Adele is back, and so are her hands.
They flick. They twist. They push. They grasp. They dip in and out of invisible waves out her car window. In one especially lovely moment, they settle on her knee but can't seem to hold still, involuntarily tapping out the next beat of the ballad.
The single "Easy On Me," released with its accompanying music video Thursday night, marks Adele's first new music in almost six years. But while her return has been described with the lepidopterous metaphor of a "re-emergence" — as if her recent divorce was the chrysalis for her "new look and ... new sound" — the hands are the dead giveaway: The old Adele hasn't gone anywhere.
Adele has always sung with her hands, going back to the performances for her 2008 debut album, 19. Her gesticulations are natural extensions on stage, a visual illustration of the heart-wrenching swoops and swells of her voice. But while many singers — and in particular soul singers — use their hands to visualize notes, Adele's maximalist gestures seem to go a step further, conducting the emotions of her audience.
It's an earnestness that feels outmoded in 2021, this era of deep cynicism. We're more alert, now, to manipulation; we're more jaded and guarded with our vulnerabilities. Our musical tastes reflect it: Mitski's new song, "Working for the Knife," also out this month, confronts everything from the "conformity of a capitalist society to the obsolescence that comes from aging or internal pressure of perfectionism and mental illness," writes Slate. Lil Nas X, meanwhile, has brilliantly used his music videos and internet persona to troll those worked into a moral hysteria over his album Montero. He only exposes his own earnestness through a thick smoke cloud of clapbacks.
In the "Easy on Me" video, Adele lands on something that is not necessarily better, but certainly curiously vintage. It's a raw, emotive performance, further highlighted by the music video's director, Xavier Dolan, who pays special attention to all Adele's gestures, lingering on a close-up of a hand here, a lacquered nail cutting through the air there.
To some, it might feel overwrought — Adele certainly doesn't need any punctuation for her soul-baring divorce ballad. But the gestures never feel contrived or exaggerated, either. Adele is a different woman than she was six years ago, no question. But she's still reaching out for something just beyond the camera, something we can't see.