|Studio album by Adele|
|Released||20 November 2015 (2015-11-20)|
|Singles from 25|
25 is the third studio album by English singer-songwriter Adele. It was released on 20 November 2015, through XL Recordings nearly five years after the release and international success of her second studio album 21. Titled as a reflection of her life and frame of mind at 25 years old, 25 is a "make-up record". The album's lyrical content features themes of Adele "yearning for her old self, her nostalgia", and "melancholia about the passage of time" according to an interview with the singer by Rolling Stone, as well as themes of motherhood and regret. In contrast to Adele's previous works, the production of 25 incorporated the use of electronic elements and creative rhythmic patterns, with elements of 1980s R&B and organs. Like 21, Adele worked with producer and songwriter Paul Epworth and Ryan Tedder, along with new collaborations with Max Martin and Shellback, Greg Kurstin, Danger Mouse, the Smeezingtons, Samuel Dixon, and Tobias Jesso Jr.
25 received generally positive reviews from music critics, who commended Adele's vocal performance and the album's production. The album was a massive commercial success, debuting at number one in 32 countries and broke first week sales record in multiple countries, including the United Kingdom and United States; in the US, the album sold 3.38 million copies in its first week of release, marking the largest single-week sales for an album since Nielsen SoundScan began tracking point-of-sale music purchases in 1991. 25 eventually became the world's best-selling album of the year for 2015 with 17.4 million copies sold within the year, and has gone on to sell over 21 million copies worldwide, making it one of the best-selling albums of all time.
Following 21, it was certified Diamond by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA), denoting shipments of ten million copies in the United States, making Adele the only artist of the 2010s to achieve this certification with two albums. Globally, 25 was the biggest selling musical release for both 2015 and 2016 with many journalists crediting that the album impacted the music industry by encouraging the public to return to buying physical albums, instead of downloading or streaming and like 21, the album was credited for saving the dwindling sales of the UK and US music industry. 25 received the BRIT Award for British Album of the Year, while the lead single "Hello" won British Single of the Year. The album then won the 2017 Grammy Awards for Album of the Year, and Best Pop Vocal Album. "Hello" also won Grammys for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Pop Solo Performance.
Following the release of 21 (2011), Adele was considering quitting music. However, in early 2012 she announced she was simply taking a hiatus from music in order to "take time and live a little bit". Her hiatus from music came to an end after the birth of her first child in October 2012, with Adele stating her son inspired her to start recording music again in order for him to "know what I do". Before the album's recording came under way, Adele made a conscious decision not to try and create another 21 and would not make another "heartbreak record".
Prior to the album's release, 25 was listed as one of the most anticipated albums of 2015. Billboard, Fuse, The Sydney Morning Herald and numerous others placed the album at number one on their most anticipated list, with the latter stating "if Adele releases her third album in 2015, she could dominate the year." Prior to the album's official announcement, music journalists and fans speculated that the album would be titled 25 continuing the age theme from Adele's previous releases 19 and 21. On the eve of her 26th birthday in May 2014, Adele posted a message via her Twitter account which prompted media discussion about her next album. The message, "Bye bye 25 ... See you again later in the year", was interpreted by outlets including Billboard and Capital FM as meaning that her next album would be titled 25 and released later in the year.
Writing and recording
Early sessions and writer's block
On 10 February 2013, Adele confirmed that she was in the very early stages of her third album and was having meetings while staying in Los Angeles for the 85th Academy Awards. Initially recording sessions for 25 were unsuccessful, in which Adele suffered from writer's block. Adele rescheduled the album's recording stating she did not feel "ready", but returned to the studio when her son was eighteen months old, which inspired her to write an album about motherhood. In an interview on BBC One, it was revealed that a whole album about being a mother was written and scrapped because she thought the material was "too boring".
Adele stated that the album took a long time to write, saying she did not think the album was ever going to be finished. During the initial recording Adele ran out of ideas and lost the ability to write songs, but her team encouraged her to go back to the drawing board and keep writing. After what seemed like a very arduous process to the singer, who feared she may have lost the inspiration for her writing, the material that eventually became 25 manifested. Adele attempted to write 25 numerous times, but struggled, after taking time off due to motherhood Adele returned to the studio but stated she was not ready to start writing. She then went on to take more time off repeating this process "a couple of times".
"Remedy" was conceived during a writing session with Ryan Tedder. Described as "beautiful" and "heartfelt", it was written about the singer's best friend, her grandparents, her boyfriend, and her son. Upon the song's conception, Adele was excited and believed she was finally creating music that she liked and felt confident about. The song was described as "sassy" and an "earnest expression of devotion".
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In 2013, Adele began recording once again, contacting friend and producer Kid Harpoon. Adele and Harpoon went to his recording studio, however the session was unproductive with Adele saying: "I don't know why I wasn't ready, I just couldn't access myself." A few months passed and Adele travelled to New York to begin working with long time collaborator Ryan Tedder, but the sessions with Tedder were also unfruitful. However Adele did use one of the songs from the sessions entitled "Remedy", which was written about her best friend, her grandparents, her boyfriend, and her son. Adele was excited by the song and believed she was finally creating music that she liked and felt confident about. After recording the song along with others she flew producer Rick Rubin to the studio who was displeased with the songs that she had written, and encouraged Adele to go back to the "drawing board". Rubin described the songs as having no depth and stated to Adele;
Adele was anxious to be finished with the new album and move forward with life, I stressed the most important thing was to be true to her voice, even if that took longer and was more work ... In the new material I heard, it was clear she wasn't the primary writer — many of the songs sounded like they might be on a different pop artist's album. It's not just her voice singing any song that makes it special."
