times in your life and different people.”
The performance came at the end of a Brit Awards in which Adele had already won British Album of the Year and Best Female Artist. Consequently, Adele sings the song with a warm, almost celebratory cadence. From reflecting on the struggles of youth to performing on some of the biggest stages in the world, Adele’s success is most definitely one worth celebrating.
4. “Skyfall” at the 2013 Academy Awards
Not only was “Skyfall” nominated for Best Original Song at the 2013 Academy Awards, but Adele had never performed it live prior to the ceremony. This unfortunate scheduling scared the daylights out of the singer, according to Music News, who said that she doesn’t enjoy performing until she gets off stage. “I get super nervous,” she told Express, “it frightens me that people are spending a chunk of their pay check to see me and might then wish they hadn’t.”
Of course, all concerns went away when Adele took the stage in an elegant, sequined dress. Her orchestra-backed performance was one for the ages, graced with sultry vocal runs and a shimmery background that can best be described as “cinematic.” The song went on to win the Brit Award, the Golden Globe, and the Academy Award. James Bond actor Daniel Craig was so reportedly touched by the song that he teared up.
5. Rolling in the Deep” at the 2012 Grammy Awards
What makes this 2012 performance so impressive was that just three months prior to the show, Adele had intensive surgery on her throat. According to CBS News, the singer was performing on a French radio show when a polyp on her vocal chord suddenly hemorrhaged. “I had laser surgery,” she explained, “They put lasers down your throat, cut off the polyp, and kind of laser your hemorrhage back together and fix it.” She couldn’t talk at all during the three month recovery process.
Seeing her take the stage to perform “Rolling in the Deep,” you’d never know there was an issue. Adele hits every note with pinpoint precision, and her sleek, stylish return coincided with her winning the Grammys for Album of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Album. Even her surgeon, Dr. Steven Zeitels, was impressed, telling MTV that “if anything, she’s better than before.”