Adele said it’s her favourite video and watching the seven-minute spectacular for I Drink Wine, you can see why. I Drink Wine, was written about divorce and shedding your ego to become more at ease with yourself. The video, directed by the award winning Last Black Man Standing in San Francisco creator Joe Talbot, was inspired by many things. Disneyland rides, Hollywood mermaid Esther Williams and even the Truman show. Adele floats down a lazy river in an inflatable ring wearing a gold Valentino dress.
Not to mention that she has of course, got a glass of wine in her hand. Whilst travelling on the lazy river, surrounded by colourful scenery and a sunset, she passes by a couple in love. A young child reminiscent of her childhood and then a hand appears out of the water with a bottle of wine.
Cue the Aquabatix synchronised swimmers. The wine is poured much to Adele’s bewilderment. Suddenly Adele is surrounded by a team of synchronised swimmers, creating formations around her with a Busby Berkely feel. However, these swimming sirens have a slight edge to them. Dressed in white swimsuits but accessorised with black caps that go under their chin and black gloves. Sporting dark gothic style make up, these synchronized swimmers may not just be about making pretty shapes.
Adele sees a love interest, a handsome fisherman played by Kendrick Sampson from HBO’s Insecure and the Vampire Diaries. They start to flirt, however the synchronised swimmers soon put pay to that and pull him away. They turn Adele away from him and push her back down the river again. She passes through colourful scenery, animatronic birds and a choir before encountering the Aquabatix synchronised swimming troupe again. They try to tempt Adele with more and more wine as she pushes their glasses out of the way.
Eventually Adele pushes the synchro sirens away and floats off freely down the river, no glass in hand. The camera then pans out to show the set and behind the scenes. The set was located in the very same spot as the infamous last scene in the Truman show.
What the client was looking for and why Aquabatix was brought on board for Adele:
Aquabatix received a phone call from production company M ssng P eces back in early July 2021. They were looking for highly skilled and experienced synchronised swimmers for a music video. In addition they also needed an experienced choreographer and consultant within synchronised swimming. The right candidate needed extensive experience working on productions but also having filmed in open water before. The company were at the pitch-stage, so several conversations were had with Aquabatix Director Adele for this.
The production team were pitching to Joe, the director of the I Drink Wine. Adele had seen his film ‘Last Black Man standing In San Francisco’ and wanted to work with Joe. They met up to get to know each other more and discuss the song in more details and ideas. At this point the album had not been released nor had Adele made it public she was making a comeback. Aquabatix were not told at this stage who the artist was.
Aquabatix’s Adele said “We get enquiries for music videos, and we never ask at the initial stage who it is for. It doesn’t matter to us; we want to be involved to create stunning visuals and stories whoever the artist is”.
The video was being filmed in Southern California, and they were looking at shooting it down a real river. Aquabatix has their USA group based in LA so this worked perfectly. Aquabatix USA, not only had the highly trained artistic swimmers in LA, but also the experienced Valerie Williams as choreographer. The group had very conveniently just performed in a music video in a lake. Aquabatix’s Adele sent over numerous examples of work from Aquabatix including the lake video, plus examples from our full resume.
Examples from Olympic sport and events, our high pedigree list of clients and brands previously worked for. We wanted to demonstrate how we stand out, how we innovate and push the boundaries.
Aquabatix’s Adele also highlighted the difficulties filming in lakes. The cold water for example significantly limits the time people can be in the water, with the risk of hyperthermia. Safety checks of the water are required to make sure it is suitable to swim in for humans. In addition, it is not as controllable as in a studio setting, which the production were already quite aware of. Aquabatix’s Adele remembers the calls very well.
She says “They went into a lot of detail and wanted a lot of material from Aquabatix. Particularly compared to other music videos we have worked on. However, even at that initial stage, everyone I spoke with seemed super friendly and warm. I got a good feeling so I was really hoping we got the job just so we could work with them! In August 2021, we got the call from the production that they won the pitch and would be in touch.
Working to a challenging creative vision:
At this stage we still had no idea the music video was for Adele. It wasn’t until mid-August, after we had signed NDA’s that we learnt who the artist was. Joe and Whitney Jackson from WhitJack Productions who had also been brought on board, were both on the call. They both seemed relaxed and friendly right from the start. Whiney, although young, had a vast experience working in music videos. Working with artists such as Beyonce, Rihanna, Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande and Dua Lipa.
Assemble a team of geniuses
Joe mentioned that this was his first music video shoot and therefore had to “assemble a team of geniuses”. Joe also said that “the best ones (music videos) seem to come from a cleverness and kind of conceptual storytelling”. Which was his ultimate goal for this video. Joe’s brother Nat Talbot had come up with the initial concept of Adele floating down a lazy river. He said he had always imagined Adele doing that. This idea turned into ‘what if it looked like a Disneyland ride like It’s A Small World’.
Joe was inspired by several films including a couple of films starring Hollywood’s golden mermaid, Esther Williams. ‘Easy To Love’ was a key influence, especially the swimming through flowers scene along with Ophelia for the end. ‘Million Dollar Mermaid’ which features a lot of Busby Berkely style water ballet choreography was also another film. We all had a lot to shoulder; this was for one of the biggest artist in the world. A lot was expected of us all but thankfully this where Aquabatix thrives.
Joe, Valerie and Adele (The Aquabatix one) met on several zoom calls to discuss the storyboard. We had access to the track which was still a heavily guarded secret. Very few people had heard this song. Those 30’s had still not dropped onto buildings (the big marketing campaign for Adele’s new album). No one knew, aside from her close team, that Adele was planning her grand 30 entrance very soon. However, the process always felt extremely relaxed and trusting. We could access the track and storyboard whenever we needed for the choreography ideas to flow.