Adele continued to suffer with writer's block, until she met with producer Greg Kurstin. During the meeting with Kurstin, Adele had a breakthrough: "It all poured right out of me." "Hello" was written by Adele and Kurstin and produced by the latter, who also played bass, guitar, piano and keyboards, with Adele being credited as a drummer. The song was written in Chiswick, London, something not normally done by Adele, who said she likes to write her music at home. The writing process for the song was slow, taking six months to complete. Initially Adele and Kurstin started writing the first verse; finishing half of the song, six months later Adele contacted Kurstin to finish the song with her, with Kurstin stating he was not sure "if Adele was ever going to come back and finish it." The main inspiration behind the record came from her motherhood, as well as singer-songwriter Madonna's 1998 studio album, Ray of Light, and its song "Frozen". Although Adele clarified that she "wasn't exposed to Madonna's catalog earlier" in life, she loved Madonna's electronic musical foray after hearing it. "I believe everything she says on it. Some of the songs on it are an ode to her first kid, and I needed that to challenge me." Along with Ray of Light, Adele also listened to musician Moby's fifth studio album, Play.
You know what I found so amazing about [Ray of Light]? ... That's the record Madonna wrote after having her first child, and for me, it's her best. I was so all over the place after having a child, just because my chemicals were just hitting the fucking roof and shit like that ... I was just drifting away, and I couldn't find that many examples for myself where I was like, 'Fuck, they truly came back to themselves,' until someone was like, 'Well, obviously, Ray of Light.'
During the album's recording Adele travelled to Los Angeles in order to give the recording sessions "one last push". Adele spent two months in Los Angeles, and was determined to move forward with the album. During the sessions in Los Angeles she also wrote "When We Were Young" alongside Tobias Jesso Jr., the track was written at a rented house where Adele used Philip Glass' piano. Adele also worked with singer-songwriter Bruno Mars, initially the pair had attempted to create an uptempo song, however they created a "dramatic ballad" entitled "All I Ask".
After unfruitful sessions with Tedder, the pair went to lunch where Adele heard Taylor Swift's single "I Knew You Were Trouble". Tedder informed Adele that the song was produced by Max Martin, and sent her clips of his work. Shortly after this, Adele began work on the track "Send My Love (To Your New Lover)", reworking a skeleton of a song she had written when she was thirteen years old after being inspired by the release of Frank by Amy Winehouse. Kurstin also co-wrote and produced the song "Million Years Ago". The song was not set to be included on the record, but was added three days prior to the album's mixing at Electric Lady Studios in New York.
Adele co-wrote a song called "Alive" with Jesso and Sia. Initially written for 25 along with "Bird Set Free" and another track, Adele decided not to include any of the songs on the album. Following Adele's decision, Sia asked her permission to send the track to Rihanna, which Adele agreed to as long as her vocals were taken off the record, stating: "I don't want my vocal floating around out there on a demo." Sia eventually recorded it herself for her seventh studio album This Is Acting. "Bird Set Free" was recorded by Adele, but she decided not to include it due to it being too similar to Sia's work; it too was subsequently included on This Is Acting.
Before beginning work on the album, Adele met with Phil Collins to discuss a collaboration. "I had this song in mind," she told Rolling Stone, "and I can't remember if I gave him a copy of the song or if I gave him a chorus or something, and then I just chickened out of everything." "She's a slippery little fish…" Collins remarked subsequently. "She got hold of me and asked if I would write with her. She gave me a piece of music to finish and at first I didn't know if I'd failed the audition as I didn't hear from her. Then she said, 'No, no: I'm moving house and the baby's taking up a lot of my time. I'm not actually doing anything at the moment.' And now I've heard there's a 29 [sic] coming out. I'm not on it, I know that."
Musical style and themes
"My last record was a break-up record, and if I had to label this one, I would call it a make-up record. Making up for lost time. Making up for everything I ever did and never did. 25 is about getting to know who I've become without realising. And I'm sorry it took so long but, you know, life happened."
Consisting of eleven tracks, Adele aimed to depart from the "young-fogey" sound of her second album 21 and added synths and drum pads in order to modernize 25's musical style. The album's production incorporated the use of electronic elements and creative rhythmic patterns, unlike its predecessor, with elements of 1980s R&B and organs. Described as a collection of "panoramic ballads and prettily executed detours", Leah Greenblatt of Entertainment Weekly noted the album's "stately production" characterizing it as being built over minor-key melancholy, stylistic flourishes and simplicity. Leonie Cooper of the NME summed the album's production up as changing from "moody balladeering to smoky jazz bar grooves" whilst a reviewer from Us Weekly stated the album was built upon piano ballads, R&B grooves, minimalistic arrangements, gospel, blues and acoustic guitars.
Adele's vocals on 25 were described as being capable of conveying emotion. Her vocals were noted by Samantha O'Connor of The 405 as ranging from "thunderous roars and rib-cracking falsettos over large dramatic piano swells to fuzzy, warm lower-register rumblings", and were characterised as having a raw delivery, with minimal engineering, leaving "her vocal idiosyncrasies to crackle, croak and coo, bringing more depth" to the album. Bruce Handy of Vanity Fair stated that Adele's throat surgery had not impacted her voice, continuing to say her voice still contained character and power: "brassy yet husky, smoky yet clarion, she still sounds like the result of a genetic experiment fusing Amy Winehouse's vocal chords with Céline Dion's lungs, or even Tom Jones'."
Described by Adele as a "make-up album", she attempted to move away from the theme of break-ups that dominated 21's lyrical content. Adele stated that 25's lyrics focuses on themes of her "trying to clear out the past," and moving on. She continued to say that the album's lyrics are a reflection of the frame of mind she was in during that age, describing the time as a "turning point" where she was in the centre of adolescence and adulthood and the start of a time where she would "go into becoming who I'm going to be forever without a removal van full of my old junk." Lyrically, the album touches upon various themes including the singers fear of getting older, her childhood, regrets, longing for her family, nostalgia and her role as a mother. Mark Savage of the BBC, noted the album's themes were a departure from the anger and heartbroken themes that dominated 21, stating that the lyrics were "reflective" allowing the singer "to re-examine her past relationships". Savage continued to state that songs such as "When We Were Young" introduce the album's key theme of Adele's "uneasy acceptance of adulthood." The album is focused at a broad popular music appeal, where her former releases, were made with a concoction of "gospel, R&B, jazz, [and] folk" styles, elements, and audiences in mind.
'When We Were Young'
On "When We Were Young", the singer elevates "maudlin sentiment into high art". With a moderately slow tempo of 72 beats per minute, the Ariel Rechtshaid-produced song introduces the album's key theme of Adele's "uneasy acceptance of adulthood".
