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|Studio album by Adele|
|Singles from 21|
21 is the second studio album by British singer Adele. It was released on January 24, 2011 in most of Europe, and on February 22, 2011 in North America. The album was named after the age of the singer during its production. 21 shares the folk and Motown soul 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, channeling 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 label XL 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. It was certified Diamond by the RIAA and was ranked as the "Greatest Billboard 200 Album of All Time."
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 revitalize lagging sales of the UK and US music industry. With 31 million copies sold worldwide, the album 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.
Background and conception
Adele's separation from an unfaithful partner inspired her 2008 debut album 19. In the midst of its 2008–2009 American and European promotional tour An Evening with Adele, she entered a new relationship with an older gentleman, and later, cancelled the remaining dates of her tour. Although speculation that she cut short her tour "over a boy" provoked criticism from the British press, the singer cited a number of personal and professional reasons for its cancellation. According to Adele, the relationship became the "biggest deal in [her] entire life to date," and in addition to being highly compatible, her lover also stimulated her interest in various worldly affairs: "He was older, he was successful in his own right... He got me interested in film and literature and food and wine and traveling and politics and history, and those were things I was never, ever interested in." The relationship ended two years later, when the couple "fell out of love with each other." The ensuing break-up drove her to alcoholism, and left her "angry, bitter, lonely and devastated"; she stated that it may take her "ten years to recover."
In an interview with Out, the singer explained that she would have given up her "career, my friendships, my hobbies" just to be with her ex lover: "He was my soul mate. We had everything—on every level we were totally right. We’d finish each other’s sentences, and he could just pick up how I was feeling by the look in my eye, down to a T, and we loved the same things, and hated the same things, and we were brave when the other was brave and weak when the other one was weak...and I think that’s rare when you find the full circle in one person, and I think that’s what I’ll always be looking for in other men." Fueled by her heartbreak, the singer composed 21 in the aftermath of the separation, and used music as an outlet for her anger and depression. She clarified that the album was not solely about her "bitching about an ex-boyfriend," but that she also wrote songs on which she tried to "be honest about [her] own flaws."
An avid fan of the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Californication (1999), which "defined her youth," Adele expressed interest in working with its producer Rick Rubin. She first met Rubin through her appearance as the musical guest on the American sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live in 2008, recognizing and signalling to him in the audience during her live, televised performance of "Chasing Pavements." They eventually decided to collaborate after again meeting at the 2009 Grammy Awards. Adele's meeting with Ryan Tedder was also coincidental, as they first met at the 2009 Grammy Awards in the elevator of the hotel they both happened to be staying in. They decided to collaborate on tracks for her second album, producing "Rumour Has It" and "Turning Tables." Additional collaborators include Jim Abbiss, and Francis "Eg" White, who worked with Adele on her debut album, as well as Fraser T. Smith, Dan Wilson, and Paul Epworth.
Titling and development
Adele originally intended to title the album Rolling in the Deep, her adaptation of a British slang phrase "roll deep," which, in her words, means, "[to] always have someone that has your back". It also made reference to the album's first track and single of the same name. She explained that "that's how I felt in the relationship that the record's about... [that] that's what I was always going to have, and...it ended up not being the case." She decided against the title because she deemed it too confusing for audiences outside of the UK. While admitting the apparent simplicity in the album's title, she stated that it not only represented her age at the time of its production, serving as a personal period piece, but that it also symbolized her personal and artistic growth from her debut.
|“||It’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 honest, more forgiving and more aware of my own flaws, habits and principles. Something that comes with age I think. So fittingly this record is called 21. The whole reason I called my first album 19 was about cataloging what happened to me then and who I was then, like a photo album you see the progression and changes in a person throughout the years. I tried to think of other album titles but couldn’t come up with anything that represented the album properly, I kept swerving 21 thinking it was obvious. But why not be obvious?||”|
— Adele, on her personal blog, discussing the inspiration behind the name of her second album.
Critics generally praised the depth and maturity reflected in the songs on the album. Gary McGinley of the music webzine No Ripcord called 21 a "coming-of-age record," while Will Dean of The Guardian summarized it as "a progressive, grown-up second collection." Simon Harper of Clash wrote, "In the two years between the titles of Adele’s debut and this, her second album, 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."
Music and Production
Influence and sound
21 bears the marks of Adele's extended stay in the U.S., where her introduction to American country music during the North American leg of her 2008–2009 tour provided the conceptual framework for the album's sound. Frequent smoke breaks (she no longer smokes) with her tour bus driver, a Nashville, Tennessee native, resulted in her exposure to various southern styles, including 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 genre, praising what she described as the immediacy of the themes, and the straightforward narrative structure of many of the songs she listened to. She also expressed her enthusiasm at simply learning a new style of music: "I find country music really exciting because I know actually fuck-all about it. So every day I'm hearing something that I love, that I don't know....It feels like I'm discovering music again for the first time." Lily Moayeri of Under the Radar commended the incorporation of country music influences into Adele's "retro-soul" repertoire, stating that it not only gave her a "genuine understanding of the blues," but that it also suited her singing style. Speaking more of her influences, Adele stated, "[During her tour] I discovered lots of artists I’d never heard of, particularly...Yvonne Fair, Andrew Bird, Neko Case, and The SteelDrivers who I fell in love with. Then I delved in to more from artists I’ve loved forever—Mary J Blige, Kanye West, Elbow, Mos Def, Alanis Morissette, Tom Waits, and Sinéad O'Connor. There’s something in every single one of these artists that has really really inspired 21."