Joe, whilst his vision was clear, was keen to learn from Aquabatix and what we could bring to his vision. We were left to suggest which of our synchronized swimmers would be best to cast under the Director’s brief. Joe had complete faith and trust in our expertise and experience which was such a delight when working together. We learnt so much from working with him as well which was invaluable.
A couple of rehearsal days were set up at Palisades High school with twelve Aquabatix synchronised swimmers and Val. Aquabatix’s Adele was unable to enter the US due to Covid restrictions so carried on as the consultant from London. Valerie shone as the choreographer on site worked closely with Joe in-between the rehearsals to really nail the vision. Joe would go back and forth with the singer Adele who was also heavily involved in pre-production. He was supportive throughout the whole process, as well as head choreographer, the incredible Eboni Nichols.
There were a couple of sequences left to work out on the day, but Aquabatix is used to that. Joe had complete confidence in us to manage that quickly and efficiently. The main synchronised swimming section, Valerie chose to feature modern synchronised swimming instead of traditional water ballet, including Joe’s ideas. Movements were designed to be minimal splash but still capture the essence of the powerful melody.
Early on, production had decided to switch from the open water shoot, as it would be too cold for everyone involved and put into a more controllable set with heated water. The ‘river’ was built in Paramount studio’s parking lot. Set designer and creator Liam Moore, had one night to produce a luxurious riverbed in the car park. The shoot would also take place over two nights. Two-night shoots in a row and it the open September LA air, it was going to be cold and heavy going, but Aquabatix is well used to that and couldn’t wait.
The final aspect pre-production were the swimsuits. The costume department lead by the talented Ntombi Moyo had her vision of the half Esther Williams/half gothic style sirens and fashion designer Kevin Arnett was in charge to create and make the swimwear, caps and gloves. Again, consulting back and forth between wardrobe and Aquabatix and Joe to make sure what was designed, was suitable to swim in and would work in water. Aquabatix was shoot ready!
The shoot took place over two nights prior to Labor Day weekend in 2021. The first night, the synchronised swimmers were not needed straight away, so braved the cold LA night air, but had a lot of fun waiting for their turn to film the main synchronized swimming choreography section. All the Aquabatix swimmers know each other well, some since they were kids, so always have fun together as a team and this certainly shines through on the screen.
Production didn’t playback the track on set at all. This was partly down to security reasons, with the video being filmed outside. They did want anyone from outside the shoot to hear or record it. The album still hadn’t been announced. So Aquabatix had to work around this. How would they keep in sync without music? Adele had an earpiece in and sung acapella whilst Aquabatix choreographer Val, who also had an earpiece in, counted out loud to the swimmers to keep them in time and to the correct rhythm of the music.
When they were under water, Val tapped. The synchronised swimmers hadn’t heard the track at all, so they had to go with the choreography with just Adele singing it acapella and counts, which was more difficult for the softer moves but again, worked around this fantastically. They wrapped at 5.30am as the sun began to rise.
The second night, the swimmers were in the water a lot more throughout the night filming the synchronised swimming section from a different angle plus the scenes where they turn Adele offering her wine glasses and taking Kendrick away from Adele. Even though this was the second night shoot, spirits were still high. Joe said in his interview with Letterbox’d, that whilst the pressure was on to get the Kendrick Sampson scene filmed before the sun rose, and he was still working out ways for the swimmers to take Kendrick away from Adele, that “the swimmers were unflappable – laughing, keeping everyone at ease, while simultaneously doing all the actual heavy lifting. My co-writer, Olivia, turned to me and said “I love girls on teams”.
Val mentioned that during breaks “Adele would be out in the inflatable ring chatting and laughing with the Aquabatix synchronized swimmers”. It was a warm and friendly set, with everyone working together more like a family than a team, even in the small hours of the morning, wet and outside on a September night. Little did we know that it would be another 14 months until the video made it out for the world to see.
The video for I Drink Wine was released on October 26th 2022. Whilst it was the first video shot for Adele’s 30 album, it was the 4th video to be released. Thankfully it was released so the world could see what a creative masterpiece it was. Adele publicly mentioned the release just 24 hours beforehand and held a ‘happy hour with Adele’ to premiere the video to selected fans, the day before at an event in West Hollywood. Adele was there in person and said to the audience it was her favourite video ever.
As expected, the video went down a storm. It was covered in the media worldwide with headlines such as “Adele releases new music video for I Drink Wine featuring dream like synchronised swimmers” and talked about on TV, radio and online. Images and clips of the synchronised swimming segments were posted on social media platforms immediately after the release, with some becoming memes. The synchronised swimmers trying to force wine glasses onto Adele was one of the most popular clips.
Adele posted the first image on her social media account on Instagram, followed by 50.9 million, leading with the synchronized swimming image taken by her photographer Ravie B. Adele thanked Joe for “putting the most incredible bunch of creatives together, you’re so talented and I’m honoured to have worked with you all”. On YouTube, 5 days after its release, the video had already had 10 million views. Queen Latifah posted the same synchronised swimming image as Adele on her Instagram feed and as for Aquabatix’s own social platforms, they were on fire! It’s safe to say the video was admired far and wide. A slightly different approach for Adele, who seemed ecstatic with it.
It is too early to know whether it will be nominated for the top awards but what we do know is that the Director was extremely happy with Aquabatix. Joe posted on his own social media that “The women of the Aquabatix USA swim team were the nicest, most can do sirens to ever stalk any waters”. We will take that as a great compliment!
(photo credit Ravie B)
The video is certainly one of our greatest accomplishments and to have been brought in from the start, with Joe, production and Adele entrusting Aquabatix with all the synchronised swimming parts, which were included throughout the video, was an honour and nod to the professionalism and highly skilled expertise of everyone involved from the Aquabatix family.