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25 opens with "Hello", a piano ballad that borrows heavily from soul music. During the chorus Adele is heard singing the lines over layers of backing vocals, piano and drums which were described by the Telegraph as leaning "towards a very luscious wall of sound". The track also contains drums which Adele was credited for providing. Lyrically, the track focuses on themes of nostalgia and regret and plays out like a conversation. The follow up, "Send My Love (To Your New Lover)", has been compared to the work of singer Taylor Swift due to its "upbeat, poppy" sound. Adele describes it as a "happy you're gone" song, which was inspired by an ex-boyfriend.
The drum-filled folk song "I Miss You" has been described as "explicitly seductive" due to the lyrics: "Bring the floor up to my knees/Let me fall into your gravity/And kiss me back to life to see/Your body standing over me." "When We Were Young", another piano-led ballad, is "a reflective serenade about treasuring the moments you will look back on in years to come", while the ballad "Remedy", was written about Adele's best friend, her grandparents, her boyfriend, and her son. "Water Under the Bridge" is a mid-tempo pop song, featuring an electro-drum beat and a tropical, trip hop riff, with Adele proclaiming to her lover "If you're gonna let me down, let me down gently/Don't pretend that you don't want me/Our love ain't water under the bridge". The gospel-tinged "River Lea" talks about the singer growing up in Tottenham, London, England, Adele sings about The Lea, a river in London. During the song Adele speaks of how the river's polluted waters have seeped into her blood causing her relationship failures. "Love in the Dark" is a torch ballad.
"Million Years Ago", an acoustic tune accompanied only by guitar, finds the singer pining "for the normality of her not-so-distant childhood. Entwined with Middle Eastern twists of background hums that suggest Madonna's 'Frozen'". The song's lyrics touch upon themes of fame, and how it "frightens", the song's lyrics talk about how fame has personally affected her and everyone around her, singing about how she misses the air, her mother, and her friends, but her "life is flashing by and all I can do is watch and cry." In the final piano ballad "All I Ask", "Adele addresses a lover on what she knows will be their final night, processing the end of an affair in what feels like slow motion."25 closes with "Sweetest Devotion", an "uplifting" number written as a tribute to her son.
Release and promotion
Main articles: Adele at the BBC and Adele Live in New York City
A release date for 25 was first suggested in early August 2014, when Paul Moss suggested that an album would be released in 2014 or 2015. However, accounts filed by Adele's label XL Recordings in October 2014 ruled out the possibility of a 2014 release. In August 2015, Billboard reported that Adele's label had intentions of releasing her third studio album sometime in November 2015. In October 2015, the album was rumoured to be released on 20 November 2015, after which numerous journalists speculated that other musicians had pushed back their albums in order to avoid chart competition with her, with artists such as One Direction, Justin Bieber, Fleur East, and 5 Seconds of Summer releasing their albums before Adele's, so that their sales and chart placements would not be affected. The fourth quarter was also set to have releases from Rihanna, Kanye West, and Coldplay, and all except Coldplay backed out from coinciding with the release of Adele's album. Rihanna and West both released their albums in months of weaker competition the year later, thus securing easy number-one albums on the Billboard 200.
On 18 October, a 30-second clip of "Hello" was shown on UK television during a commercial break on The X Factor. It teased a new song from Adele after three years, with viewers hearing her singing the first verse of "Hello" with its lyrics appearing on a black screen. Three days later, Adele released a letter to her fans through social media addressing the album, in which she confirmed that the album would be titled 25. Adele stated that the title is a reflection on her age and the frame of mind she was in during that age, describing the time as a "turning point" where she was in the centre of adolescence and adulthood and the start of a time where she would "go into becoming who I'm going to be forever without a removal van full of my old junk." She added: "My last record was a break-up record and if I had to label this one I would call it a make-up record. I'm making up with myself. I'm making up for lost time." Adele confirmed the next day 25 would be released on 20 November 2015, and revealed its cover simultaneously on her social media.
On 27 October, BBC One announced plans for a one-hour television special presented by Graham Norton in which he would talk to Adele about her new album. Adele at the BBC was recorded before a live audience on 2 November and transmitted on BBC One on 20 November, coinciding with the album's release. A short extract of the programme was previewed during an edition of BBC One's The One Show aired on 5 November; it shows Adele performing "Hello" and chatting to Norton. On 27 October it was also announced that the singer would make an appearance on the US entertainment series Saturday Night Live on 21 November. On 30 October, Adele confirmed through her Facebook page that she would be performing a one-night-only concert titled Adele Live in New York City at the Radio City Music Hall on 17 November. Subsequently, NBC confirmed they will air the concert special on 14 December.
On 19 November 2015, The New York Times reported that the album will not be released on streaming services, such as Spotify and Apple Music. It was later announced that 25 would be made available through streaming services from 24 June 2016. Also in November, Adele appeared on the NRJ Awards,NPR, and The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.
In January, she sang some of her greatest hits so far during her carpool karaoke video on The Late Late Show with James Corden. The following month, Adele performed at the 2016 Grammy Awards, the 2016 Brit Awards, and The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Adele also conducted interviews with and appeared on the covers of Time,Vanity Fair,Vogue,i-D,The Observer, and Rolling Stone. Adele performed "Hello" again at the 2017 Grammy Awards.
On 23 October 2015, "Hello" was released as the album's lead single and was made available for purchase and streaming, with its music video released on the same day. It compiled over 100 million views on YouTube within 5 days. It is the second-fastest video to hit 100 million YouTube views ever and the fastest to reach 100 million on Vevo previously held by "Wrecking Ball" by Miley Cyrus back in 2013. 87 days after its release "Hello" had received a billion YouTube views, beating Psy's "Gangnam Style", which had accumulated the same number of views over 158 days. The song reached number one in the UK Singles Chart on 30 October, with a combined first week sales of 330,000 copies. The figure was the largest opening week sales for a single since James Arthur's "Impossible", which achieved a volume of 490,000 sales in 2012. The song sold 1,112,000 digital downloads and 61.2 million streams in its first week, resulting in "Hello" debuting at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 (becoming Adele's fourth number-one single in the United States) on the issue dated 14 November 2015. By the end of 2015, it had sold 12.3 million units globally and was the year's 7th best-selling single.