The album comprises mainly slow and mid-tempo ballads and torch songs, characterized by "bold melodies [and] chest-clutching singing." In an interview, the singer stated that a major shortcoming of her previous album was her tendency to cloud her songs with vague references and obscure metaphors. However, on 21, she aimed for a less-is-more approach, reflected in both the ingenuous, plainspoken nature of her lyrics, as well as the sparse, minimalist instrumentation accompanying such songs as "Don't You Remember," "Turning Tables," "Lovesong," and "Someone Like You." However, Matthew Cole of Slant Magazine criticized the "formulaic" structure of the songs, suggesting that the album's production team seemed all but unanimous on what constituted an "Adele song": "a four-minute runtime; a mixture of strings, piano, and acoustic guitar, which should begin quietly and swell up around the two-minute mark; and a chorus which should recur no fewer than four times over the course of the song."
21 relies heavily on the Motown inclinations that framed 19, with traditional, nostalgic R&B production and the "Supremes-esque backing vocals" featured on songs like "Rolling in the Deep" and "Rumour Has It." However, owing to her new musical influences, the album incorporated the saxophone, harp, banjo and the accordion in its exploration of southern blues and soul music, jazz and bossa nova, as well as alternative pop and gospel infused rock music. Allison Stewart of The Washington Times saw 21 as exhibiting a "vague inclination towards rootsiness," further commenting, "Everything on it is precisely calibrated to transcend genres, to withstand trends... It's slightly angled toward country, even more toward R&B. It's arch without being unpleasant, sad without being sentimental." Adele stated that the eclectic range of musical styles that the album explores is "all tied together by [her] voice," noting that her lack of a definitive sound afforded her more creative freedom: "I have no idea what I sound like yet, so until I do, all my records will have a kind of mix-tape vibe going on." Although the album and singer are often marketed as "soul," Mike Spies of Slate magazine refuted this label in his argument that "soul" is inextricably linked to the historical and cultural experience of African Americans, and that Adele and her contemporaries, being far removed from this socio-cultural milieu, can offer only a mere duplicate of actual "soul", despite her capacity to convincingly channel the sound. Likewise, Larry Flick of Sirius XM, in a CNN article, stated that the album's conformity to traditional production does not denote a "soul" album, but rather a pop album, imbued with "soul leanings." Both Spies and Flick suggested that the "postmodern" approach in the album's sound is based on Adele's vocal aesthetics and the intensity of her performances, which resulted in her precipitant characterization as a "soul" singer.
Writing and recording
The distinctively traditional, Motown leanings of her first album prompted critics to characterize Adele as an "old soul," a label she rejected in its contrast to her self-described demeanor as a "fun, cheeky, loud, [and] sarcastic 22 year-old." As early as April 2009, while still in what was to be the final stages of the relationship that inspired 21, she attempted to compose songs that would capture her lighter, "spirited" side. However, repeated studio sessions with various songwriters and producers proved unsuccessful, and, citing an inability to channel her lightheartedness into music, she instead composed "Take It All," a song that explored her increasingly troubled relationship with her unappreciative lover. According to the singer, her relationship ended the moment she played the song for her spouse. The fallout of the relationship provided the inspiration for the album, with a majority of the songs beginning as "drunken diary ramblings" that were later refined into musical compositions. Most of the songs were composed over a three-month period between November 2009 and January 2010. While she writes all her songs, and usually assumes a great degree of creative control over her music, Adele's anxiety at critics dismissing her new album as a retread of her debut influenced her decision to collaborate with many other songwriters. She stated that while she wrote about "80–85%" of her debut album, she composed only about "55-65%" of the songs on 21, which profited from a host of co-writers and producers who spearheaded her quest for greater self-examination in her lyrics. In an effort to improve her songwriting, she also barricaded herself in her home for three weeks, and listened to hip-hop, country, pop, and R&B, while she tried to "understand what it is about a song that moves me; where it peaks, why I think it peaks, stuff like that, just kind of studying it." The singer maintained the anonymity of her ex-lover.
"Rolling in the Deep" was the first song to be conceived after Adele's separation from the spouse who inspired 21. Following an impassioned argument with her ex-lover late one night, she contacted Paul Epworth the next day, 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." Originally intending to write a ballad, Epworth suggested that they write an angrier, more aggressive song instead. During the song's composition, she asked Epworth to feel her "racing heartbeat," which inspired the song's own martial backbeat. She then proceeded to sing the first verse a capella, as Epworth improvised a melody on his guitar. The pair completed the song in two days. The demo was used as the final version, as Adele's repeated attempts to re-record the song failed to capture the "raw" emotion of the demo. In an interview, she expressed her initial reservations prior to meeting with Epworth, due to their divergent musical styles. However, she later characterized their collaboration as "a match made in heaven." She also credited Epworth with her increased vocal confidence, stating, "He brought a lot out of me. He brought my voice out as well—there's notes that I hit in that song ["Rolling in the Deep"] that I never even knew I could hit."
With the exception of "Rumour Has It," co-written and produced by Ryan Tedder, and "Someone Like You," co-written and co-produced with Dan Wilson, the songs were all written in London. However, the majority of the album's production was overseen by Rick Rubin in his Malibu, California studio over a course of five weeks, beginning in April 2010. During her stay in Malibu, Adele suffered homesickness, sunburn, and food poisoning, although she described working with Rubin as "amazing." She accredited Rubin with encouraging her to tackle her emotions head-on, and to approach the production process with more spontaneity and unrestraint. In an interview, she explained, "We just vibed until it felt right and there was no referencing of things in the charts that were doing well or whatever, no seeing what was hot and what was not." Adele also stated that no samples were used, and that the album's production was organic, without the use of any electronic instruments. Upon deciding that Adele had a better live sound, Rubin attempted to "capture her live show across on [her] record." Recording sessions were completed with a live band, comprising a team of musicians that Rubin assembled himself, including Chris Dave on drums, Matt Sweeney on guitar, James Poyser on piano, and Pino Palladino on bass. Their collaboration resulted in the tracks "Don't You Remember," "He Won't Go," "One and Only," and the U.S. bonus track "I Found a Boy." Adele also decided to record a cover song for the album, initially choosing INXS's "Never Tear Us Apart"; however, unsatisfied with her perceived lack of believability in the song, she turned to an unused demo of The Cure's "Lovesong," which Rubin had originally arranged for Barbra Streisand. During the song's recording, which moved the entire production team to tears, Adele stated that she lost her voice, but that her vocal nuances "suited the song."
