The Agony and Ecstasy of Adele at the Grammys Through the Years

Adele is known for letting her emotions run wild at the Grammys, especially when Beyoncé is involved—and once again the vocal powerhouses are both up for Song, Record and Album of the Year.

By Natalie Finn Feb 05, 2023 2:00 PMTags
Watch: Grammys 2023 Top Nominees: Beyonce, Adele & Harry Styles

The Grammys have always adored Adele, from the moment she stepped foot on that hallowed stage in 2009, when she was crowned Best New Artist.

But despite a fidelity that so far has resulted in 15 Golden Gramophones for the British star, she has at times vocally disagreed with the Recording Academy's choices, such as when her 25 was deemed Album of the Year over Beyoncé's Lemonade in 2017.

History has a chance to either be made or repeat itself tonight at the 65th Annual Grammy Awards, where Adele's 30 has a date with Beyoncé's Renaissance in the top album category, and "Easy on Me" and "Break My Soul"—which at this point sound like potential outcomes as much as titles—are both competing for Record and Song of the Year. 

Neither has been announced as a performer (though Jay-Z is on the lineup) and it was rumored as recently as last week that Adele, whose efforts have been concentrated on her Las Vegas residency of late, wasn't even going to go. But it's a very short plane ride to L.A., so we're hoping for the best.

Because, really, few things compare to Adele singing or saying pretty much anything at the Grammys.


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As is the case with so many epic love affairs, Adele has run the emotional gamut on music's biggest night, experiencing both the highest of highs as well as what she herself would probably call some truly s--t moments—sometimes within just a few hours, if not minutes.

Seriously, has anyone who's ever won that much traversed as many Grammy peaks and valleys through the years as she has?

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From the moment she flew onto the Recording Academy's radar with her 2008 debut album 19, the two of them had something special. 

Just over a year after its release, a 21-year-old Adele made her Grammy Awards debut in 2009 as a four-time nominee, including Record and Song of the Year for "Chasing Pavements." She lost in those categories to Alison Krauss and Robert Plant, and Coldplay, respectively, but she did not leave empty-handed, winning Best New Artist and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.

The Grammy mash-up masters teamed her with Sugarland to perform "Chasing Pavements" live—it was a glorious debut performance, in case you were wondering—and in a charming moment that foretold future charming moments like it, Adele gave a shout-out to her competitors when she won Best New Artist. (An award that "somehow hasn't gone to either one of us," as Kanye West—co-presenting with "American Boy" collaborator Estelle—cracked, naturally. He lost to Maroon 5 in 2005.)

"Duffy, I love you, I think you're amazing," Adele told her fellow British chanteuse. "Jonas Brothers, I love you as well." She was chewing a bit of gum and her hand fluttered against and away from her face and her heart as her eyes welled with tears and her expression wavered between joy and disbelief.

Before the televised portion of the ceremony but after winning for pop vocal performance, Adele told Access Hollywood that to celebrate her first-ever Grammy, "Usually I'd have a whole bottle of champagne, but I've stopped drinkin', so I'm going to have a Coca-Cola and a few cigarettes, just chill out and call my mum."

All in all, a brilliant start to what would soon become a storied career. 

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The Grammys would also woo her in 2010 with another nomination for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for "Hometown Glory," Adele's debut single that actually preceded "Chasing Pavements" but was then re-released after 19's success. She wasn't in attendance and Beyoncé won anyway, for "Halo." 

And though Adele would have been the last person to ever predict such a thing, it would be the last Grammy she would ever lose to Beyoncé to this day.

Meanwhile, the man on Adele's arm at the 2009 Grammys, photographer Alex Sturrock, would eventually become her ex-boyfriend—and subsequently inspire one of the most critically acclaimed albums in recent memory.

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We wouldn't know it for a few years, but the guy giving her the supportive congratulatory kiss that night was most certainly not Mr. Right and at some point Adele went through emotional hell.

The singer-songwriter translated her pain into the smash-hit song "Rollin' in the Deep," the first single off of her sophomore album, 21, which went on to be the world's best-selling album in both 2011 and 2012.

But it was in 2011 that Adele required surgery on her vocal cords—not a small issue for someone with her clear-as-a-bell perfect pitch.

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So, when Adele returned to the Grammys in 2012 at the seasoned age of 24, not only was she a six-time nominee, she was making her triumphant return to live performing after throat surgery!

All of the above circumstances of course made her appearance the most hotly anticipated of the night—and she delivered. Her voice sounded even better than it had three years beforehand. And when the likes of Paul McCartney, Rihanna and, well, everybody, rose to their feet, the look on her face—big smile of appreciation, eyes glistening—once again communicated all the feelings.