On 14 December 2015, Billboard reported that "When We Were Young" is scheduled as the second single from 25. The song had already charted at number 29 on the UK Single Chart and number 22 on the Billboard Hot 100, and sold 150,000 digital copies in the United States. The song was released on 22 January 2016, eventually peaking at number 14 on the US Billboard Hot 100.
iHeartRadio reported on 27 April 2016 that "Send My Love (To Your New Lover)" had been selected as the album's third single and that it would be serviced to radio stations on 17 May 2016.The song peaked at No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States, No. 5 in the UK and No. 10 in Canada.
On 4 November 2016, "Water Under the Bridge" was released as the fourth single from the album. The single is peaking at No. 26 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States, No. 39 on the UK Singles Chart and No. 37 on the Canadian Hot 100.
Main article: Adele Live 2016
Adele embarked on her third tour titled Adele Live 2016, which will run from February to November 2016. The first leg started in Belfast on 29 February 2016 in the SSE Arena before moving throughout mainland Europe and concluding in Antwerp at Sportpaleis on 15 June 2016. The second leg begins on 5 July at the Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul, Minnesota and continues throughout the United States and Canada with multiple dates at each venue. The tour concludes on 2 July 2017 in London, UK. Demand for the tour was extremely high and all shows sold out within minutes of going on sale. Over 500,000 fans registered at Adele.com to purchase tickets, with 57,000 tickets sold for the 12 shows that were put on sale in the UK.
25 received generally positive reviews from critics. At Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream publications, the album received an average score of 75, based on 35 reviews. Bruce Handy, writing a review for Vanity Fair, regarded the music as traditional R&B and modern pop music, with songs that are mostly ballads. Reviewing for AllMusic, Stephen Thomas Erlewine comments, "Fittingly, 25 also plays better over the long haul, its march of slow songs steadily revealing subtle emotional or musical distinctions", where "all 11 songs are ... a piece ... [of] shaded melancholy gaining most of their power through performance", and arguing that the "cohesive sound only accentuates how Adele has definitively claimed this arena of dignified heartbreak as her own".Neil McCormick from The Daily Telegraph stated that the album, covered the same "musical and emotional terrain" as 21 and continued to call it an "equal of its predecessor." Jon Dolan of Rolling Stone commented that the album's "nostalgic mood is the perfect fit for an artist who reaches back decades for her influences, even as her all-or-nothing urgency feels utterly modern" and also praising her "incredible phrasing – the way she can infuse any line with nuance and power", which he argued served as "more proof that she's among the greatest interpreters of romantic lyrics". Leah Greenblatt of Entertainment Weekly called it "a record that feels both new and familiar—a beautiful if safe collection of panoramic ballads and prettily executed detours".Billboard praised Adele's vocal performance writing that it's "swathed in echo, sounding like she's wailing beneath the vaults of the planet's most cavernous cathedral, they hit hard." Amanda Petrusich from Pitchfork praised Adele's vocal delivery, arguing that "[her] instincts as a singer remain unmatched; she is, inarguably, the greatest vocalist of her generation, an artist who instinctively understands timbre and pitch, when to let some air in".
In a less enthusiastic review for The Independent, Andy Gill said the songs "River Lea" and "Send My Love (To Your New Lover)" were "isolated moments of musical intrigue scattered here and there through the album", which he said gradually became "swamped by the kind of dreary piano ballads that are Adele's fall-back position". Leonie Cooper from NME felt Adele and her team of songwriters/producers did not take any risks musically, instead "following a formula that has so far resulted in 30 million album sales".Jude Rogers found the 25 bogged down by the emotionally weighty themes of Adele's previous records, comparing the singer to "a friend who you’ve helped countless times but who won’t listen, who actually enjoys being in a mess, whose sparkle gets dampened – gets drowned – as a consequence".
Rolling Stone magazine ranked the album at number two on its "The 50 Best Albums of 2015" year-end list. American newspaper Newsday also ranked the album at number two on their list of 2015's best albums, UK publication Complex listed the album at number four on their list of The Best Albums of 2015 and Entertainment Weekly listed the album at number three.
At the 2016 BRIT Awards, Adele was nominated for five awards, in which she won four including British Album of the Year for 25 and British Single of the Year for "Hello". At the 2016 Billboard Music Awards, the singer was nominated for nine categories, winning five, including Top Billboard 200 Album for 25 and Top Selling Song for "Hello". At the 2016 Juno Awards, Adele won International Album of the Year for 25 and Video of the Year for "Hello". Adele also won Attitude's Album of the Year for 25. At the 59th Grammy Awards, 25 won Album of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Album, while "Hello" won Song of the Year, Record of the Year and Best Pop Solo Performance.
In the United Kingdom, 25 debuted at number one on the UK Albums Chart and sold 800,307 copies in its first chart week, overtaking Oasis' Be Here Now (1997) to become the fastest-selling album of all time in the UK. Of that total, 252,423 copies were digital downloads, breaking the record for most digital copies sold in a week, and 548,000 were physical copies. In its first week, 25 sold more copies in the UK than the combined sales of the last 19 number-one albums in UK on their debut week. It also outsold that week's other 86 highest-selling albums combined. After ten days on sale, it became the fastest million-seller in the UK, surpassing Be Here Now, which achieved this feat in 17 days in 1997. In its second week, 25 sold 439,337 copies, which broke the record for highest second-week sales in the UK and also was the sixth biggest weekly sales of all time. In its third week, 25 sold 354,000 copies, which represents the second highest third-week sales since Take That's The Circus, which sold 382,000 copies in its third week, and was also certified quintuple platinum by the British Phonographic Industry, with total UK sales at 1,593,530 copies. On 18 December, 29 days after its release, the album surpassed sales of 2 million copies in the UK, becoming the fastest 2 million-seller in the country. In its fifth week of release, the album sold another 450,000 copies in the UK, becoming the Christmas number one.