On "Someone Like You," the last song composed for 21, Adele collaborated with famed musician and producer Dan Wilson. The singer was inspired to write the song because she was exhausted from relentlessly portraying her ex-lover in a negative light, and she decided that, although their separation was not amicable, he still remained an important figure in her life. The song's composition proved cathartic to the singer, who stated that, after she had discovered that he was engaged to be married to someone else, she realized that she needed to finally let go. In an interview with MTV, she explained, "I had to write ["Someone Like You"] to feel okay with myself and okay with the two years I spent with him. And when I did it, I felt so freed." Prior to meeting with Wilson, Adele wrote most of the lyrics using her acoustic guitar. The two sat around the piano for almost a day and brainstormed various melodies and lyrics, ultimately deciding to keep the musical production sparse: "We just wrote it on the piano and then we recorded it when it was written. It wasn't sort of like recording it and listening to it thinking 'where can we go next?' It was really old school."
Song structure and lyrical themes
The sequence of the songs on the album mirror the range of emotions Adele experienced after the breakup, progressing from themes of anger and bitterness, to feelings of loneliness, "heartbreak and regret," and finally, to feelings of acceptance. "Rolling in the Deep," which the singer described as a "dark, bluesy, gospel, disco tune" is Adele's reaction to an argument she had with her ex-lover on the day of their break-up. The singer stated, "[the song] is my reaction to being told [by my ex] that my life is going to be boring and lonely and rubbish, and that I was a weak person if I didn't stay in the relationship. And I wrote that as a sort of 'fuck you.'" Opening with a steady guitar strum, the singer warns of a "fire burning in [her] heart", and as a thumping backbeat, "pounding piano chords" and "chanting background singers" are introduced, the song builds to a dramatic chorus, on which the singer wails, "We could've had it all." The second chorus is followed by a broken down, thumping, hand-clapping bridge, reminiscent of soul music of the deep south, and the dramatic instrumentation is reintroduced for the song's final chorus. "Rolling in the Deep" is followed by the percussion-driven, jazzy uptempo, "Rumour Has It." Produced by Ryan Tedder, Adele described it as a "bluesy pop stomping song," in which the singer recounts the many rumors that surrounded her previous relationship and her subsequent break-up. However, she explained that the song was not inspired by the media, but was aimed at her own friends, who participated in the spread of these rumors. Following both songs, the album's tempo subsides with its third track, the equally defensive "Turning Tables." Produced by Jim Abbiss, the song was conceived immediately following another confrontation with Adele's former partner. The singer arrived at the studio upset that he kept "turning the tables" on her during their arguments, an expression that co-writer Ryan Tedder decided to reference within the song's lyrics.The song describes the very final stages of the relationship, hampered by constant arguing and contention, followed by the realization that it has run its course: "God only knows what we're fighting for/All that I say, you always say more/I can't keep up with your turning tables/Under your thumb I can't breathe." The song begins as an understated piano-and-vocal ballad, stripped down to its most minimal elements, and towards the climax, swells into a "cinematic pop anthem laced with Broadway-worthy strings" that "serves as a fitting counterpoint to its heartbroken, hollowed-out lyrics."
As the album progresses, the theme changes from anger and defensiveness to feelings of reflection and heartbreak, exemplified by the Rick Rubin-produced "Don’t You Remember," co-written by Adele and Dan Wilson. A country styled ballad, the song was added late into the production of the album, when a more contemplative Adele became increasingly aware of how her bitterness towards the break-up negatively coloured her perception of her former lover. In an interview, the singer stated, "I managed to step out of the bitter mode that I was in when I was writing the record and I suddenly got really ashamed and disgusted with the manner that I was portraying someone who was really important to me...and I felt really childish that I had made him out to be a complete twat." The song is an admission of her own shortcomings ("I know I have a fickle heart/And a bitterness/And a wandering eye/And a heaviness in my head), as well as a plea to her ex-spouse to remember why he initially fell in love with her. The theme of reflection continues with the album's fifth track, "Set Fire to the Rain," written with producer Fraser T. Smith. Reminiscing about the contradictory elements of her previous relationship, Adele sings, "You and me together, nothing gets better/But there’s a side to you that I never knew, never knew/All the things you'd say, they were never true, never true/And the games you play, you would always win." One of the most pop-influenced of the album, the "power ballad" contrasts with the understated production of the majority of the songs on 21, and features lush instrumentation and a swelling string arrangement alongside a thumping mid-tempo rhythm. Critics note that the production created a wall of sound dynamic, reminiscent of the works of American producer Phil Spector. The sixth track, the Rick Rubin-produced "He Won’t Go," features more R&B undertones, distinguished by a prominent bass and harp sound, and prompted comparisons to Mary J. Blige and Lauryn Hill. "Take It All," which incorporates a more soulful gospel sound, is accompanied by a choir and piano. Written with Francis "Eg" White, who worked with Adele on "Chasing Pavements," the song's lyrics focus on the protagonist's devotion to an unappreciative lover. The upbeat "I’ll Be Waiting," the eighth track, discusses the singer's resilience and the rekindling of a lost love.