Adele also won every damn Grammy she was nominated for that night, including Album, Record and Song of the Year, Best Pop Vocal Album, Best Pop Solo Performance and Best Short Form Music Video.

"This record is inspired by something that is really normal and everyone's been through it—just a rubbish relationship," the exquisitely anguished and exhilarated singer said in accepting Album of the Year, prompting a big smile from Bruno Mars, whose Doo-Wops & Hooligans was also nominated. "And it's gone on to do things that I can't tell you how I feel about it. It's been the most life-changing year."

The tears started to flow as she moved on to thank her record company and other usual suspects. "Oh, a bit of snot," she laughed as she swiped at her nose.

Now at this Grammys ceremony, sitting next to her was then-boyfriend Simon Konecki—the father of her son Angelo, whom Adele was actually pregnant with at the time and didn't know it yet.

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

So, by this moment in time, Adele had become an unequivocal international treasure.

The rest of her 2012 went on to be just as incredible, as she and Simon welcomed Angelo that October and she took some well-deserved time off.

That major life event meant, however, that Adele's return to the stage and award season in 2013 wouldn't be run of the mill either—they'd be her first appearances as a mother!

Christopher Polk/Getty Images for NARAS

And what a 2013 it was. Adele scooped up the Golden Globe and an Oscar for Best Original Song for "Skyfall," from the James Bond film of the same name. And though it wasn't eligible for Grammy recognition until the following year (spoiler alert: she won), the 2013 Grammys offered Adele a nomination for Best Pop Solo Performance, this time for "Set Fire to the Rain" sung live at Royal Albert Hall.

She won, of course, but when she did, professional trespasser and celebrity harasser Vitalii Sediuk managed to get onstage, prompting an epic brush-off from presenter Jennifer Lopez.

"My good luck charm, J.Lo!" Adele said. Moreover, she and Beyoncé also crossed paths that night, a couple of years after meeting for the first time in what was a characteristically emotional moment for Adele.

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Meanwhile, with the spotlight not entirely on her accolades for a change, a massive rumor took shape concerning Adele and Chris Brown that same night. The story spread like wildfire that Adele was appalled by Brown remaining seated when Frank Ocean's Channel Orange won Best Urban Contemporary Album and then confronted the "Run It" artist right in the middle of the show, calling him a "spoiled brat," among other things.

And it all seemed to have been caught on camera.

Christopher Polk/Getty Images for NARAS

"Chris Brown and I were complimenting each other in that photo actually!" Adele tweeted a couple days later when the story refused to die down.

Apparently Brown, a controversy magnet for years, was touched by Adele sticking up for him or at least trying to defuse the story, and he tweeted in response, "Pleasure to meet u @OfficialAdele. I heard your words and thats all that matters. Thank u for speaking truth. CB."

While lying low to focus on her son, Adele skipped the party in 2014—though "Skyfall" did win Best Song Written for Visual Media, her 10th Grammy.

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And luckily she didn't actually follow through with her plan to "f--k off for four or five years," as she told Vogue she would in 2012, explaining that her relationships usually suffered when she devoted herself to work.

That's where having the right partner (at the right time) comes in, of course, so instead Adele got to writing, headed back into the studio and came out with her 2015 masterpiece, 25.

Like 21 before it, 25 became the best-selling album of the year (despite not coming out till Nov. 20); but even more eagerly awaited than 21, it was a pop culture touchstone upon arrival, inspiring memes, parodies, countless think pieces, Saturday Night Live sketch and more within days, buoyed by its haunting first single, "Hello."

Since the consideration cut-off is Oct. 31 of the year preceding the ceremony, 25 didn't qualify for 2016 honors. But the Grammys couldn't fathom taking place without the other hottest singer in the world (Taylor Swift's 1989 charged forth, unencumbered), so Adele was booked to perform "All I Ask" from the new album.

Which she did and, for the first time as far as most everyone watching at home could tell, something wasn't quite right.

And Adele knew it. "The piano mics fell on to the piano strings, that's what the guitar sound was. It made it sound out of tune. S--t happens. X," she tweeted later, adding that a beer and an In-N-Out burger were easing the sting of hitting those bum notes.

"I heard it straightaway and I wanted to turn," she told Ellen DeGeneres later that week. "I knew what it was because in rehearsal on Saturday they were like, 'We're going to double mic the piano just in case one doesn't work,' and I knew where the mic was and I wanted to turn around and lift it up, but I froze."

