The Glorious Age of Adele
First came a brutal pandemic year, then a career low point. In an intimate new interview, Adele talks about the artistic and personal rebirth that has her feeling happier than she’s ever been.
by : Emma Carmichael- Aug 19th, 2022
Adele’s career has not had much in the way of low points. The British singer-songwriter has had a meteoric rise since the 2008 release of her celebrated debut album, 19. She has won 15 Grammys and, with her devastating vocal power and narrative command, has achieved such celebrity that her name has become shorthand for heartbreak itself. Last November, after a six-year hiatus, Adele released her fourth studio album, 30, which became the bestselling album of the year in the U.S. But sitting in her Beverly Hills kitchen one blistering afternoon in June, Adele can easily identify her professional nadir: It was when, on the morning of January 20, she uploaded a teary video to Instagram to inform her fans that she was cancelling her Las Vegas residency at the Colosseum at Caesars Palace, which was set to premiere the following evening. “It was the worst moment in my career by far,” she says within 10 minutes of us sitting down. She hasn’t spoken publicly about the debacle in the five months since, even as rumours about production issues and set disagreements swirled, and she’s eager to address it right away. “By far. I was so excited about those shows. It was devastating.”
Before Adele posted the video, she’d been up for more than 30 hours straight, tormenting herself over a choice she’d known for a week was the right one to make. But her team, already ravaged by absences that were a result of the Omicron surge, felt they’d accomplished more under tighter deadlines before. And there was so much on the line: months of planning and rehearsals, her crew’s and band’s livelihoods and untold dollars in investment not to mention the many thousands of ticket holders who’d planned around birthdays, anniversaries and graduations to travel to Vegas to see her. Adele was terrified of letting everyone down. But she also knew in her bones that something about the show did not feel authentic. “There was just no soul in it,” she says. “The stage set-up wasn’t right. It was very disconnected from me and my band, and it lacked intimacy. And maybe I tried too hard to give it those things in such a controlled environment.”
At a dress rehearsal the night before she announced the cancellation, she got frustrated enough that, during the first song, she walked to the end of the 1,500-square-metre stage, sat down and hung her legs over the side. Then she pulled her mic away and started singing a cappella to the mostly empty 4,300 plus-seat Colosseum. Even though she was unplugged, they could still hear her up at the top, she says. As she sang, Adele looked out into the first few rows and realized it was exactly this feeling she’d been missing: an intimate and unpretentious moment with a stardom that has, over 15 years and more than 120 million albums sold worldwide, become its own life force.
“This would be the best part of the show,” she remembers thinking. “For me and for you. This is what I want,” she continues, motioning to an imagined small audience in front of her kitchen table. “And none of that—” she gestures behind her to the idea of a Vegas stage with its trappings and special effects—“has that.” The next morning, she called off the shows.
It was “brutal,” she says, but it was also a choice that was in line with what she is known for: being a generational talent who has earned the right to engage with her fame on her own terms and share her art and herself with the world only when she feels ready to do it. “With her, everything’s about authenticity,” says Jonathan Dickins, who has been her manager since she was 18 years old. “For her to go out and perform a show she’s not happy with would be a lie to the fans.”
“The first couple of months were really, really hard,” says Adele. “I was embarrassed. But it actually made my confidence in myself grow because it was a very brave thing to do. And I don’t think many people would have done what I did. I’m very proud of myself for standing by my artistic needs.”
When we meet at her home in June, Adele is a couple of weeks removed from her first proper return to the stage in five years. She is relaxed and rested (normally a terrible sleeper, she has been getting a luxurious nine hours a night) and dressed down in black sweats and a black Nike Jordan T-shirt, hair back and face free of makeup. She greets me brightly and fixes us both iced coffees with almond milk while asking polite questions about Vermont, where I grew up. (To my surprise, she remembers passing through the state for a radio interview when she was promoting 19.)
