It took almost the entirety of Oprah Winfrey’s interview for her to inspire a tear in Adele’s eye, but Adele still refused to let it drop. “Oh, no!” the singer cried, wagging a finger at the legendary host with the kind of fond chiding you throw a friend’s way after they lure you into deeper emotional waters than expected. “You’re not going to make me cry!” Winfrey, an expert at steering conversations in and out of catharsis, threw up her hands in mock “who, me?” innocence. Soon enough, she was wrapping the interview with her fondest wishes, having never truly cracked her subject’s self-aware composure.
This isn’t to say that Adele, reemerging with a new album after spending years out of the public eye, didn’t open up at all during this “One Night Only” special. In both the interview, conducted in a lush garden not unlike the backdrop of Winfrey’s sit-down with Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle, and an accompanying concert special, spectacularly staged against Los Angeles’ famed Griffith Observatory and surrounding Hollywood hills, Adele addressed the biggest questions about her life with forthright transparency and charm. Winfrey played the part of The Public, teeing up both softball questions about what inspired Adele’s new “30” album — her divorce, as anyone even vaguely familiar with Adele would know — and more probing inquiries about Adele’s estranged father, losing weight, and the double-edged sword of becoming relatable.
During the interview portion of the special, Adele maintained the casual sort of candor that proves largely impervious to the “and how did that make you feel?” line of questioning. After spending a decade in the public eye as everyone’s most talented and heartbroken friend, Adele is returning a devoted mother who’s become so seemingly secure in her own skin that she can’t be bothered to care about anyone else doubting her. She went into the Winfrey interview ready to say what she wanted to say, and not a single thing more. That’s not an unusual approach for someone of Adele’s stature, especially not today, when the highest profile celebrity interviews tend to unfold between celebrity friends. But it was genuinely fascinating to watch Winfrey contend with a subject who truly does not seem to care about what most celebrities care about. When discussing the massive response to Adele’s weight loss, Winfrey even offered up her own experience of feeling surprised when fans expressed betrayal that she would ever want to lose weight, and asked Adele how she felt about going through the same. Adele quite literally just shrugged, throwing the emotional grenade back with nonchalant ease. Unlike an interview with someone like Markle, who had only just extricated herself from her darkest days, Adele’s became more interesting for how well she, not Winfrey, controlled it. Despite Winfrey’s best attempts, the most revealing moments of the night came during the concert — exactly as Adele, no doubt, would have preferred all along.
Standing in front of a crowd packed with celebrities, family, and friends in a stunning black Schiaparelli gown, Adele chatted amiably between songs, took deep breaths before plunging back into songs borne of pain, and choked up when saying hello to her son, who was seeing her perform for an audience for the first time in his life. During a triumphant rendition of “When We Were Young,” she swayed in front of projected photos seemingly ripped straight from her phone camera roll: candid snapshots of her life out of the spotlight, adorable and unflattering and more candid than any well-honed line about her ultimately amicable divorce. As breathtaking as the aerial shots of the observatory were, they wouldn’t have been half as effective without the towering voice soaring right alongside them. She reminded the world why she’s become such an icon, in a purer sense of the word than corporate Twitter accounts now use it. No amount of talking through or around her trials or process could quite equal the emotional punch of a clear-eyed Adele simply singing about it all, her voice lush with finesse, experience, and the kind of naked vulnerability she’d been so determined not to speak lest she fall apart.