Adele recalled, "I actually felt like it went well. I'm always a bit pitchy anyways...It's emotion. It's emotion. When I'm flat and I'm sharp I'm just emotional, but it was fine."

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The "always pitchy" bit was news to us, but Adele fans are aware that she is forever riding that emotional roller coaster on stage—which has always been part of her appeal.

"I cried pretty much all day yesterday," she added. "In fairness I would have cried if it went really well as well. If it was a standout performance I would have cried as well. I always cry."

Suffice it to say, when the time came, Adele was nominated for another five Grammys—all of the same ones from 2012, minus best music video—for 25.

Kevin Winter/Getty Images for NARAS

And that brings us to the 2017 Grammys, which, even if none of the above had come before, encompassed pretty much the entire human experience—triumph and joy, sorrow and disappointment, excitement and embarrassment, grace and gratitude and Beyoncé worship.

Adele opened the show with "Hello." Chills. Check.

She returned to the stage later to perform a stripped-down rendition of George Michael's "Fastlove" in tribute to the late artist, who died on Dec. 25, 2016. About a minute in, however, after seemingly losing steam with her phrasing, she abruptly stopped.

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"I know it's live TV, I'm so sorry, I f--ked up, I can't do it again like last year," she said. "I'm sorry for swearing and I'm sorry for starting again. Can we please start it again? I'm sorry," Adele apologized again, shaking her head, as the audience erupted in applause. "I can't mess this up for him. I'm sorry. I can't, I'm sorry for swearing...I'm sorry, Ken [Erlich, executive producer]."

The production started over again and the rest was flawless.

But the agony was apparent on her face, even as the audience rose to their feet, and she hurried offstage.

"I was devastated by that, and my rehearsal—I did have a shaky rehearsal today," she told reporters backstage. "But I have been working very hard on this tribute for him, every day."

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Adele was not gone for long, however: It was back to the stage to accept Song of the Year for "Hello" with co-writer Greg Kurstin. She again apologized for swearing, explaining how much George Michael meant to her. 

She also gave her first shout-out to Beyoncé, who was nominated for "Formation," telling her fellow artist "I love you" as she passed her in the front row on her way to the stage.

Kurstin, however, was cut off—so when they returned to the stage for Adele's win for Record of the Year (again, "Hello" beating "Formation"), she let him talk first.

Adele, who had also won for Best Pop Vocal Performance earlier in the evening, then proceeded to really talk about Beyoncé.

"Of course, my dream, my dream and my idol is Queen B, and I adore you," she said. "You move my soul every single day, and you have done for nearly 17 years. I adore you, and I want you to be my mummy, all right?" 

Adele also thanked her manager of 10 years, Jonathan Dickins, whom she said she loved like a dad—if only she loved her own dad. "I love you so, so much," she told Dickins. "I don't love my dad, that's the thing, it doesn't mean a lot, but I love you like I would! I love you like I would love my dad!"

Paging Dr. Phil for that moment alone, but Adele's usual spirited irreverence didn't raise any flags.

And then, moments later, it was back to the stage to collect her fifth Grammy of the night, Album of the Year.

Even Adele was starting to find the whole thing ridiculous, later wondering aloud what exactly it was that Beyoncé was going to have to do to win that award—and punctuated the sentiment by snapping a piece off of her own Grammy to offer to the Lemonade artist. 

But first, she poured her own heart out. Comparing to where she was then to 2012, she said, "Through becoming a mother I lost a lot of myself. I mean, I've struggled, and I still do struggle being a mum, it's really hard. But tonight, kind of winning this feels full circle and like a bit of me has come back to myself.

"But I can't possibly accept this award, and I'm very humbled and I'm very grateful and gracious, but my artist of my life is Beyoncé...The Lemonade album was just so monumental."

"All us artists adore you," Adele continued. "You are our light. And the way that you make me and my friends feel, the way you make my Black friends feel is empowering, and you make them stand up for themselves. And I love you, I always have."

Matt Sayles/Invision/AP

Oh, and she seemingly confirmed that this time around Konecki was her husband in her acceptance speech. (Of course, if she brings a romantic date to the 2023 ceremony, it'll be sports agent boyfriend Rich Paul, Adele and Konecki having split up in 2019, their divorce finalized in 2021.)

After once again running the gamut of feelings in the course of a few hours—and all of that following the conclusion of her triumphant but physically exhausting world tour—who could blame Adele for wanting a bit of a break?

But we do hope she's ready to return to the Grammys tonight. Our emotional well-being just might depend on it.

Head to E! News' 2023 Grammy Awards page for a full recap of music's biggest night.

(Originally published Feb. 13, 2017, at 2:04 p.m. PT)