One of the only love songs not written about Adele's previous relationship, "One and Only," the album's ninth track, was aimed at a close friend who she had always loved. "Lovesong," a bossa-nova style remake of the song by The Cure, received generally positive critical reception. A homesick Adele dedicated the song to her mother and friends, in whom she found solace whenever she was lonely. The album then closes with "Someone Like You," which Adele describes as the summation of her attitude towards the relationship. A slow, plaintive ballad pairing Adele's voice with a lulling piano, "Someone Like You" is the lyrical opposite of "Rolling in the Deep" on which the singer, upon learning of her ex-lover's recent engagement, returns to him to wish him happiness and express her desire for finding someone just like him: "Nevermind, I'll find someone like you/I wish nothing but the best for you, too/Don't forget me, I beg/I'll remember you said/Sometimes it lasts in love, but sometimes it hurts instead." One of the more acclaimed songs on the album, critics praised its introspective lyrics and maturity.
Marketing and promotion
Adele developed a steady fan-base in Britain from the success of her first album, winning the BRIT Awards Critics' Choice award in 2008, and named the number-one predicted breakthrough act of 2008 in an annual BBC poll of music critics, Sound of 2008. In the months leading up to the album's European release, Adele embarked on a promotional tour across Europe, performing on Britain's Royal Variety Performance on 9 December 2010, BBC Radio 1's Live Lounge on 27 January, and the finale of The Voice of Holland, a reality singing competition in The Netherlands, on 21 January 2011. During the week of the album's UK release on 24 January at London's Tabernacle, she performed an acoustic set of a number of songs from 21, which was screened live on her personal website. The major push came in the wake of the 2011 BRIT awards, where Adele's emotional performance of "Someone Like You" propelled both 19 and 21, as well as "Someone Like You" and "Rolling in the Deep" into the top five of the UK album and singles charts, a feat not accomplished since 1964 by The Beatles.
Adele's 2008 appearance on the American show Saturday Night Live coincided with the guest appearance of Alaskan governor Sarah Palin, resulting in a record-breaking viewership that catapulted the singer to stardom in the U.S. Less than a year later in 2009, she won the Grammy Awards for Best New Artist and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance (for "Chasing Pavements"), which not only broadened her fanbase but resulted in increased album sales of her first album, culminating in a platinum certification by the RIAA, by the time 21 was released in the U.S. For 21's North American release Columbia executives decided to use the "long tail" sales theory' as a means of shaping the album's campaign,"building a critical mass throughout February in order to reach all those people who bought 19 over a span of 18 months." The promotion campaign began in the summer of 2010, with appearances on CMT with Darius Rucker, where Adele performed Lady Antebellum’s “Need You Now” and an October showcase at L.A.’s famous Club Largo. Columbia senior VP of marketing Scott Greer stated that the record company went to some of their key internet partners such as Vevo, AOL and VH1 to begin playing and advertising both her old and new material. Celebrity bloggers, including Perez Hilton, also contributed to Adele's campaign through repeated promotion. Beginning 1 February, Adele's personal site hosted a "21 Days of Adele" promotion with exclusive daily content, including a live chat and a video of Adele explaining the inspiration for each album track.
Adele also embarked on a mini-promotional tour in New York, Los Angeles and Minneapolis to reacquaint herself with the American public. 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, The Ellen DeGeneres Show and Jimmy Kimmel Live! on 24 February. "Rolling in the Deep", the album's first single, received heavy rotation on the "triple A" format, and was featured in the trailer for the 2011 science fiction film I Am Number Four.
The album has produced four international singles and five singles overall. "Rolling in the Deep," the album's first single, has since become her best-selling single, and "Rolling in the Deep," "Someone Like You," and "Set Fire to the Rain" all peaked at #1 in many countries. "Rumour Has It," the fourth single, was less successful, and "Turning Tables," the fifth single, was originally planned for a US release as the final single, but the release was canned and it was released only in parts of Europe and Australia. The song, along with "I'll Be Waiting," went on to be released as an unofficial single in the US after both songs received major radio airplay in summer of 2012.
"Lovesong" has charted on the smooth jazz chart. "One and Only" also charted on the Bubbling Under Hot 100 chart in the US.
Adele embarked on her second concert tour, Adele Live, in support of 21, scheduling over sixty shows across Europe and North America. The setlist comprised all songs from 21 (excluding "He Won't Go"), as well as a number of songs from 19, including show-opener "Hometown Glory," "My Same," "Right as Rain," "Chasing Pavements," and "Make You Feel My Love." The European leg of the tour began on March 21, 2011 in Oslo, Norway and ended in London, England on April 21, 2011, while the North American leg was initially scheduled from May 12, 2011 in Washington D.C. to June 22 in Minneapolis. However, Adele cancelled her appearance at Minneapolis's First Avenue due to problems with her voice, and after consulting with an Otolaryngology specialist, she was diagnosed with acute laryngitis, and was forced to cancel the rest of her North American tour dates. Following her month-long hiatus, Adele resumed the North American leg of her tour with a newly revised tour itinerary; some concerts were moved to venues with increased capacity and some additional dates were scheduled. Eventually Adele was forced to cancel the remainder of the tour and underwent vocal surgery in order to save her voice after discovering she had a vocal chord hemorrhage. The surgery, performed by Dr. Steven Zeitels, was a success, although there were too many tour dates cancelled for her to make up. She officially made her comeback at the 54th Annual Grammy Awards when she performed "Rolling in the Deep." (She also took home all 6 awards nominated for that night, as well as producer Paul Epworth, who was awarded Producer of the Year for his work on "Rolling in the Deep" and "I'll Be Waiting.")
Upon its release, 21 received general critical acclaim; at Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 to reviews from selected mainstream critics, the album had a score of 76 based on 34 reviews, which indicates "generally positive reviews." Many reviews celebrate 21 as an artistic leap from her debut both in its production and songwriting. While both albums explore similar themes, critics generally considered 19 vocally and lyrically subdued, with the singer's "wandering vocals" underpinned by sparse production. Ryan Reed of Paste also commented that, with the exception of "Chasing Pavements," songs on 19 were "lazy" and "eschew hooks in favor of coffee-house atmosphere." However, 21 presented a more intense, daring and progressive side to the singer. Comparing both her albums, Barry Walters, writing for Spin, noted that "[On 21], she wails harder and writes bolder, piling on the dramatic production flourishes to suggest a lover's apocalypse." Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune also stated that "In contrast to the folk-based songs of the first album, 21 beefs up the rhythmic drive and the drama of the arrangements."