|Studio album by Adele|
|Released||24 January 2011 (2011-01-24)|
|Recorded||May 2009 – October 2010|
|Studio||AIR Studios, Angel Recording Studios, Eastcote Studios, Metropolis Studios, Myaudiotonic Studios, Sphere Studios, Wendyhouse Productions (London, England);|
Harmony Studios, Serenity Sound (West Hollywood, California);
Patriot Studios (Denver, Colorado);
Shangri La Studios (Malibu, California)
|Singles from 21|
21 is the second studio album by English singer-songwriter Adele. It was released on 24 January 2011 in Europe and on 22 February 2011 in North America. The album was named after the age of the singer during its production. 21 shares the folk and Motownsoul influences of her 2008 debut album 19, but was further inspired by the American country and Southern blues music to which she had been exposed during her 2008–09 North American tour An Evening with Adele. Composed in the aftermath of the singer's separation from her partner, the album typifies the near dormant tradition of the confessional singer-songwriter in its exploration of heartbreak, self-examination, and forgiveness.
Adele began writing 21 in April 2009, when still involved in the relationship that subsequently inspired the record. Dissatisfied with once again portraying herself as the musical tragedian of her debut, she had intended to compose a more upbeat and contemporary follow-up. However, studio sessions ended prematurely due to a lack of inspiration. She resumed production immediately after the breakdown of her relationship, channelling her heartbreak and depression into her songs. Adele collaborated with various songwriters and producers, including Columbia Records co-president Rick Rubin, Paul Epworth, Ryan Tedder, Jim Abbiss, and Dan Wilson.
Praised by critics for its understated production, vintage aesthetic, and Adele's vocal performance, 21 defied the modest commercial expectations of her indie record labelXL Recordings. The album topped the charts in more than 30 countries and became the world's best-selling album of the year for 2011 and 2012. In the United Kingdom, it is the best-selling album of the 21st century and fourth best-selling album of all time, while its 23-week tenure atop the UK Albums Chart is the longest by a female solo artist. In the United States, the album held the top position for 24 weeks, longer than any other album since 1985 and the longest by a female solo artist in Billboard 200 history. As well, it had the most weeks on the Billboard 200 chart of any album by a woman. It was certified Diamond by the RIAA and was ranked as the "Greatest Billboard 200 Album of All Time." It's also the most certified album ever with more than 400 certifications all over the world.
Five singles were released to promote the album, with "Rolling in the Deep," "Someone like You" and "Set Fire to the Rain" becoming international number-one songs, while "Rumour Has It" charted in the top 20 across Europe and North America. Globally, 21 was the biggest selling musical release for both 2011 and 2012, and helped revitalise lagging sales of the UK and US music industry. With over 31 million copies sold worldwide,21 is one of the best-selling albums of all time. Critics hailed the album as a shift from the overtly sexual and musically bombastic status quo, and attributed its success to its deeply autobiographical yet universal songs. Shortlisted for the 2011 Mercury Prize, 21 won the 2012 Grammy Award for Album of the Year and the Brit Award for British Album of the Year.
Writing and production
Early writing sessions
In April 2009, 20-year-old Adele, who had recently embarked on her first serious relationship with a man 10 years her senior, began composing the follow-up to her 2008 debut album 19. In response to the media's typecasting her as an "old soul" due to the vintage production and sentimental nature of her songs, Adele decided on a more upbeat and contemporary second album. However, studio sessions were generally unproductive and, after two weeks, yielded only one song recorded to the singer's satisfaction—the Jim Abbiss-produced "Take It All," a lovelorn piano ballad not unlike the songs on 19. Disillusioned with lack of inspiration and the slow progress of the studio sessions, she cancelled the remaining recording session dates.
Adele had written "Take It All" during a difficult moment in her relationship. When she played the song for her boyfriend, the two got into a bitter argument that culminated in the end of their 18-month relationship. Heartbroken but musically stimulated, Adele channelled her rush of emotions into her music, crafting songs that examined her failed relationship from the perspectives of vengeful ex-lover, heartbroken victim, and nostalgic old flame.
Sessions with Epworth, Smith, and Tedder
'Rolling in the Deep'
The revenge song "Rolling in the Deep" was conceived only hours after Adele's separation from her ex-lover. A "dark, bluesy, gospel, disco tune" in the singer's own words, it was written in response to disparaging comments he made towards her during an argument.
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Writing for the album began shortly after Adele separated from her lover. Within a day of her break-up, she contacted producer Paul Epworth, intent on capturing her emotion in a song: "We'd had a fuming argument the night before ... I'd been bubbling. Then I went into the studio and screamed." Although she had initially planned on completing a ballad that she had begun writing with Epworth more than a year ago, the producer suggested that she aim for a more aggressive sound. Together, they restructured the song and re-wrote lyrics to reflect Adele's recent experience, deciding on the title "Rolling in the Deep." The instrumentation evolved organically—after trying out various jazz riffs, Adele attempted the first verse a cappella, inspiring Epworth to improvise a melody on his acoustic guitar. A thumping drum beat was set to mimic her racing heartbeat. In two days, a demo was recorded to be produced by Columbia Records co-president Rick Rubin later that year. However, Adele re-approached Epworth months later to complete production of the song.
British producer Fraser T Smith recalled following a similar trajectory when he teamed up with Adele to compose the subsequent third single "Set Fire to the Rain" at his MyAudiotonic Studios in London. After the two had created the demo, Adele revisited her co-writer to record the song with him, instead of the intended producer Rick Rubin. Smith thought Adele's first attempt superior to subsequent takes, and used the demo as the final production of the song, complete with live drum sounds and an elaborate strings section (arranged by British musician Rosie Danvers).
With the demos to two songs recorded, Adele approached American musician and OneRepublic frontman Ryan Tedder, who was in London at the time for a radio show. Tedder had expressed interest in collaborating with the singer after they met at the 2009 Grammy Awards ceremony in February. He arrived four hours early to their first studio session, buying time to better familiarise himself with some of her previous work. Although unaware of Adele's personal predicament, he composed the opening piano sequence and first few lines to what became the lovelorn ballad "Turning Tables": "Close enough to start a war/All that I have is on the floor." Coincidentally, it perfectly captured the experience of the singer, who arrived at the studio moments after another altercation with her former lover. Angry and unfocused, she denounced her ex-lover's tendency to "turn the tables" on her during their arguments, an expression that Tedder decided to reference in the song's lyrics. Adele recorded the demo with Jim Abbiss the following day.
