So Adele sang on Saturday Night Live after all — even if it was just a comic medley of her classic hits, playing herself in a parody of The Bachelor. It was the only singing she did all night, but it was enough. Her gig hosting SNL was a tantalizing first glimpse of the new Adele era, as she puts the finishing touches on her upcoming fourth album.
“I know there’s been a lot of chatter about me just being a host,” Adele said in her opening monologue. “‘Why isn’t she the musical guest?’” But she stuck to comedy. As she explained, “There’s a couple of reasons: My album is not finished, and I’m also too scared to do both. I’d rather just put on some wigs… have a glass of wine or six, and just see what happens. Who knows?”
This was Adele’s first American TV appearance in almost four years — the last time we saw her was the 2017 Grammys, where she won Best Album for 25 and sang a touching tribute to George Michael with her version of “Fastlove.” She’s always had a flair for live comedy, which is why her award-show speeches are a riot. So anticipation was high. Fans hoped she might go for a high-profile chance to debut a new song, or just announce a release date, even with H.E.R. in the house as the musical guest.
But instead, she just made this her official introduction to the new-model Adele of 2020: a new post-divorce state of mind, a new glammed up makeover, yet fortunately, the same Adele the world fell in love with years ago, the London girl with the awesomely loud mouth. “I know I look really, really different since you last saw me,” she said in her monologue, taking the stage in front of the masked band, with a live but socially distanced studio audience. She joked about her history of swearing on live TV. She also boasted about her impressive mane of hair, noting, “This is all mine, by the way.” This is the Adele we know and adore — all she had to do on SNL was remind us she’s back.
The world is extremely ready for new Adele. It’s been five long years since her record-breaking blockbuster 25 — it was around this time in the fall of 2015 when “Hello” began haunting the radio in constant rotation, alongside “Hotline Bling,” “Wildest Dreams,” and “The Hills.” Rumor has it she’s been working on the long-promised new material with Raphael Saadiq and John Legend. It’s been an eventful period for Adele — but for everybody else as well, and she’s always been the kind of singer people turn to when they’re really going through it. And who isn’t going through it?
Her best moment was the Bachelor spoof, as a shamelessly needy contestant, competing with the other single ladies to win the love of Beck Bennett. “Hi, I’m Adele Adkins. I’m 32. You may know me for being the singer Adele. I know I’m here because I’ve had a lot of heartbreak in my life — first at 19 and then, sort of famously, at 21. And then, even more famously, at 25.” She kept busting out her hits — “Rolling In The Deep,” “Hello,” “Set Fire to the Rain” — to the annoyance of Bennett as well as the other contestants. At the end, she exited while belting “Someone Like You,” and added, “Thank you, everyone! Catch me next week on Love Island!”
She did sketches all night that alluded to heartbreak and independence. Toward the end, she joined Kate McKinnon as racist divorcees touring Africa. Amid the sub-Benny Hill innuendo, she seemed to be working way too hard on the “trying not to giggle” thing. Maybe that’s when her sixth glass of wine kicked in? She left the musical spotlight to H.E.R., who played guitar hero in excellent versions of “Damage” and the brand new “Hold On.” (Speaking of guitars: next week it’s host John Mulaney and the Strokes.)
She also recalled her first time on SNL, back in a very different moment. “I was the musical guest back in 2008 when Sarah Palin came on with Tina Fey, so obviously a few million people tuned in to watch it. And well, the rest is now history.” She went so far as to thank Palin for her career — how weird to see celebrity nostalgia for 2008. These days, in an election year where fascism is making an overt power grab, while Palin is washed up and singing “Baby Got Back” on The Masked Singer, that memory hits different.
Saturday Night Live’s return to live broadcasts, after sporadic Zoom experiments, has made it a place for bored pop stars to keep busy, figuring out how to function while suffering from stadium withdrawal and toxic doses of the everyday anonymity they work so hard to avoid. Last week, Jack White was a surprise success in his last-minute replacement stint, doing both an Eddie Van Halen tribute and a century-old Blind Willie Johnson pandemic blues, making both feel like part of the same moment. For Adele, the challenge was to introduce her new self, while reminding the world what we always loved about Adele in the first place. At that, she was a success, with a reminder at the end to go out and vote.
In the Bachelor sketch, Adele told Bennett, “I will go quietly, I promise. There will be no more drama for me.” But we all know that’s a promise Adele will never keep — and never should. Here’s hoping for even more of that drama on the new album.