Giving the album four-and-a-half out of five stars, John Murphy, writing for MusicOMH, compared Adele to Amy Winehouse, contending that, "Almost every song oozes pain, sadness and anger." Murphy concluded his review by proclaiming 21 "one of the great 'break-up' albums, and the first truly impressive record of 2011." Joseph Viney, staff critic for Sputnikmusic, stated that 21 exhibits influences from many great female artists, combining the "best bits of Aretha Franklin’s old-school soul with Lauryn Hill’s sass and sense of cynical modern femininity." Ian Walker of AbsolutePunk called the album a "pop masterpiece," although declaring that the album "fails to fully ride the tidal wave created by its first half," while Leah Greenblatt of Entertainment Weekly wrote "21 is that rarest pop commodity: timeless."
Adele received almost unanimous praise for her vocal range, power and versatility, with Ryan Reed of Paste describing her voice as "a raspy, aged-beyond-its-years thing of full-blooded beauty." Bernadette McNulty of The Daily Telegraph opined, "hers is a voice that seems to go right to your heart." Matt Collar of AllMusic agreed, calling her voice "spine-tingling," while Tom Townshend of MSN Music declared Adele "the finest singer of [our] generation." However, according to a number of reviewers, Adele's vocal prowess was also symptomatic of one of the album's shortcomings: Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune, Allision Stewart of The Washington Post and Matthew Cole of Slant Magazine suggested that the compelling nature of Adele's vocals sometimes masked the "blandness," and mediocrity of many of the songs on the album, with Stewart commenting, "after a strong start, the disc yields to a forgettable midsection of mostly mid-tempo tracks that are remarkable only because Adele is singing them," while Cole dismissed many of the songs themselves as "outright intolerable."
AllMusic praised the album and stated that the highlights of the album were "Rolling in the Deep," "Rumour Has It," and "He Won't Go."
Awards and accolades
The album was nominated for the 2011 Barclaycard Mercury Prize. In November 2011, Adele won three American Music Awards including Favorite Pop/Rock Album for 21. In February 2012, Adele won the Grammy Awards for Album of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Album for 21, Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best Short Form Music Video for "Rolling in the Deep," and Best Pop Solo Performance for "Someone Like You." Her producer, Paul Epworth won Producer of the Year, Non-Classical. On 21 February 2012, 21 won the British MasterCard Album of the Year at the 2012 BRIT Awards. On March 31, 2012 the album won the Juno Award for International Album of the Year.
21 appeared on many year-end best-of lists. The album was ranked the best album of the year by the Associated Press, The Austin Chronicle, Entertainment Weekly, The Star Tribune, Digital Spy, MSN Music, New York Daily News, Rolling Stone, TIME magazine, and editors of USA Today. Critics at Billboard voted the album number-one of the year, while Scottish newspaper the Daily Record, editors of Amazon and the editors at Rhapsody also ranked the album at number one. The album appeared in the runner-up spot on MTV's list of the Best Albums of 2011 as well as lists produced by The Boston Globe, The Hollywood Reporter, and Toronto Sun. It placed within the top 10 on lists produced by American Songwriter, Q, Los Angeles Times, Clash, and The Washington Post. "Rolling in the Deep" consistently placed high on various year-end critics' list, and was ranked the best song of the year in The Village Voice's Pazz and Jop mass critics' poll.
Chart performance and accomplishments
On 30 January 2011, 21 debuted at number one on the UK Albums Chart with first-week sales of 208,000 copies, making it the biggest-selling January release in five years, when the Arctic Monkeys' Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not sold 363,000 copies in January 2006. On 13 February 2011, in its third consecutive week at number-one, the album sold 134,000 copies, outselling the top five combined. Following her performance at the 2011 BRIT Awards, 21 experienced a sales surge of 890% on Amazon.co.uk within an hour of the show's broadcast, which saw her debut album ascending to number four on the UK Albums Chart. When "Someone Like You" leaped from number forty-seven to number-one, and "Rolling in the Deep" ascended five to four on the UK Singles Chart, Adele became the first living act since The Beatles in 1964 to have two UK top five albums and singles simultaneously. In the album's fifth consecutive week at the top, 19 rose to number-two in its 102nd week of release, making Adele the first act to occupy the chart's top two positions since The Corrs' Talk On Corners and Forgiven, Not Forgotten landed at number-one and two in 1999. Adele occupied the top two positions for five non-consecutive weeks between February and May 2011.
Weekly sales for 21 exceeded 100,000 copies until its twelfth week on the UK Albums Chart. It experienced its strongest sales in its tenth week at the top, in the week ending 3 April 2011, when a Mother's Day sales boost pushed the album to a peak of 258,000 copies sold. Also in its tenth week, 21 overtook Madonna's 1990 compilation The Immaculate Collection for the most consecutive weeks at number-one by a female solo artist. In its eleventh week, the album became the longest-running consecutive number-one album since Bob Marley and The Wailers' Legend in 1984, which spent twelve consecutive weeks at number-one. 21 was displaced from the top spot the next week by the Foo Fighters' Wasting Light in the week ending 23 April 2011, but regained the top spot the following week. On 22 May 2011 the album achieved sixteen non-consecutive weeks at number one, the longest stay at the top since the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, which spent eighteen weeks at number one in 1978. As of 8 July 2011, 21 has been certified ten-times platinum by the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) for shipments of three million units, as well as becoming the most downloaded album in UK history. On 17 July, after its previous eleven-week stint at number-one between February and April 2011, followed by another five-week number-one stretch between April and June, 21 returned to the summit for a third run, marking its seventeenth, and eighteenth non-consecutive week at the top as of 24 July. As of 7 December 2013, 21 has sold 4,672,932 copies in the UK making it the 4th best selling album ever.
