Mid-performance, the 28-year-old singer stopped abruptly and appeared to swear, with producers cutting her sound for a moment before she said, “I know it’s live TV; I’m sorry I can’t do it again, like last year. I’m sorry for swearing. I’m sorry for starting again. Can we please start it again? I’m sorry — I can’t mess this up for him. I’m sorry, I’m sorry for swearing! I’m really sorry. Sorry.”
After taking a moment to gather her thoughts, the visibly shaken singer — decked in a simple black dress and messy up-do — restarted her somber take on the song as the audience cheered supportively.
After finishing her tribute set, the Grammy nominee and winner broke down in tears as the star-studded crowd stood and clapped.
“She was super nervous going into tonight,” a production source told PEOPLE exclusively. “She cleared out the stadium for her rehearsal, but it went really well.”
Less than an hour after the performance, Adele took the stage once more to accept the Song of the Year trophy, explaining her earlier cursing.
“First of all, I really do apologize for swearing,” she said during her speech. “George Michael, I love him. He means a lot to me, so I’m really sorry if I offended anyone anywhere.”
Adele also took the stage at the 2016 Grammys, where her performance was plagued by technical issues as she struggled to make it through her song “All I Ask.”
Following the tribute performance, celebrities took to social media to back Adele.
#Adele taught us a all a great lesson just now. If it’s not right? START OVER AND NAIL IT! And she did. Love you, girl,” Bette Midler tweeted.
@Adele respects. S— happens when you actually sing live. She was incredible,” Chrissy Teigen tweeted.
“Adele, what a badass. She cares so much. Who could be bummed about a singer singing live? All my respect. George Michael must be psyched,” Paramore’s Hayley Williams posted.
Michael was one of several famous musicians to pass away in 2016, but Adele made clear that his musical legacy will live on. The tribute was a surprise: Although the Recording Academy announced a segment honoring Michael ahead of time, it did not share which artists would participate ahead of the telecast.
Michael was no stranger to the Grammys during his lifetime, winning one Best R&B Performance award for his 1987 duet with Aretha Franklin, “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)” and one Album of the Year award for his acclaimed 1987 solo debut Faith. He also received six other nominations over the years.
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Michael was 53 when he was found dead in his bed on Christmas Day.
“It is with great sadness that we can confirm our beloved son, brother and friend George passed away peacefully at home over the Christmas period,” his rep told PEOPLE and Entertainment Weekly at the time, with his U.S. rep adding that he died of heart failure.
•With additional reporting by PATRICK GOMEZ