The next day, she would fly to New York with her boyfriend of a year, sports agent Rich Paul, where they had plans to attend the wedding of Cleveland Cavaliers forward-centre Kevin Love. Then she’d go home to London to take her nine-year-old son, Angelo, to see Billie Eilish at The O2. Angelo, whose father is Adele’s ex-husband, Simon Konecki, is “obsessed” with Eilish, she says. “He’ll go up to [his room] after school and read all the lyrics, and then he’ll want to discuss them.”
At the start of July, she would make her triumphant return to the stage with two headlining nights at BST Hyde Park, an annual summer festival in London. The rest of the headliners were all men, and in response, Adele assembled an all-women bill—including Kacey Musgraves and a childhood favourite, R&B singer Gabrielle—for her shows. “London crowds are the best,” she says, grinning in anticipation. “They’re gonna be drunk before I even go on. We’re all gonna have the time of our lives.”
At some point after that, she planned to re-announce her much-anticipated shows in Vegas. Weekends With Adele will run at the Colosseum beginning toward the end of 2022, with shows on Friday and Saturday night every week. The announcement will mark an overdue culmination of 30. Aside from two pre-taped television specials (one in the U.S. and one in the U.K.) that aired the month of 30’s release, Adele had scarcely performed any of the album’s songs until her Hyde Park shows. After the Vegas news came out, she largely retreated from the public eye.
Outside of her songwriting, which—with searing hits like “When We Were Young,” “Someone Like You” and “Hello”—shows a vulnerability bordering on narrative purgation, Adele has always been known as a private person. She does not have the password to her official Instagram account, which has more than 50 million followers, and she rarely updates it. Like her mononymous peer Beyoncé, she is selective about the press she chooses to participate in. When she returned to L.A. from Vegas in January, someone tipped off the paparazzi about her flight, so there were cameras waiting at Paul’s house when she arrived. “I couldn’t even sit in the garden and be on the phone with my friends,” she says. “I was just trapped inside.” For a while, she had used a secret Twitter account to occasionally lurk her mentions, but as frustrated fans began to flood her social-media accounts with critical comments about the abrupt announcement, she deleted it. “I was embarrassed,” says Adele, grimacing at the memory. “I went into hiding.”
“I was embarrassed [to cancel the shows]. But it actually made my confidence in myself grow because it was a very brave thing to do. I’m very proud of myself for standing by my artistic needs.”
As she licked her wounds, she more or less stopped promoting the album, afraid that doing so would make it seem like she didn’t care about the cancelled shows. (As a result, she has at least one unreleased music video for 30 in the queue.) “I didn’t want anyone to think I weren’t trying my best,” she says, her voice getting quiet. “And I was.”
She ventured out for a performance of 30’s standout power ballad “I Drink Wine” at the BRIT Awards in London. She wore a custom Valentino chiffon dress embroidered with lime-hued sequins and sat on top of a piano, and to her surprise, no one booed. “I nearly cried at the end of my performance,” she remembers. “It felt strange receiving so much love when I’d let people down.”
The Colosseum stage is massive—its proscenium alone is reportedly 37 metres wide, about a third of the length of a football field—and it initially posed issues for Adele, whose set designs tend to be understated and elegant. A planned water feature element, for example, “looked great for a couple of songs and then didn’t do anything. It was just there.”
In an email, the legendary Bette Midler, who had her own residency at Caesars from 2008 to 2010, called the sheer size of the stage “absolutely terrifying.” She was supposed to make her grand entrance on a custom pile of Louis Vuitton luggage, but when it arrived during rehearsals, it felt “like Spinal Tap,” Midler wrote. “Just minuscule on that gigantic stage. We had to fix the luggage, which took weeks. So for the first few weeks, I made my entrance riding a donkey.”