21 remained in the top two of the UK Albums Chart for the first thirty-one weeks of its chart life, beginning with its number-one entry, but slipped to #3 on the 28th of August after being outsold by Will Young's Echoes and Joe McElderry's Classic. 21 is now the longest-running album in the UK top two since The Sound of Music soundtrack managed to stay there for 105 weeks in a row, from 1965 to 1967, as well as the longest-running studio album in the top two since Please Please Me by The Beatles held within the top two for 48 weeks in a row, from 1963 to 1964.
Outside of the UK, the album has also enjoyed commercial success, topping the charts in over ten countries, including the Belgian Albums Chart (Flanders), the Brazilian Albums Chart, the Danish Albums Chart, the Dutch Albums Chart and the New Zealand Albums Chart. In the Netherlands, the album debuted at number one, and topped the Dutch album chart for twenty-three weeks, making it the third longest period at No. 1 of all time. In Germany, 21 topped the chart for four weeks. As of August 8, the album has spent a total of twenty-four weeks at the top of the Irish Albums Chart. In Australia 21 has, to date, spent 14 weeks at number-one on the ARIA Top 50 Albums Chart, ten of which were consecutive, while "Someone Like You" dominated the corresponding singles chart for seven consecutive weeks. Both titles led the album and singles charts simultaneously for seven consecutive weeks. On 11 April, while "Someone Like You" and 21 continued their reign at the top, "Rolling in the Deep" and 19 also ascended to the top ten of the singles and album charts, peaking at number three and six respectively, giving Adele the distinction of placing two entries in the top-ten of both charts simultaneously. The following week, while the other entries maintained their positions, 19 ascended to number-three on the albums chart, giving Adele two entries in the top-five of both the album and singles charts concurrently.
21 debuted at number one on the U.S. Billboard 200 and in Canada, selling 352,000 copies in its first week in the U.S., the highest debut of 2011 until the release of Lady Gaga's Born This Way on May 23 Since its February release, the album has remained in the top three position on the chart, and has outlasted all albums released in the U.S. in 2011 so far, having returned to the top spot after being dethroned by Lupe Fiasco's Lasers in the week ending March 23, Chris Brown's F.A.M.E. (9 April), Britney Spears' Femme Fatale (16 April), Foo Fighter's Wasting Light (30 April), Lady Gaga's Born This Way, and Beyoncé's 4. In April 2011, in its ninth week at the chart summit, 21 became the first album to sell one million copies in the U.S. in 2011. Billboard reported that 21 is the sixteenth album by a female artist to spend at least nine weeks on top of the Billboard 200, and the first by a British act since George Michael's Faith which peaked at number-one for a total of twelve weeks in 1988. Remaining resilient at number-one in its twenty-fourth week, 21 is the first album to spend as many weeks inside of the Billboard 200's top-three since the Whitney Houston's The Bodyguard soundtrack, which spent twenty-eight weeks in the top-three back in 1992. As of mid-2011, 21 has become the best-selling album of the year and the only 2011 release to sell over 2 million copies. It is also the best-selling digital album of all time in the U.S., selling 1.02 million copies. As of January 2014, it has sold over 10.8 million copies in the USA and has spent 24 weeks at #1 on Billboard 200, becoming the longest #1 album by a female artist. It also matched that of guitarist Santana's album Supernatural, which spent 12 weeks atop the Billboard Hot 200 in 1999/2000. Returning to No. 1 for the sixth time, it's one of only four albums to have at least 7 separate runs at No. 1 following Glenn Miller & His Orchestra's Glenn Miller (7 runs, 1945-1947), Bing Crosby's Merry Christmas (7 runs, 1945-1958) and the Original Cast album of South Pacific (8 runs, 1949-1951).
In Canada, 21 has been certified five-times platinum by the Canadian Recording Industry Association (CRIA) and has sold 427,000 copies as of 4 August 2011. So far, it has spent 16 weeks at number one on the CRIA chart, the longest run since Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill spent 24 weeks at No. 1 in 1995-1996.
As of February 2013, worldwide sales for the album is around 28+ million copies. It currently is the 37th best selling album worldwide of all time.
In response to the success of the album, Joseph Viney of Sputnikmusic declared Adele as the sole purveyor of the British retro-soul music that gained popularity in the U.S. with the mainstream success of British singers Joss Stone, Amy Winehouse, and Lily Allen during the latter half of the previous decade. While their initial popularity incited a "new wave of British invasion," Viney stated that their subsequent commercial decline has worked to Adele's advantage: "Amy Winehouse disappeared in a haze of smoke, Lily Allen took the money and ran whilst Kate Nash and Duffy dropped off the radar after two poorly received second albums. Adele has been given a clear runway and the chance to stake her claim as the UK’s leading solo female artist." Likewise, John Murphy, writing for MusicOMH, described Adele as "manna from heaven from those looking (musically at least) for 'the new Amy Winehouse back in 2008," and concluded that " is a timely reminder that British soul hasn't lost its mojo." The New York Times suggested that Adele's sound extend beyond the frequently made comparisons to her peers. In a review of one her live performances at the Beacon Theatre, Jon Pareles wrote, "[Adele is] fully in command of a big, supple, emotive voice, joining the lineage of British soul and pop singers like Dusty Springfield, Petula Clark, Alison Moyet (of Yaz) and Annie Lennox."
In addition to its vintage sound, Guy Adams of The Independent stated that 21's success also signals the reemergence of the more traditional approach to commercial success: There are two approaches to the business of being noticed by today's record-buying public. The first, showcased by Lady Gaga at the recent Grammys, revolves around oodles of hype and ever-more preposterous wardrobe selections. The second, adopted by Adele at this year's BRITs, is more understated: it requires a simple black dress and the confidence to let your music do the talking... Amazingly, given preconceived notions about America's supposed preference for style over substance, it is the second of these two sales techniques which appears to be working better.
