On Adele, and Striving for Perfection.

I had no intention of watching the Grammys tonight. As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m not much of an awards show aficionado. If I have my way, I usually experience the big awards shows by recording them and powering through them the day after, commercial free. This snowy Sunday though, having already watched the 2nd Bridget Jones movie with my roommates (one of the worst films ever? Possibly!), we decided a slightly more palatable television choice was in order.

This year’s Grammys seemed like a recipe for a good time. Hosted by the always affable and generally non-offensive James Corden, this year’s show boasted performances from Beyonce, Bruno Mars, and Alicia Keys, plus a Lady Gaga/Metallica mash-up. After watching Renee Zellweger and Colin Firth bumble their way through on of the world’s most awkward romances, it sounded like a good change of pace to me.

While I was certainly looking forward to watching our fecund fertility goddess Queen B strut her stuff, I was perhaps most looking forward to Adele taking her place on the Grammy stage. Adele is an interesting phenomenon to me. As a trained singer, I sometimes struggle with my guileless enjoyment of her music. Her voice, while rich, buttery and highly emotive, also struggles from a lack of technique. From vocal surgeries to remove nodes to highly publicized breaks from touring, Adele has struggled to maintain her vocal health in the spotlight.

I sympathize with her (and she has been quite public about seeking out voice teachers and coaches to improve her technique), but still, Adele’s seemingly constant struggles to stay in tune (or really, even start there), are an off-putting problem that has been on display in many of her public performances.

Indeed, at last year’s Grammys, when Adele took the stage to sing her hit single “All I Ask”, it was something of a disaster. To be fair to her, there was an obvious problem with the piano. It happens. That being said, the first thing we are taught as classically trained singers is to just keep singing. No matter what happens, no matter what you forget, or what the accompanist botches, you just keep going like nothing is wrong; 99% of the time, the audience won’t notice anyway.

Of course, that only works if you keep going correctly. If you let the mistakes cause you to careen off course than the audience is sure to take notice, as they did with Adele last year. That’s why it’s important to develop the skills to correct yourself as seamlessly as possible when things go awry. It’s clear Adele has never quite picked that skill up.

How do I know? Well, on tonight’s Grammys, she was the star of the show for a poignant tribute to fellow British pop star George Michael. Unfortunately, her sweeping rendition of Michael’s “Fastlove” got off to a horrific start — she was in a completely different key than the orchestra.

After about 30 seconds of miserable and unintentionally atonal music, Adele decided to say “fuck it” — literally. She stopped in the middle of her performance to let out a curse word or two, apologize for cursing, recalibrate herself, and start the whole thing over again. She professed to owe her dear friend George Michael better, but also stated that she didn’t want a repeat of last year.

I sympathize. I do. We’ve all had an off night, that performance that we’ll never forget for all the wrong reasons. That being said, I just can’t get on board with the people applauding Adele for stopping and starting over. They say she’s proving that we don’t need to be perfect all the time. That we can take a breath, gather ourselves, and admit weakness before doing better. But Adele isn’t a 2nd-grader at her first talent show; she is a professional singer. She is paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to sing for people all over the world. That means she needs to do better. She needs to learn to start songs in tune every single time. Technical issues or otherwise.

It may sound harsh, but it’s the truth. If I blatantly started a solo piece in the wrong key, or lost my pitch so obviously not once, but twice on the same job, I would be fired. No questions asked. While I don’t begrudge Adele her commercial and critical success (I think her music is brilliant and genuinely enjoy her as a singer), she has to learn to do better when she’s singing live.

After last year’s debacle, there was a strong narrative that Adele was ‘redeeming’ herself every time she stepped on stage and sang “All I Ask” well. But redeeming herself shouldn’t be part of the equation. She is a world-renowned star. Tonight alone she won 5 awards — Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Record of the Year, Best Pop Solo Performance of the Year, and Best Pop Vocal Album of the year. Her recordings deserve those accolades. But her live work? The music world really needs to stop allowing her to continuously redeem herself. Beyonce doesn’t get to take advantage or any redemption narrative; nor has she had to. You’re better than this Adele; start getting it right on the first try.

–S

Day 42: February 12, 2017

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