Brit pop star Adele is one of contemporary times’ most successful singers. She has fifteen Grammys alone and was the first to receive the highly coveted BRITS Critics’ Choice Award. With over 48 million album sales on a global scale (her record-breaking debut album 19 has since gone platinum eight times over), it’s clear her influence can be found in every part of the world.
She’s used her epochal career to pen relatable, emotionally stirring tracks that have only increased her range and allure. Nothing is off-limits when it comes to her songwriting. From young love to her painful divorce and the toll it took on her son, she explores life’s biggest questions and themes in her work. Love and loss are just a couple of her preferred heavy topics.
Here, we detail the stories behind the best Adele songs and show why she’s considered a bonafide living legend.
10. Oh My God
A moody single from her 30 album with gospel and R&B stylings, ‘Oh My God’ is one of several songs on the project that explores the emotional aftermath when her marriage ended in 2018. She took about a year to heal from the breakup, but when she began trying to date again, living in L.A. meant it would be a rocky road back to the single life. She almost didn’t release the temperamental tune as a single, but decided to at the last minute. It became a top 5 hit in both the U.S. and UK, and let listeners know that Adele got her groove back.
9. Send My Love (To Your New Lover)
Building on a melody she had been working on since she was just thirteen years old, ‘Send My Love (To Your New Lover)’ directly addresses one of Adele’s former boyfriends. When she began dating former husband Simon Konecki, she felt she was finally able to put her last serious relationship behind her. But she didn’t want the tune to be as heavy as her others. To lighten things up and make it more poppy, her and her studio team added a fun, calypso beat while recording it.
Without any warning, Adele released one of her biggest songs ever after a multi-year hiatus from the music industry. ‘Hello’ is a smash hit single that poignantly addresses past relationships as the vocalist tries to come to terms with them. Known as a sort of queen of breakup anthems, she stressed that this song is about more than just lost love. She explored all past relationships while writing the brooding anthem, from her friends and family to teachers and longtime fans. The 2015 release was a solid record-breaker. Not only did the music video garner 27.7 million views in its first 24 hours on the Vevo platform, the single itself became the first song in America to ever sell over 1 million downloads within the week of its debut.
7. Make You Feel My Love
Folk icon Bob Dylan wrote this stirring romantic ballad back in 1997, and country giant Garth Brooks took it all the way to number one on the charts the following year. Brooks’ version was included in the hit film, Hope Floats, starring Harry Connick, Jr. and Sandra Bullock. In 2008, when Adele was finishing up her recordings for her 19 album, she felt she still hadn’t captured what she was trying to say. When her manager played her ‘Make You Feel My Love,’ she knew she immediately had to record it because it perfectly captured the essence of the album. Even though she penned most of the tracks on 19, she confessed in an interview promoting the record that her cover of the Dylan tune was actually her favorite song on the track listing.
6. When We Were Young
Written with friend and fellow musician Tobias Jesso, Jr. on famed composer Philip Glass’s piano that Tobias had inherited from family, ‘When We Were Young’ is a nostalgic ballad that focuses on the rekindling of relationships you lose over the years as you get older. Struck by the easy way a party can get everyone back together and feeling like they’re in high school again, Adele drew on this recent personal experience at the time for the song. Released in 2015, she told reporters the song was the most meaningful one she had written to date.
5. Love In The Dark
Many of the tunes from her 25 album deal with the British singer finally moving on from the emotional turmoil of a breakup she sang about on her previous album, 21. Known for showing her vulnerable side, this time with ‘Love In The Dark,’ Adele plays the part of the one doing the leaving, instead of fighting for another try. Stating in the lyrics she has to “be cruel to be kind” (an inconspicuous tribute to a Nick Lowe hit from ‘79), the role reversal was cathartic for the vocalist. She collaborated with her touring bassist Samuel Dixon for the track, who has a slew of songwriter accolades with artists like Sia Furler and Christina Aguilera. Notably, this is the only song on her 25 album that has a strings section. The orchestral sounds really bring out the yearning emotions in the piece.
4. Someone Like You
A number one hit in America and across the pond, ‘Someone Like You’ was co-written with Semisonic frontman Dan Wilson, Though the two had never even met, they were able to sit down in a Los Angeles recording studio and pen this heartfelt ballad their first day recording together. The stripped down tune features nothing but Adele’s voice and Wilson’s piano, and that’s all it needs. The two even tried recording the hit with a full band at a later date but realized the vulnerability and simplicity of the first rendition suited the lyrics perfectly.
3. Rolling in the Deep
Another smash hit for the recording artist, Adele wrote ‘Rolling In The Deep’ in just a few hours only a day after she split from her then-boyfriend. The breakout single made the British songbird an international sensation. While the commanding, in-your-face attitude is delivered in a genuine, flawless manner by Adele, it took some convincing by her producer. When she went into the studio the day she wrote ‘Rolling In The Deep,’ at first she wanted to write a heartfelt ballad. But Paul Epworth convinced her otherwise and told her to pen something more “feisty.” She drew on American blues and early country stylings for the rare growl you hear in her vocal performance. The chart-crusher remains one of her most successful single releases even to this day.
2. Easy On Me
This soaring number tugs at the heartstrings as Adele tries to explain to her song Angelo why she chose to leave his father, Simon, after a lengthy relationship. She wanted to use ‘Easy On Me,’ and the entire 30 album, as a roadmap the former couple’s son could follow when he’s older that explains the complexities of why their family couldn’t stay together. Following her divorce, this was the first tune Adele wrote, and she was so satisfied with it she didn’t write anything else for six months. She once again broke records for this moving, honest number. ‘Easy On Me’ debuted in resounding fashion on Spotify, making it the biggest premiere in the platform’s history with over 19.7 million streams in a single day.
1. Set Fire to the Rain
Her third number one hit from her 21 album, Adele’s signature track ‘Set Fire to the Rain’ came to her in the middle of the night after she had trouble lighting a cigarette during a rainstorm at dinner just a few hours prior. She used the song’s hook as a metaphor for a relationship that was doomed to fail from the start due to two opposing forces not being able to mix. She had her first love in mind while writing the single. He ultimately broke her heart, and it took her years and many, many other original songs to work through the pain. The success of this single and her genius work on her 21 album scored her six Grammys at the 2012 awards show one year after the record’s momentous release.