In the 21st century, there is no greater cultural currency than authenticity.
At every level, “keepin’ it real” is what cuts through all the noise, giving consumers the sense that, whether it’s a TV show, a song or a Snapchat, there is someone — something — genuine on the other end of the exchange.
In that sense, the London woman born Adele Adkins is, seemingly, as real as it gets.
The 28-year-old superstar’s relatability — chatty, profane, happy to indulge in selfies — is indeed, at first glance, her greatest strength, and was on full display Tuesday night at the first of two sold-out shows at American Airlines Center (she performs again Wednesday night).
Tuesday marked Adele’s first North Texas performance in seven years, following her 2009 debut at the Granada Theater.
Originally scheduled to return in June 2011, for a date at the House of Blues (which was postponed to Oct. 2011 and Grand Prairie’s Verizon Theatre, before being canceled outright in order for Adele to undergo throat surgery), her current world tour, mounted in support of last year’s 25, is an overdue victory lap for the enormous success of 25’s predecessor, the Grammy-laden juggernaut 21, as well as promotion for her latest work.
Looking beyond the carefully choreographed flash of an arena concert is to understand just how masterfully Adele has steered herself to the pinnacle of pop stardom.
Over the course of an evening in her company, Adele is, by turns, droll, down-to-earth and earnest, but it is not her personality that reduces sold-out rooms to tears: it’s her voice.
A clarion instrument that has strengthened and deepened over the course of her decade-long career, Adele’s lustrous, multi-octave voice is what brings millions back for more, and has made the singer rich and globally famous.
Tuesday provided ample opportunities for her to showcase its full range and power — lifting the funereal anthem Skyfall into the stratosphere, or gently evoking a shattered heart during the acoustic rendition of Don’t You Remember — and serving as a vivid reminder that all of the world’s digital technology cannot replicate the striking beauty of talented vocal chords.
Yet none of the fame, fortune or fawning fans particularly seems to matter, which is perhaps the most genuine thing about her.
In a December Vanity Fair cover story that hit the Internet hours before she took the stage in Dallas, Adele speaks frankly — or, perhaps, in her latest bit of stage-managed jujitsu, seemingly frankly — about her need for a real life, an existence far away from bright lights and adoring crowds.
Like her idol and contemporary Beyonce, Adele has deftly carved out a private, personal space — her real real life — and a performative space, the one many millions so closely identify with.
Yes, she has mined her own life to inform her artistic one, and confusing the two results in people trembling with recognition — I have lived that! — even as she’s having her off-stage experiences which may or may not ever work their way into a song.
This savvy disconnect, and apparent disinterest in, all that glitters also sets Adele apart from her pop peers, in that so many of them do conflate on- and off-stage life into a shameless amalgam that sometimes cynically blurs the line between living and performing. For all that social media has wrought, there could — and should — be a bright line between an artist’s work and their own life.
If a pop star is never really off-stage, how could they ever find anything interesting to say?
Adele understands as much, and during one of the many garrulous monologues she offered Tuesday, she said as so: “I do very much love what I do,” she told the rapt audience, “but if I live a public life, I can’t make records you’ll relate to. That’s the only reason I ever disappear. ... I will disappear again, and I will come back with something real.”
It’s a startling sentiment to hear, particularly from an artist in the midst of a phenomenally successful tour.
Still, the knowledge that her two-hour performance might be the last chance for another decade to see Adele in action gave the evening — the 99th show of the tour, she informed everyone — a particular charge.
Employing more than 20 musicians, including what seemed to be a small orchestra’s worth of strings, spread across a vast stage, and clad in a glittering Burberry evening gown, Adele conjured continental sophistication and effortless elegance — until she suppressed a tiny belch while waxing rhapsodic about the beauty of Bob Dylan’s Make You Feel My Love, which inspired fond laughter and an amused apology.
Hiccups aside, the evening often felt like a cross-pollination between concert hall and sports arena — as ideal a summation of Adele’s eclectic, diverse fan base as any — although much of the night was punctuated with the persistent glow of smartphone screens, fans eagerly documenting every last note.
Rather than fight the lights, Adele turned them into a feature, asking those gathered inside the American Airlines Center to raise their phones during Make You Feel My Love, an effort to help make the large room feel more intimate.
Indeed, much of her set, which was split between two stages — the large main stage, with its mammoth video screen, and a satellite stage near the back, where she first appeared, singing Hello, and concluded her main set, standing inside of a drizzle effect, belting Set Fire to the Rain — was built around the concept of fan service.
Endlessly chatty, armed with self-deprecatory cracks for days and willing to indulge dumbstruck fans — a female couple from Plano was pulled up on stage only to discover, to their mutual horror, their phone was malfunctioning just as Adele was offering to take a photo with them; it was a quintessentially modern nightmare scenario — the British superstar worked the room as if she were a hungry young scrapper, rather than an accomplished, award-winning household name.
It was, contrived or not, a display of genuine interest and gratitude, coming from an artist who could easily go full diva and create a spendy spectacle designed to separate fans from their cash — although the $30 mugs and $40 T-shirts at the merch tables do a fine job of that — and turn her back on those who shout her own songs with a passion born out of repeated listens, until the music has burrowed into their bones.
Those in the audience — singing as tears stream down their cheeks — cannot pretend it doesn’t mean something to them, just as Adele, benevolent pop powerhouse, cannot either.