Adele and Tedder arranged a second meeting and reconvened at Serenity West Studios in Los Angeles weeks later to write and record "Rumour Has It." In an interview, Tedder recalled his astonishment at the singer's musicality and vocal prowess after she completed the main vocals to the song in 10 minutes: "She sang it once top to bottom, pitch perfect, she didn't miss a note. I looked at the engineer then at her and said, 'Adele I don't know what to tell you but I have never had anyone do that in ten years'."
Sessions with Rubin, Wells, and Wilson
After working with Smith, Tedder, and Epworth, Adele travelled to the United States for the remainder of the album's production. At the suggestion of Columbia Records group president Ashley Newton, she met with songwriter Greg Wells at his studio in Culver City, Los Angeles, where they co-wrote the gospel-tinged ballad "One and Only." The song evolved from a four-chord piano progression in a 6/8-metre, which Wells had conceived before meeting with the singer. The lyrics, aimed at the singer's new love interest, came together quickly and were later completed with Dan Wilson, with whom she also composed "Someone like You." In 2008, Adele's appearance on the NBC sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live caught the attention of producer Rick Rubin. In the initial stage of the album's production Rubin had signed on as its sole producer, and was scheduled to produce all of its songs. The demos she had recorded with Epworth, Smith, and Tedder (including "Rolling in the Deep" and "Set Fire to the Rain") were subsequently rerecorded by Rubin when she met with him in his Shangri-La Studio in Malibu, California in April 2010.
Rubin, notorious for his unorthodox production style, pushed the singer beyond her comfort zone, and despite being drawn to his unconventional methods, Adele described working with the producer as daunting. Rubin had attended many of her shows throughout 2008–2009, and after a Hollywood Bowl performance, approached her to compliment her live sound. When they met in Malibu, he attempted to "capture her live show across on [her] record," assembling a team of musicians—including drummer Chris Dave, guitarist Matt Sweeney, James Poyser on piano, and Pino Palladino on bass—to contribute live instrumentation to the recording sessions. He also decided against the use of music samples and electronic instruments. An advocate of a more free-form approach to music-making, Rubin relied on the moods and feelings behind the music itself to guide the instrumental and melodic arrangement of the songs. He isolated the singer in the studio and encouraged her, as well as his team of musicians, to approach the production process with more spontaneity and less restraint. The singer even recalled moving the musicians and production team to tears while recording some of the songs. In an interview, he commented on the nature of the recording sessions:
Her singing was so strong and heartbreaking in the studio, it was clear something very special was happening ... The musicians were inspired as they rarely get to play with the artist present, much less singing ... Today, most things are recorded as overdubs on track. This was truly an interactive moment where none of the musicians knew exactly what they were going to play and all were listening so, so, deeply and completely to figure out where they fitted in ... all of the playing was keying off the emotion on Adele's outrageous vocal performance.
After recording the album with Rubin, Adele was dissatisfied with many of the songs. Ultimately, she decided to scrap most work done in favour of the early takes she did with other producers, including Epworth and Tedder, in order for the music to reflect the raw emotion felt immediately after her break-up. From her collaboration with Rubin, only five songs appeared on the album: "Don't You Remember," "He Won't Go," "I'll Be Waiting," "One and Only," as well as the U.S-only track "I Found a Boy." Weeks after her stint with Rubin, Adele learned of her ex-lover's recent engagement, inspiring the composition of the album's final track "Someone like You." Adele's record label was initially dissatisfied with the song's sparse production, which comprised Adele's voice alongside a sole piano, and requested that it be re-recorded with Rubin's band. However, the singer opted to keep the arrangement, stating that the song was personal to her and that she wrote it to "free herself."
"'s different from 19, it's about the same things but in a different light. I deal with things differently now. I'm more patient ... more forgiving and more aware of my own flaws ... Something that comes with age I think. So fittingly this record is called 21 ... Like a photo album you see [my] progression and change ... throughout the years. I tried to think of other album titles but couldn't come up with anything that represented the album properly."-- Adele, on her meaning behind the title.
Adele first intended to title the album Rolling in the Deep, her adaptation of the slang phrase "roll deep," which summarises how she felt about her relationship; in her loose translation, the phrase refers to having someone "that has your back" and always supports you. However, the singer later deemed the title too confusing for some of her audiences. Although she had wanted to avoid the number motif of her debut, Adele considered "21" the most fitting title as it represented her age at the time of the album's composition, serving as an autobiographical period piece, and symbolised the personal maturity and artistic evolution since her debut.
Music and influence
21 bears influences of Adele's extended exposure to the music of the Southern United States during the North American leg of her 2008–2009 tour An Evening with Adele. Frequent smoke breaks with her tour bus driver, a Nashville, Tennessee native, resulted in her introduction to bluegrass and rockabilly, and the music of Garth Brooks,Wanda Jackson, Alison Krauss,Lady Antebellum, Dolly Parton and Rascal Flatts. Adele developed an appreciation for the country genre, praising what she described as the immediacy of the themes and the straightforward narrative structure of many of the songs she listened to.
"Someone Like You"
A 27-second sample of "Someone Like You" which features spare and understated production. In the song, Adele wishes her former lover happiness on his new relationship and begs him to never forget her.
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She also expressed her enthusiasm at simply learning a new style of music. Although influenced by Adele's interest in country music at the time, 21 remains faithful to the Motown influences of 19 and exhibits both gospel and soul music inflections. Instruments such as the saxophone, harp, banjo and the accordion contributed to its exploration of blues and soul.[not in citation given] The singer drew from the music of Mary J. Blige, Kanye West, Elbow, Mos Def, Alanis Morissette, Tom Waits, and Sinéad O'Connor in the cultivation of the album's sound, and credited Yvonne Fair, Andrew Bird, Neko Case, and The Steel Drivers with its musical direction.