For the stage design at the BRITs, Adele teamed up with British entertainment-architecture firm Stufish. It felt like a risky leap: “I wasn’t sure if [Stufish] were gonna take me seriously, especially after a failed show.” She brought them inspiration from an unlikely source: Angelo’s fifth-birthday party, for which she’d decorated the house herself. “I just went down to Michaels,” she explains, and then she pauses and crosses her eyes in pleasure at the mere thought of the arts-and-crafts chain. “I love it there,” she says. “Oh, my God, and World Market. You can fuckin’ get some great things there.” She’d bought a bunch of big sequins and nailed them to a board to make her own photo-booth backdrop, and for the BRITs, she wanted to create something like it—only on a national-broadcast scale. The team at Stufish were game, and they produced a stunning shimmering wall of gold glitter to complement her dress. She liked working with the firm, and they agreed to come on board for the revamped Vegas shows, along with director Matt Askem and creative director Kim Gavin.
After the BRITs that night, Adele and a couple of close friends picked up McDonald’s (her order is a Big Mac and fries and—“if I’m really, really going for it”—six McNuggets) and went back to her apartment to watch Netflix. As her friends dozed off, Adele’s eyes drifted to the mantelpiece. “My TV’s above my fireplace there,” she explains, looking over my shoulder at the fireplace in her L.A. kitchen for a comparison. “Let me find a pen. My fireplace here isn’t the same.”
She gets up slowly—she has had a bad back since she was a teenager, which got worse after she slipped her L6 in January 2021 when Angelo jumped out to scare her as she came out of the bathroom—and goes and rummages through a drawer, returning with a blue Sharpie. She draws a three-sided square and then two smaller ones nested inside and explains: “It’s tiered stone, and I’d been playing over in my head how vast the stage is in Vegas. I was like, ‘How do I make a stadium-size stage feel small in that room?’ I noticed all the borders around the fire, and I was like, ‘What if I treat it like a puppet stage?’” The next day, when the Stufish team came over to discuss design plans, she pointed to the mantelpiece. “I want that,” she told them.
The new stage is an adaptation of her design, a fitting inspiration for a show that aims to capture the intimacy she was missing in that January dress rehearsal. With the show, says Adele, “I want to tell the story of the beginning of my career to now. I’m not gonna give away too much about it, but the show grows. The show grows. It’s all about the music, and it’s really, really nostalgic. It’s gonna be really beautiful.”
It will also, of course, feature plenty of her hallmark banter.
“I haven’t got any bullet points, obviously, when I talk,” she says. “That’s why my shows are so erratic. One time, I gave, like, an hour-long speech about an aquarium!” (For Adele’s combination of talent and showmanship, Dickins compares her to Barbra Streisand and Midler, the latter of whom referred to Adele as “a living doll” with “exquisite taste”: “She’s so warm and winning that it’s impossible not to fall under her spell.”
Adele wants to make things right for her fans, and she anticipates feeling tremendous relief when the Vegas news is out. The residency makes logistical sense for her life—it’s critical to her that she not disturb her hard-earned co-parenting routine with Konecki or uproot Angelo from his life in L.A.—and she also feels it’s the appropriate time in her career. “I think I’m right to do it right now,” she says. “I know I’m not, like, 60 years old and I haven’t got 20 albums under my belt. But I think my music will work in a show in Vegas.” She’s also excited to finally share in the communal enjoyment of her new music. “I haven’t really witnessed  out in the world yet,” she says. “It’s gonna be so emotional. I don’t know what I’m gonna do with myself.”
It’s well documented by now that 2020 was a brutal year for Adele. She and Konecki split up in 2019, and she struggled in the early days of the pandemic. She was mourning the end of her relationship and felt despairingly lonely; she had regular anxiety attacks. In her darkest moments, she recorded voice memos of herself crying and of her and Angelo talking, a couple of which made it onto 30. “It was horrible,” she remembers. “I was flying around this house like a fucking wasp.”
“I definitely want more kids. I’m a homemaker and I’m a matriarch, and a stable life helps me with my music. But right now, all I got in my brain is Vegas. I wanna fucking nail it.”
Gradually, she dug herself out of the hole. She committed to therapy and tried particularly L.A. balms, like sound baths and meditation. She started lifting weights and boxing every day and found that the routine centred her and that she liked feeling strong in her body. She also made amends with her estranged father, Mark Evans, who’d been absent for most of her life. He died of cancer in May 2021; Adele has said their reconciliation “set little me free.”
