The Grammy Awards—music's biggest night, as the ads breathlessly proclaim and an official nomination concert seems to justify—are less than two months away. The nominations were announced last week, the list of performers soon to follow. But the question that hangs over the 54th annual awards show remains unanswered—will the year's breakout star be able to perform on February 12?
As the year-end lists and "Best Of" countdowns begin to roll out, 23-year-old Adele has more than a strong chance of topping them all. Released in February, her sophomore LP 21 has become the UK's biggest-selling album of the 21st century, with its lead single "Rolling in the Deep" heard everywhere from primetime television to movie trailers and elementary schools, even after repeated vocal problems prevented her from performing the song herself. Despite all of her success, 2011 has also been marred by injury: laryngitis in June caused her to cancel the remainder of her North American tour, while a hemorrhage of the vocal cords led her to scrap additional dates this fall, ultimately leading to surgery.
Dr. Steven Zeitels—who has previously worked with Steven Tyler, Julie Andrews and The Who's Roger Daltrey—performed laser microsurgery on Adele at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston in early November. As director of the hospital's Voice Center (Center for Laryngeal Surgery and Voice Rehabilitation), Zeitels released a statement saying he "expects Adele to make a full recovery," with the singer writing a message on her blog letting fans know she's "on the mend." But after receiving six nominations—including nods for Album of the Year, Record of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Album—discussion has immediately swung towards the possibility that the nominee will also grace the stage with a performance. It's likely those monitoring her recovery process would love to take a break from revisiting her lovely show at Royal Albert Hall, in exchange for a chance to see her live.
Depending of the severity of vocal injuries, treatment can range from a few weeks of vocal rest to surgery. Dr. Lucian Sulica M.D., Director of Voice Disorders/Laryngology at Weill Medical College of Cornell University and Associate Attending Otorhinolaryngologist at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, said surgery is typically in effort to remove a polyp or repair a hemorrhage of the vocal chords. Going under the knife has the tendency to create anxiety—or, if you're a major star, lead to harmful rumors of a much more serious condition—but in most cases, is not detrimental to one's career. "Properly handled, it should come nowhere close to a career-ender," Sulica said. "It's really a career-ender more often when people ignore it, sing through it and then end up with scar." In Sulica's experience, surgery typically requires up to three months' recovery time, depending on how the vocal folds heal. "If it's a simple polyp surgery, sometime they can get back sooner than that," he added.
Which makes preparations for the February show all the more interesting. Taking the stage at the Grammy Awards is more than just an opportunity to experience a few hours of trending topic glory or elicit emails from parents asking their children just who Mumford and his Sons are. "A great performance on the Grammys is career defining. It takes you to the next level," said Daniel Glass, head of Glassnote Entertainment Group—home to this year's big recipients of Grammy love, British folk-rock band Mumford and Sons. Following their performance with Bob Dylan and The Avett Brothers, their album Sigh No More nearly doubled in sales, reaching No. 2 on the Billboard albums chart one week later. Yes, industry legitimacy and praise from peers are nice, but the potential commercial gain is too big to ignore. For an artist, performing at the Grammys serves not only validate nominations but introduce music to a larger audience; it's a better promotional campaign than any team of PR gurus could concoct.
Additional Grammy performers saw their albums take a double-digit rise on the Billboard album charts this year: Eminem moved from No. 47 to No. 13; Arcade Fire from No. 30 to No. 4; Lady Antebellum from No. 22 to No. 3. With that success, winning becomes secondary to performing when it comes to album sales, as proven by John Legend and the Roots, who won in three out of their five nominated categories for their collaborative album Wake Up! during the pre-broadcast ceremony, but did not experience the same movement, absent from both album and iTunes charts following the ceremony. According to iTunes, Adele is currently the owner of the best-selling single and album of the year. A gangbusters performance on such a major stage could catapult her into unprecedented chart success.
One of Adele's biggest televised performance this year took place at the MTV Video Music Awards on August 28, opting for second single "Someone Like You" rather than by-then ubiquitous "Rolling in the Deep," only to witness the former hit No. 1 one week later. The VMA's 12.4 million total viewers—the biggest audience in network history—probably had something to do with it, which should entice her team to keep wishing and hoping the doctors give a February Grammy performance the green light. The 2011 Grammy Awards had almost twice the viewers as the VMAs, as 26.55 million watched Lady Gaga break out of her
shell incubation chamber, Mick Jagger strut on stage and collection of French Canadians take home Album of the Year. This year's show may have been The Recording Academy's biggest audience in 10 years, but next to the Super Bowl halftime show, any Grammys telecast is the biggest gig a musical act can land.
While Team Adkins has likely taken all of this into consideration, Grammy producers have to be eying the emotional effects and ratings gold that landing the recovering superstar could bring them. Calling to mind the most chill-inducing and overly sappy sports memories, seeing the biggest artist of the year make her triumphant return to the stage, where she'll likely be showered with golden gramophones, is more dramatic than anything Ryan Murphy's team of writers could conjure up. "Someone Like You" already makes people cry, why buck that trend now? Her mass appeal—stop us if you haven't heard raves about Adele by everyone from your mother, boss and local barista—also makes her the ideal opening act: a performer well known enough not to inspire her own Tumblr account or Internet meme, yet someone who has not reached the saturation point that could turn potential viewers away.
"The Grammys is a career moment for Adele, and her potential live performance of 'Rollin' in the Deep' is the most anticipated Grammy performance I can remember," Glass said. Columbia Records has no comment on her status as a potential performer, and the continued uncertainty around her health builds more intrigue around a show that's been trying to skew younger in recent years. "The drama is incredible," he added. "It's like an injured quarterback right before the Super Bowl: Will she play or won't she? If she's healthy, I'm sure she'll turn out a career performance."
Even with her absence in recent months, Adele's popularity has continued to climb, as the numerous mentions from at least one of your extended family members over the Thanksgiving holiday can attest. Choosing to sideline touring could seem like poor timing from a business perspective, and likely was disappointing to fans who already purchased tickets, but has the potential to set up one of the more highly anticipated performances, and comebacks—yes, we'll call it that—we can remember. And ultimately, electing to have surgery will increase her longevity as a vocalist. "It's not poor timing if it prevents the end of her career," Sulica explained.