Adele's style on 21 is generally characterised by critics as soul, although some suggest that the album eschews any distinct stylistic epithet. John Murphy of musicOMH characterises the album as British soul. Jon Caramanica of The New York Times wrote that the album's music is a part of a recent British soul revival that "summoned styles dating back to Motown girl groups and Dusty Springfield." Ryan Reed of Paste calls Adele a "British alt-soul prodigy" and the album's music "the stuff of sensual modern pop-noir landscape, heavy on retro textures and relationship drama."Danyel Smith of Billboard views that Adele's music exhibits influences from Northern soul, Aretha Franklin, Sade, and Bette Midler.
Larry Flick of SiriusXM called 21 "a pop record with soul leanings," while The Washington Post's Allion Stewart commented on the album's eclectic nature: "Everything on  is precisely calibrated to transcend genres, to withstand trends ... It's slightly angled toward country, even more toward R&B," and "informed, but never overwhelmed, by roots music." Mike Spies of Slate argues that soul music is inextricably linked to the political, historical, and cultural experience of African Americans, and that Adele and her contemporaries, far removed from this socio-cultural milieu, can offer only a mere duplicate of actual "soul," despite a capacity to convincingly channel the sound.
The sequence of the tracks on the deeply autobiographical album correlate to the range of emotions Adele experienced after the break-up, progressing from themes of anger and bitterness, to feelings of loneliness, heartbreak and regret, and finally acceptance. The revenge song "Rolling in the Deep," a "dark, bluesy, gospel, disco tune" in the singer's own words, was written as a "fuck you" to her ex-lover after his disparaging remarks that she was weak and that her life without him would be "boring and lonely and rubbish." Opening with an understated acoustic guitar strum, the song's first lines set the foreboding tone of the album. Pounding martial beats, shuffling percussion, and piano coalesce into a dramatic, multilayered chorus over which "Adele's voice ranges, dramatizing her search for just the right tone and words to express her dismay that a man would dare break her heart." The first single from 21, "Rolling in the Deep" is one of the more apparent influences of the bluesy Americana music that framed the album's sound.
"Rumour Has It," the singer's tongue-in-cheek retort to the hurtful gossip that surrounded her break-up, was aimed at her own friends for their part in spreading these rumours. Fusing elements of doo-wop and Tin Pan Alley blues, the percussion-driven song is built on girl-group harmonies, piano chords, pounding kick drum and handclaps, and finds the singer "channeling a '40s, piano-vixen lounge singer." Jon Caramanica of The New York Times pointed out the song's "hollow counterpoint vocals" and slow, "daringly morbid" bridge that veers from the pounding rhythm before once again acceding to it. In the studio, Tedder experimented with a riff inspired by Radiohead's "I Might Be Wrong," crediting the song's drop D tuning and American blues vibe as impetus for "Rumour Has It." In "Turning Tables," a song of domestic dispute, its narrator assumes a defensive stance against a manipulative ex-lover. Reconciling herself with the termination of a contentious relationship, she vows emotional distance to shield herself from future heartbreak. Bryan Boyd of The Irish Times likened the singer to 1980s Welsh rocker Bonnie Tyler in delivering the vocals with a mixture of anger, pain and pathos. According to Paste magazine, cinematic strings "serve as fitting counterpoint to [the song's] heartbroken, hollowed-out lyrics."
"Don't You Remember"
On "Don't You Remember," the singer implores her ex-lover to overlook her past mistakes and to remember her at her best. With bluesy guitar riffs and instrumental backing from the banjo and the accordion, the Rick Rubin-produced song is one of the more potent examples of the country music influences that permeate the album.
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The Rick Rubin-produced fourth track "Don't You Remember," co-written by Adele and Dan Wilson, marks a shift in the album's theme, from anger and defensiveness to reflection and heartbreak. A downtempo country music-styled ballad, the song was added late to the production of the album after the singer grew ashamed of her continued negative portrayal of her ex-lover throughout the album. Its lyrics entreat a past lover to remember the happier moments at the beginning of a now broken relationship. In "Set Fire to the Rain" the singer delineates the conflicting stages of a troubled union and wrestles with her inability to fully let go. Accentuated by ornate orchestral flourishes, swirling strings, crescendos, and dramatic vocal effects towards its climactic end, the song stands in stark contrast to the otherwise understated production of the album, and in reviews, was characterised by critics as a pop rock power ballad. To achieve a fuller sound, producer Fraser T Smith incorporated the popular "wall of sound" reverberative technique in framing the song's dense instrumentation.
"Take It All," the seventh track, written and recorded with Francis "Eg" White and Jim Abbiss before the breakdown of Adele's relationship, is a piano and vocal ballad that borrows heavily from pop, soul and gospel. In his review of 21, Allmusic's Matt Collar called the song the album's centrepiece, "an instant-classic" in the same vein as "And I Am Telling You I'm Not Going," and "All by Myself," and a "cathartic moment for fans who identify with their idol's Pyrrhic lovelorn persona." The track precedes "I'll Be Waiting," the second of two songs produced by Epworth, which diverges from the scathing "Rolling in the Deep" in its optimistic tone and brisk, lilted melody. A protagonist's mea culpa for a relationship gone wrong, she declares to wait patiently for her lover's inevitable return. The song was compared to the work of Aretha Franklin for its "huge vocal sound on the chorus, rolling piano and boxy snare," while Tom Townshend of MSN Music described its brass section as a Rolling Stones-esque "barroom gospel."
Although the album predominantly explores the singer's failed relationship, not all songs were geared towards her ex-lover. "He Won't Go," a nod to hip hop and contemporary R&B, was a tribute to a friend who battled heroin addiction. The ninth track "One and Only," noted for its gospel-tinged vocals, organ, and choir, was directed at a close friend for whom Adele shared romantic feelings. And "Lovesong" was dedicated to Adele's mother and friends, in whom she found solace when she grew homesick and lonely while recording in Malibu.
