Why Adele’s Grammys flub was actually a pop-star power play

Adele during her tribute to George Michael at Sunday's Grammy Awards.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Pop Music Critic

Is this becoming a habit for Adele?

As you’ve surely heard by now, the young British singer went dramatically off-script at Sunday’s Grammy Awards, halting her shaky performance of the late George Michael’s “Fastlove” (presumably because she couldn’t hear her accompaniment) and asking to start the tribute again.

But although the moment was shocking — at least by the tightly managed standards of televised awards shows — it wasn’t exactly a surprise: After all, Adele experienced a similar mishap at the 2016 Grammys, where she delivered a deeply pitchy rendition of her song “All I Ask” that seemed to disrupt the idea of Adele’s vocal prowess.


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“I can’t do it again like last year,” she said Sunday as she stopped “Fastlove,” and the pain of “All I Ask” was clearly still vivid in her memory.

After the earlier incident, some wondered if the singer’s career would take a hit — including Adele herself, who appeared on Ellen DeGeneres’ talk show and spoke about the crippling pressure to live up to her success.

Yet the damage never materialized; in fact, 2016 ended up a banner year for Adele, with a sold-out world tour that stopped for eight nights at Staples Center and a blockbuster album, “25,” that finished as the year’s biggest seller. (On Sunday, “25” was named album of the year, one of five awards the singer took home.)

One conclusion to draw here is that messing up actually helped Adele, as indeed will this latest blunder-if-you-can-call-it-that.

More than her ability as a singer, it’s Adele’s perceived relatability that’s made her one of music’s biggest stars. At a moment when so much pop feels so carefully strategized, she cuts a different, more approachable figure — less polished than Taylor Swift, less cunning than Katy Perry, less intellectually ambitious than Beyoncé.


So to crumple under the hot lights — and then own up to the panic anyone might feel in the situation — is only to deepen the valuable sense of connection listeners feel with her.

As this year’s Grammys host, James Corden, said in a recent interview, fans watch Adele onstage and think, “She’s representing me up there.” And who among us can’t envision themselves whiffing in front of an audience of tens of millions of people?

Then again, there’s another way of looking at the “Fastlove” episode that demonstrates just how exceptional Adele is — and how powerful.

Musicians flub notes all the time on live TV; Adele wasn’t even the only one to do it Sunday, as anybody who caught Lukas Graham and Kelsea Ballerini’s ear-bending duet can tell you.

But Adele was the only one to bring an elaborate prime-time production to a standstill because she didn’t like the way it was going.

That takes real confidence in one’s artistic vision.

Was she genuine in her apologies to the crowd and to the Grammys’ producer, Ken Ehrlich, whom she mentioned by name? There’s no reason to doubt it, particularly given the anguished look on her face.


But along with the horror at repeating a familiar mistake, Adele’s mind had to have been filled with the certainty that she’d be allowed to pick the song up again, something Kelsea Ballerini could scarcely have assumed.

In other words, the Grammy stage was a safe space for Adele, not just in success but in failure too.

It almost makes you wonder if she’s started planning next year’s snafu.

Twitter: @mikaelwood


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