Adele is undoubtedly one of the defining artists of her generation. She tops the charts, tours around the world and holds the honor of having one of the most anticipated album releases of the year. Her artistry navigates time, maturity and love in new and exciting ways, attracting a large audience. She even taps into the roots of a variety of musical styles, ranging from pop to jazz to even bluegrass. Let’s look back at some of the magical moments Adele has created throughout her career.
Debut Album: “19”
On her debut album, Adele set the scene. She navigated changing relationships with her hometown, her romantic partners and even her own aspirations. Musically, she introduced audiences to her husky vocals, elegant melodies and smart lyricism.
“Hometown Glory” — Adele’s debut single — is an ode to West Norwood, a place she lived for most of her childhood. It is simultaneously personal and political: One moment, she’s skipping over the cracks in the pavement, and the next, she’s applauding the people of her hometown for standing up to the government. While it is relatively quiet compared to most of her material, it achieved moderate success and has since become a fan favorite.
“Chasing Pavements,” another single off of the same album, takes the opposite approach. Featuring a soaring chorus colored with uncertainty, it is a predecessor to Adele’s future ballads. At the age of 20, she performed it on Letterman to wide acclaim, and it’s easy to see why.
“21” was anything but a sophomore slump; it somehow built on Adele’s musical influences while also bolstering her storytelling abilities. Ranging from bombastic power ballads to acoustic ballads on piano, she told her story with wisdom beyond her years.
“Rolling in the Deep,” Adele’s first single from the album — and, also, the first song on the album — strikes a match and lights a fire. Its opening guitar strums announce her return in a grand way, expertly taking down a past romantic partner and lamenting the future they could have had together. It’s a vocal tour de force that never fails to amaze.
On the whole other end of the spectrum from “Rolling in the Deep” is “Someone Like You,” a quiet piano ballad that is widely regarded as Adele’s magnum opus. All of its components are rather simple — a looping piano melody, bare vocals and even the understated climax of the song — but Adele’s poignant lyricism and expressive vocals take it to a whole other level. She brings listeners through the rosy past she shared with a former flame and asks her lover to remember her, something that touched the hearts of many people and made her cry in many past performances. Ironically, it’s the understatement of her pain that hits hardest, such as the catch in her voice as she hopes to find someone like her partner and the subsequent realization that no one can replace a love as intense and long-lasting as her first.
By the time “25” rolled around, Adele’s lifestyle had drastically changed. In the interim between “21” and “25,” she became both a global superstar and a mother. She also came back from her longest hiatus to that date: four years. The time definitely added to the quality of the music, allowing Adele to contemplate newfound maturity as well as finding more and more opportunities to celebrate it.
“Hello” — a single that announced her return in the biggest, loudest way possible — brings the past back into the present. In the song, she is trying to reach a former flame years after their separation, and she can’t get any answers to her calls. Described by Adele as an effort to “make up” with herself and with the people she knew, it marks newfound personal growth.
“When We Were Young” takes a much sweeter approach to the concept of a record. She addresses someone she used to know, talking about how much they are worth being looked at, and cherishing the moment “like it’s a movie” or “like it’s a song.” It’s thoughtful, contemplative and not even a little bit bitter. It’s a great way to close the more turbulent chapters of her love life.
“30,” set to be released this November, has been framed as a full-circle moment of sorts by Adele in her American Vogue and British Vogue interviews. Though she has divorced her husband, she still peacefully co-parents her son with him and has found a new partner. She has officially entered a new decade of her life, and at 33 years old, she has made more sense of her relationship with herself and with her family.
“Easy on Me” is a ballad that sympathizes as much with her past lover as with herself. On “25,” she still struggled to reconcile past and present; she reflected on her successes without fully taking account of her failings. In this song, she misses the life she built, but she has learned how to love herself better because of it instead of in spite of it.
Adele’s marriage of complexity and simplicity in her work stretches across her discography. She has stated before that “everyone loves a love song,” and somehow, she has become a master of building on all ideas of love: romantic, platonic and even self-love. “30,” which comes out in late November, is set to add to this lineage in a new way — stay tuned.