The album closes with the "heartbreak adagio" "Someone like You," a soft piano ballad that pairs Adele's vocals with a looping piano melody. In interviews, the singer described it as the summation of her attitude towards her ex-lover by the end of the album's production. The song's lyrics describe a protagonist's attempt at dealing with her heartbreak after she learns of her ex-lover's recent marriage and happy new life. Sean Fennessey of The Village Voice praised the singer's nuanced vocal performance in the song, which ascends "into a near-shrieked whisper" during parts of the chorus, after which she once again regains composure. One of the more commended songs on the album, "Someone like You" was praised for its lyrical depth and understated simplicity.
Release and promotion
For the North American release of 21 on 22 February, Columbia Records executives used the "'long tail' sales theory" to shape its marketing campaign, which, according to Columbia senior VP of marketing Scott Greer, entailed "building a critical mass throughout February in order to reach all those people who bought 19." Key to this was the record company approaching internet and media partners Vevo, AOL and VH1 to begin promoting Adele's old and new songs. In the months leading up to the European release of 21, Adele embarked on a promotional tour across Europe, performing on the UK's Royal Variety Performance on 9 December 2010, the finale of reality singing competition The Voice of Holland on 21 January 2011, and on BBC Radio 1's Live Lounge on six days later. On 24 January 2011, during the week of the album's UK release, she performed an acoustic set of selected songs from 21 at London's Tabernacle music hall, which was screened live on her personal website. Adele performed "Someone like You" at the 2011 BRIT Awards ceremony, which was well received and resulted in a sales increase for both 19 and 21.
From September to October 2010, Adele embarked on a mini-promotional tour of the US, which included stops in New York and Minneapolis, as well as an exclusive appearance at the famous Club Largo in Los Angeles. Although she did not use Twitter at the time, Columbia created an account that redirected followers to the singer's personal blog. Throughout February, Adele's personal site hosted a "21 Days of Adele" promotion, which featured exclusive daily content, including a live chat and a video of the singer explaining the inspiration for each album track. The week of release was also accompanied by a spate of television appearances on many American daytime and late-night talk shows, such as the Today Show on 18 February, Late Show with David Letterman on 21 February, and The Ellen DeGeneres Show and Jimmy Kimmel Live! on 24 February. Adele performed "Someone like You" at the 2011 MTV Video Music Awards ceremony.
Adele embarked on her second concert tour Adele: Live in support of 21, scheduling more than 60 shows across Europe and North America. The shows received positive reviews, many of which noted the show's understated nature, the singer's vocal performance and her accessible persona. However, recurring health and vocal problems led to numerous alterations to the tour itinerary. The cancellation of the North American leg of the tour was due to a vocal haemorrhage on her vocal cords. The singer underwent corrective vocal surgery in November 2011 and cancelled all public appearances until February 2012. Adele performed "Rolling in the Deep" at the 2011 ECHO Awards, 2012 Grammy Awards and 2012 BRIT Awards ceremonies.
21 yielded five singles in total, including four worldwide releases. The lead single "Rolling in the Deep" was released in November 2010, and peaked the charts in the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Italy, and Switzerland. It became a top-ten hit in Austria, Canada, Denmark, Ireland, New Zealand, and Norway. Released in the UK on 16 January 2011, it peaked at number two. In the US, the song became "the most widely crossed over song of the past twenty-five years," appearing on a record 12 different Billboard charts (including the Rock Songs chart, R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, and Hot Latin Songs charts). The song spent seven consecutive weeks at the top of the Hot 100, and was ranked the top song and the best-selling song of the year.
"Someone like You" debuted at number 36 on the UK Singles Chart due to strong digital sales, and after falling to number 47, it ascended to number one when the singer performed it at the 2011 BRIT Awards. It peaked at number one in Australia, New Zealand, Italy, Finland, France, Switzerland, and the US. "Set Fire to the Rain," the third single, topped the singles chart in the US, the Netherlands and Belgium (Flanders), and reached the top five in Switzerland, Italy and Austria. "Rumour Has It" was confirmed as the fourth and final official US single from the album by Ryan Tedder at the Grammy Awards in 2012, and was released 1 March 2012. In some countries, "Turning Tables" was released as the fourth single. It was the fifth single to be released to US mainstream stations, although it received limited airplay due to an unofficial release. Even though "I'll Be Waiting" was never released as a single, it charted at No. 29 on the US Triple A chart.
At Metacritic, which assigns a normalised rating out of 100 to reviews from mainstream publications, the album received an average score of 76, based on 34 reviews. In the Chicago Tribune, Greg Kot deemed the music an improvement over 19, writing that "21 beefs up the rhythmic drive and the drama of the arrangements." Simon Harper of Clash wrote, "[In] two years ... she's clearly seen the world. Where 19 marked the turbulent swan song to a teenage life, 21 introduces the realities of adult life, where grown-up responsibilities collide with heartache and emotional scars run deep." John Murphy of MusicOMH said that it shared the themes of "pain, sadness and anger" explored on Amy Winehouse's Back to Black (2006), while hailing 21 as "one of the great 'break-up' albums, and the first truly impressive record of 2011."Sputnikmusic's Joseph Viney stated that 21 combined the "best bits of Aretha Franklin's old-school soul with Lauryn Hill's sass and sense of cynical modern femininity."
Sean Fennessey from The Village Voice wrote that the album "has a diva's stride and a diva's purpose. With a touch of sass and lots of grandeur, it's an often magical thing that insists on its importance ... the line here between melodrama and pathos is wafer-thin, and Adele toes it deftly. It's what separates her from her contemporaries in the mid-'00s wave of British white-girl r&b-dom."Q commented that, despite a "slightly scattershot quality ... greatness is tantalizingly within reach." In The New York Times, Jon Pareles applauded the singer's emotive timbre, comparing her to Dusty Springfield, Petula Clark, and Annie Lennox: "[Adele] can seethe, sob, rasp, swoop, lilt and belt, in ways that draw more attention to the song than to the singer." Ryan Reed of Paste regarded her voice as "a raspy, aged-beyond-its-years thing of full-blooded beauty," while MSN Music's Tom Townshend declared her "the finest singer of [our] generation."
Matthew Cole from Slant Magazine was less impressed, believing Adele's vocals masked the "blandness" of many of the songs, a fault that he said would have been more apparent had they been performed by a lesser talent. Allison Stewart of The Washington Post