Adele & knowing your audience Adele at Oracle Arena, Oakland, August 2, 2016. Photo by Alexandra Waespi.

Adele & knowing your audience

Jenna Simeonov

The reasons to love Adele are plentiful: fab pipes, songs that stick in your head (in the good way), and the calm, humble demeanour of a real pro at work. One of our favourites was after some technical glitches during her performance at the 2016 Grammy Awards:

Recently, Adele was asked if she would ever sing for the Superbowl Halftime Show; she said no, and that “I mean, come on, that show is not about music.”

That simple statement holds a lot of weight, even though it’s not a surprising answer from an artist like Adele. We couldn’t help but compare it to that cringe-worthy moment earlier this summer at the MLB All-Stars Game in San Diego, where Remigio Perrera, formerly of The Tenors, sang some new lyrics to the Canadian national anthem, surprising his tenor mates with, “We’re all brothers and sisters, all lives matter to the great,” instead of “With glowing hearts we see thee rise, the True North strong and free!”

The common thread between the rogue tenor and Adele’s disinterest in singing at the Superbowl is the art of knowing the gig.

Knowing the gig is about understanding the venue, the audience, and how your performance fits into the whole event. It means knowing whether you should wear a tuxedo or jeans, if you’re the ticket item for the crowd, and what kind of show they’re expecting.

Adele spotted a great example of why she’s not a halftime show-type of act: “I don’t really — I can’t dance or anything like that.” The Superbowl is all about bigger and better, and the halftime shows are for folks like Beyoncé, Bruno Mars, and Katy Perry.

So, with a gig like singing the national anthem at a game, the singer should be fully aware that they are not the main part of the event, and that they are not who the audience paid to see. Most of them likely don’t even know who’s due to sing the anthem. Canadian baritone Peter McGillivray put it succinctly in a tweet after Perrera’s poor choice of platform for an #AllLivesMatter message:

It must be a strange thing to know that you’re an artist who’s in demand enough to be on a realistic list of artists who may sing at an event like the Superbowl, but that you’re not the kind of artist to give a good show in that context. Artists of all calibres, and particularly opera singers, get put in plenty of little situations where the idea of the gig is better than the reality. Any singer who’s been asked to burst out in song during a party, or to busk on a busy street, knows of these cases.

Perhaps you’d argue that an artist has little to lose by performing in less-than-ideal circumstances. Sure, a dance-for-grandma has little professional ripple effect, but it only takes a few bad shows for an audience to get turned off entirely, and singers tend to be more vulnerable than most.

Like reading a room, knowing your gig is one of those tricky skills to learn about a performing career, a skill that comes only from trial and error, and a few good instincts.

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