Finally, and perhaps most pivotally, she fell madly in love. “Beyond,” she says. “I’ve never been in love like this. I’m obsessed with him.” Adele and Paul had been friends for some time, but their relationship became romantic in 2021, and they went public when she sat courtside with him at an NBA Finals game that July. (“Lucky for him, I love basketball,” says Adele. She’s partial to the Phoenix Suns.) She turned 34 on May 5 and celebrated her one-year anniversary with Paul—as well as her purchase of a nearby Beverly Hills mansion formerly owned by Sylvester Stallone—nearly a week later.
Paul has three children of his own, including a daughter in college, and they are renovating their new home together with a blended family in mind. (Adele’s one existing personal social-media account is for Pinterest, where she says she’s been collecting ideas for interiors.) Paul seems a good match for Adele. He has repped LeBron James for a decade, which has given him a familiarity with the stratospheric circle of fame she inhabits. She says he makes her feel safe and encourages her to live her guarded life more freely. When they were discussing taking a vacation recently, Adele told Paul that she had always wanted to go to one of the Italian islands but feared the paparazzi presence there. “He was like, ‘You would let that stop you from going to the place that you most want to go on vacation?’” she remembers, laughing with affection. “He’s like, ‘For one photograph, what’s the worst that can happen?’”
When I ask if she wants to get married again, she says, “Yes, absolutely,” and when I push further to check if she’s engaged, she offers the most expert—and, as is her style, cheekiest—non-answer I’ve ever encountered. “Well! Well. Well, I’m not married,” she says and starts to laugh. “I’m not married.” We sit with that for a beat, and then I try again: “So…are you engaged?” “I’m not married. I’m not married!” she says again and takes a big gulp of coffee before singing, “I’m just in loooove! I’m as happy as I’ll ever be. I might as well be married.” (In another conversation soon after, she is more straightforward: “I’m not engaged. I just love high-end jewellery, boy!”)
She is more conclusive on the topic of expanding her family. “I definitely want more kids,” she says. “I’m a homemaker and I’m a matriarch, and a stable life helps me with my music. But right now, all I got in my brain is Vegas,” she adds. “I wanna fucking nail it.”
The sellout shows in Hyde Park—Adele’s first concerts in half a decade—went off without a hitch. She was nervous, as she always is before performing, but after the third song or so, she relaxed and started to enjoy herself. “They were two of the best crowds I’ve ever stood in front of, ever, in my whole career,” she tells me over Zoom from her backyard in Los Angeles on the Fourth of July. (“I’m sunbathing topless by my pool, so I’m not gonna join you on video,” she says, laughing. She plans on making herself a white wine spritzer when we hang up.) The experience made her anticipate Vegas even more. “That’s the first thing I said to Rich when I got in the car after the second show,” she says. “I was like, ‘Well, fuck, now I’ve got itchy feet. I’ve got itchy feet, Rich!’”
When she sang “Someone Like You” on the first night in London, she let the audience take over on one of the final choruses and got choked up listening to them sing. “I wrote that on my own, in my little tiny flat, when I was 21,” says Adele. “The fact that they all still remember the words and love the song…it was just incredible.”
Writing and releasing 30 was a salve for her; now, nearly a year after its release, she can finally see how her fourth album resonates with the world and fits into the story of her career. “I like seeing myself in these four different moments of my life,” says Adele. “It’s been really emotional putting the set list and the visuals together because so much has happened. Fifteen years is a long time. But one thing I feel so lucky about—with how big my life is now—is that I really lived a normal life. You know?” She pauses.
“I remember writing 19 very, very much and going from the studio to meet my friends at the pub. I remember getting on the Tube and going to every meeting I had, and I remember going to afterparties of my friends’ little gigs. I remember all of those things, and I remember all the first times I did something. I remember them even when I’m doing them for the millionth time.”
Find the full story in the September 2022 issue of ELLE Canada — out on newsstands and on Apple News+ August 22. You can also subscribe for the latest in fashion, beauty and culture.
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