After nearly every song in her NBC concert special, an expression of relief washed over Adele's face, as though the only thought inside her head was, "I got through that one. Whew."
This, of course, is why we love Adele (or part of why, anyway). Although she's got one of the most powerful voices in pop, the young British singer presents herself as a bundle of insecurities, someone just as powerless as you or me in the presence of the overwhelming emotions she sings about: a theater of vulnerability, basically.
But if Monday's TV show was a bit of prime-time brand management, that didn't mean it wasn't also, y'know, real.
"I'm so nervous," Adele said in her broad North London accent after opening the concert, filmed last month at New York's Radio City Music Hall, with "Hello." "I was trying to find the nearest exit before I came down. I haven't done a show for like four years!"
Now she's got a whole bunch of them lined up. A key second-wave component in the careful rollout of the singer's blockbuster album "25," "Adele Live in New York City" aired just hours after she announced she'll tour North America next summer, with a whopping six dates scheduled for Staples Center in Los Angeles.
The scale of Adele's success — so far, "25" has sold more than 5 million copies — makes her an outlier, even by the standards seemingly set by other megastars such as Taylor Swift. But as the NBC special demonstrated, so too does her proudly old-fashioned performance style, which more or less amounts to standing onstage and delivering her songs.
Assuming the Radio City concert is in line with what she'll take on the road, Adele's tour might be the least complicated superstar production in recent memory. No dancing. No costume changes. No runway to show off an endless succession of special A-list guests.
Actually, Adele did do a bit of dancing in "Skyfall," moving her hips ever so slightly to the James Bond theme's stormy groove. And though she didn't change, her sparkly floor-length gown was definitely a costume; it emphasized a kind of dramatic seriousness that, like Adele's voice, worked in appealing contrast with her just-folks banter.
But mostly the concert showed us someone singing: low and dusky in "Million Years Ago," high and tender in "All I Ask," fierce and commanding in "Set Fire to the Rain." For "When We Were Young," the camera zoomed in close on Adele's face as she chewed through lines about fearing the prospect of getting old, a characteristically relatable idea that drove the crowd to a standing ovation when the song was over.
"I'm glad you like it," Adele said, tearing up in a way that looked awfully genuine. Then she explained why she'd kept such a low profile in the years leading up to "25."
"I've obviously missed you all so much," she said. "And I know I've been quiet. I just wanted to come back and surprise you." More tears. "I didn't want to tell you anything because I wanted it to be a surprise."
It was a lovely thing to say. And a lovely way to say it.