Ethan Smith, writing for The Wall Street Journal, stated that Adele's "deliberately unflashy" nature and full figure has given her a lucrative niche in the market, while her tendency to emphasize "substance over style", makes her the "Anti-Lady Gaga." Richard Russell, founder of record label XL Recordings, emphasized the quasi-subversive nature of the album's success, and viewed it as a means through which the marketing of female performers can be reconstructed. Citing an absence of "gimmicks" in her music, Russell stated that the success of 21 is "almost political and sort of radical", in its critique of the common perception that female performers have to conform to certain body-types, or imbue their music with gratuitous sexual imagery, in order to be successful. Adele has addressed the lack of sexualization of her music, stating, "If you've got it, flaunt it, if it works with your music... But I can't imagine having guns and whipped cream coming out of my tits," referring to Katy Perry's music video for "California Gurls." She also stated, "I don't make music for eyes. I make music for ears." Columbia/Epic Label Group Chairman Rob Stringer said of Adele's success: "Adele is the real deal... She writes, is a fantastic singer and in total control... It just goes to show you don’t have to sell your soul to be successful... the public responds when it gets something authentic." Rick Rubin, producer and co-chairman of Columbia Records, also saw Adele as an anomaly in the music industry: "She has an incredible voice. She bares her soul in her songwriting, and it's the real thing...She uses her vocal instrument in a way that we don't get to hear a lot. What she is doing, it's a very pure expression of herself and it resonates with people. There is no trickery involved."
American R&B artist Beyoncé Knowles stated that her album 4 was influenced by Adele's 21. In addition to the numerical reference in its title, Knowles' album also showcased an understated and more soulful side that contrasted with her more up-tempo, aggressive side. In an article published by The New Yorker, Sasha Frere-Jones also identified Adele as one-third of a musical triad, alongside Beyoncé and Lady Gaga, currently ruling the pop pantheon: "Three women run the pop world right now. Lady Gaga’s Born This Way, Beyoncé’s 4, and Adele’s 21 split the market into neat thirds without too much conceptual jostling. Adele’s impeccably sung collection of unperturbing soul, 21...will almost certainly be the year’s biggest-selling album. Her career is likely to be long, because she is selling to the demographic that decides American elections: middle-aged moms who don’t know how to pirate music and will drive to Starbucks when they need to buy it. The rest of the population has Gaga and Beyoncé."
As 21 continued to gain in popularity in North America, the massively popular musical television series Glee featured two songs from the album in different episodes during its second season. Gwyneth Paltrow performed "Turning Tables" in the episode "A Night of Neglect," and Lea Michele and special guest star Jonathan Groff performed a duet version of John Legend's a capella arrangement of "Rolling in the Deep" in the episode "Prom Queen." Both covers were released as digital singles and were well received by critics; both charted on the Billboard Hot 100, as well as both being featured on the track list for the Glee Cast's album release Glee: The Music, Volume 6.
The official track listing released through the iTunes Store UK on 30 November 2010.
|1.||"Rolling in the Deep"||Adele Adkins, Paul Epworth||Epworth||3:49|
|2.||"Rumour Has It"||Adkins, Ryan Tedder||Tedder||3:43|
|3.||"Turning Tables"||Adkins, Tedder||Jim Abbiss||4:10|
|4.||"Don't You Remember"||Adkins, Dan Wilson||Rick Rubin||4:03|
|5.||"Set Fire to the Rain"||Adkins, Fraser T. Smith||Smith||4:01|
|6.||"He Won't Go"||Adkins, Epworth||Rubin||4:37|
|7.||"Take It All"||Adkins, Francis White||Abbiss||3:48|
|8.||"I'll Be Waiting"||Adkins, Epworth||Epworth||4:01|
|9.||"One and Only"||Adkins, Wilson, Greg Wells||Rubin||5:48|
|10.||"Lovesong"||Robert Smith, Simon Gallup, Roger O'Donnell, Porl Thompson, Lol Tolhurst, Boris Williams||Rubin||5:16|
|11.||"Someone Like You"||Adkins, Wilson||Wilson, Adkins||
|iTunes bonus track|
|12.||"I Found a Boy"||Adele Adkins||Rick Rubin||3:37|
|iTunes pre-order bonus track|
|12.||"Rolling in the Deep" (live acoustic)||Adkins, Epworth||Paul Epworth||4:07|
|UK, Poland and Bulgaria limited edition bonus tracks|
|12.||"If It Hadn't Been for Love"||Michael Henderson, Chris Stapleton||Rodaidh McDonald||3:08|
|13.||"Hiding My Heart"||Tim Hanseroth||Rodaidh McDonald||3:28|
|Japanese edition bonus tracks|
|12.||"I Found a Boy"||Adele Adkins||Rick Rubin||3:37|
|13.||"Turning Tables" (live acoustic)||Adele Adkins, Ryan Tedder||Jim Abbiss||4:20|
|14.||"Don't You Remember" (live acoustic)||Adele Adkins, Dan Wilson||Rick Rubin||4:18|
|15.||"Someone Like You" (live acoustic)||Adele Adkins, Dan Wilson||Dan Wilson, Adele Adkins||5:14|
|Deluxe edition bonus disc|
|1.||"Need You Now (featuring Darius Rucker)" (Live at CMT Artists of the Year Awards)||Dave Haywood, Charles Kelley, Hillary Scott, Josh Kear||3:55|
|2.||"Someone Like You" (live acoustic)||Adele Adkins, Dan Wilson||Dan Wilson, Adele Adkins||5:14|
|3.||"Turning Tables" (live acoustic)||Adele Adkins, Ryan Tedder||Jim Abbiss||4:20|
|4.||"Don't You Remember" (live acoustic)||Adele Adkins, Dan Wilson||Rick Rubin||4:18|
BMI released information regarding several unreleased songs from 21, many of them which were included in the album's original tracklisting.
- "Saviour": Written by Adele and Paul Epworth; cut from the album due to it not fitting well with the rest of the album's songs.
- "Never Tear Us Apart": Cover of the INXS song "Never Tear Us Apart"; originally produced by Rick Rubin but scrapped in favor of "Lovesong" due to Adele's "unconvincing" vocals.
- "Haunted Skies": Written by Adele and Paul Epworth; possibly cut from the album due to its similarity to "Turning Tables."
- "Waiting for You": Written by Adele and Paul Epworth; cut from the album for unknown reasons. It is speculated to be cut due to its similarity to "I'll Be Waiting."
- "What Is Love": Written by Adele and Paul Epworth; original version of "He Won't Go." It was replaced at the last minute with the Rick Rubin-produced version of the song.
- "Devil On My Shoulder": Written by Adele and Greg Wells; it is unknown why this song was cut.
- "Never Gonna Leave You": Written by Adele and Fraser T. Smith; it leaked online on September 1, 2014. It is unknown why this song was cut, although some of its lyrics were used in songs that made the final cut on 21.
- "You'll Never See Me Again": Written by Adele and Fraser T. Smith; it leaked online on September 1, 2014. Parts of the song's instrumental were incorporated into "Set Fire to the Rain."
The song "Run Away" may have been cut from 21, but is highly speculated to be from 19 due to the songwriting credits for the song.
Original track listing
Originally, "Saviour," "Haunted Skies," "Waiting for You," and "What Is Love" appeared in the track listing for 21. "Set Fire to the Rain," "He Won't Go," "Take It All," "I'll Be Waiting," and "Lovesong" were all almost cut from 21.
- "Don't You Remember"
- "One and Only"
- "Someone Like You"
- "Rumour Has It"
- "Turning Tables"
- "Haunted Skies"
- "Rollin' in the Deep" (original title)
- "Waiting for You"
- "What Is Love"
- Although some sites, including Amazon MP3 UK and Google Play, mark 21 as "Explicit" due to Adele using the word "shit" in "Rolling in the Deep," there is no "clean" version of the album.
- On the deluxe disc of 21, all of Adele's live / acoustic performances at Largo were included except for "Rolling in the Deep." The live / acoustic performance of "Rolling in the Deep" was an iTunes pre-order bonus track only.
The gallery below is a digital copy of the booklet.
- Jim Abbiss – mixing, producer
- Adele – design, producer
- Philip Allen – engineer
- Beatriz Artola – engineer
- Phillip Broussard Jr. – assistant
- Lindsay Chase – production coordination
- AJ Clark – assistant
- Tom Coyne – mastering
- Ian Dowling – mixing
- Lauren Dukoff – photography
- Tom Elmhirst – mixing
- Greg Fidelman – engineer
- Fraser T. Smith – mixing
- Sara Lyn Killion – assistant
- Phil Lee – design
- Dana Nielsen – editing, Pro Tools
- Dan Parry – assistant, vocal engineer
- Steve Price – engineer (strings)
- Mark Rankin – engineer
- Andrew Scheps – mixing
- Isabel Seeliger-Morley – assistant engineer
- Ryan Tedder– engineer, programming
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- Adele Adkins – vocals, composer, producer
- Jo Allen – violin
- Stephanie Bennett – harp
- Jerrod Bettis – drums, acoustic guitar
- Rachel Stephanie Bolt – strings
- Natalie Bonner – violin
- Harry Brown – horn arrangements, trombone
- David Campbell – string arrangements
- Ray Carless – tenor sax
- Carmen Carter – choir, chorus
- Lenny Castro – percussion
- Neil Cowley – piano
- Caroline Dale – strings
- David Daniels – strings
- Rosie Danvers – string arrangements, violin
- Chris Dave – drums
- Chris Elliot – string arrangements
- Paul Epworth – bass, composer, guitar (acoustic), guitar (electric), percussion, producer, vocals (background)
- Fraser T. Smith – composer, guitar (bass), mixing, piano, producer
- Simon Gallup – composer
- Jim Gilstrap – choir, chorus
- David Hidalgo – accordion, banjo
- Smokey Hormel – guitar
- Patrick Kiernan – strings
- Boguslaw Kostecki – strings
- Peter Lale – strings
- Noel Langley – trumpet
- Chris Laurence – strings
- Julian Leaper – strings
- Rita Manning – strings
- Eleanor Mathieson – violin
- Stephen Morris – strings
- Roger O'Donnell – composer
- Pino Palladino – bass
- Tom Pigott-Smith – strings
- Ruston Pomeroy – violin
- Hayley Pomfrett – violin
- Josef Powell – choir, chorus
- James Poyser – piano
- Rick Rubin – producer
- Jenny Sacha – violin
- Kotono Sato – violin
- Jackie Shave – strings
- Emlyn Singleton – strings
- Robert Smith – composer
- Ash Soan – drums
- Matt Sweeney – guitar
- Leo Taylor – drums
- Ryan Tedder – arranger, bass, composer, drums, engineer, guitar (electric), hammond B3, piano, producer, programming, string arrangements
- Ben Thomas – guitar (acoustic), guitar (electric)
- Cathy Thompson – strings
- Porl Thompson – composer
- Julia Tillman Waters – choir, chorus
- Laurence Tolhurst – composer
- Carmen Twillie – choir, chorus
- Lorna Maxine Waters – choir, chorus
- Oren Waters – choir director
- Greg Wells – composer
- Bruce White – strings
- Francis White – composer
- Boris Williams – composer
- Dan Wilson – composer, piano, producer
- The Wired Strings – strings
- Chris Worsey – strings
- Terry Young – choir, chorus
- Warren Zielinski – strings