Through all the heartbreak, breakups, and betrayal, Adele has written some of her best songs.
Her discography is a musical timeline of major milestones and life changes, representing the ages she began working on each, from writing her first song at 16, which was later released on her debut album 19 in 2008, and still navigating the after-effects of a bad breakup on 21 in 2011, and a more reflective 25 in 2015.
By the time Adele was writing 30, she was working through a divorce from her husband Simon Konecki and guarding her son against the heartache of their split.
Much like Adele has formatted her storyline of songs throughout her life, here’s a chronological look at some of her best songs through the ages.
10. “Hometown Glory” (2008)
Written by Adele
“Hometown Glory” is the first song Adele ever wrote when she was just 16. Written in just 10 minutes, the song was inspired after being pushed by her mother to leave her hometown of West Norwood in London to go to college. Also Adele’s very first single, “Hometown Glory” was later released on her 2008 debut 19 and even picked up a Grammy nomination for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.
I’ve been walking in the same way as I did
Missing out the cracks in the pavement
And turning my heel and strutting my feet
“Is there anything I can do for you dear?
Is there anyone I could call?”
“No and thank you, please Madam
I ain’t lost, just wandering”
‘Round my hometown
Memories are fresh
‘Round my hometown
Ooh the people I’ve met
Are the wonders of my world
9. “Chasing Pavements” (2008)
Written by Adele and Eg White
Adele’s 2008 debut 19 followed the real-life storyline of the breakdown of her relationship and all its after-effects. Her second single “Chasing Pavements” set the tone for 19, and its song-by-song unraveling of lost love, regret, and finding purpose again, written by the then 19-year-old.
“It’s me being hopeful for a relationship that’s very much over,” said Adele of the song, “the sort of relationship you hate when you’re in it, but miss when you’re not.”
“Chasing Pavements” was initially written at 6 a.m. following an argument with her then-boyfriend at a London West End club, which led to her storming out and running down Oxford Street. “He didn’t chase after me,” said Adele. “So I was running, just looking at these big wide pavements stretching in front of me.”
Her first single to hit the charts, “Chasing Pavements” peaked at No. 21 on the Billboard Hot 100 and picked up three Grammy nominations.
Read our full Behind the Song on “Chasing Pavements” HERE.
8. “Rolling in the Deep” (2011)
Written by Adele and Paul Epworth
By the time Adele was 21, she had even more relationship woes to unravel. The lead single off of her second studio album, 21, “Rolling in the Deep” was the song that ultimately pushed Adele into stardom. Her first No. 1 hit, which spent 65 weeks on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, the song was undoubtedly about a breakup.
“It’s me saying, ‘Get the fuck out of my house instead of me begging him to come back,” revealed Adele of the song, which she composed one afternoon with producer Paul Epworth following a breakup with her then-boyfriend.
Slanted toward a more soul and gospel sound, the song showed off Adele’s vocal prowess through the ascending chorus We could have had it all / Rolling in the deep / You had my heart inside of your hands / And you played it to the beat. “He brought a lot out of me,” Adele said of working with Epworth on the song. “He brought my voice out as well—there are notes that I hit in that song that I never even knew I could hit.”
Read our full Behind the Song Lyrics on “Rolling in the Deep” here.
7. “Set Fire To The Rain” (2011)
Written by Adele and Fraser T. Smith
Like many of the songs on her second album 21, “Set Fire to the Rain” covered the heartbreak of her first relationship. Written on the spot by Adele when she woke up in the middle of the night, “Set Fire to the Rain” recounts all the red flags leading to the breakup—Cause 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’d play / You would always win, always win, continuing through the fiery chorus.
Though there was never an official music video made for “Set Fire to the Rain”—or other 21 singles “Turning Tables” and “Rumour Has It”—due to a vocal surgery Adele had undergone at the time, a live version of the song, recorded at the Royal Albert Hall in London was released and earned her a Grammy for Best Pop Solo Performance.
Read our full Behind the Song Meaning on “Set Fire to the Rain” here.
6. “Someone Like You” (2011)
Written and produced by Adele and Dan Wilson
Adele showed up to a session with writer Dan Wilson at Harmony Studio in Hollywood with lyrics and a melody for the first half of the verse of a new song she had. The two spent the next two days fleshing out her No. 1 hit “Someone Like You.”
“She told me she wanted to write a song about her heartbreak—that was how she put it,” Dan Wilson told American Songwriter. “She told me a little bit about the guy who broke up with her, and I think maybe part of my contribution was to help keep the song really simple and direct—very personal.”
Read our full interview with co-writer and co-producer Dan Wilson, and Behind the Song on “Someone Like You” HERE.
5. “Rumour Has It” (2011)
Written by Adele and Ryan Tedder
Working with 21 producers, Ryan Tedder, Adele began penning a song about the tabloid falsities her friends were beginning to believe and the rumors that were spreading about her breakup with her boyfriend.
“People might think it’s about blogs and magazines and papers, but it’s not,” revealed Adele. “It’s about my own friends believing stuff that they hear about me, which is pretty mortifying really.”
She, she ain’t real
She ain’t gon’ be able to love you like I will
She is a stranger
You and I have history
Or don’t you remember
Sure, she’s got it all
But, baby, is that really what you want
Bless your soul, you got your head in the clouds
She made a fool out of you
And, boy, she’s bringing you down
She made your heart melt
But you’re cold to the core
Now rumor has it she ain’t got your love anymore
4. “Skyfall” (2012)
Written by Adele and Paul Epworth
Much like her very first song “Hometown Glory,” it took Adele 10 minutes to write an Oscar-winning theme song to a James Bond movie.
“This could be the song,” said producer Paul Epworth before calling up Adele to work on the theme to the 2012 007 film Skyfall. At first, the producer thought the song may be too dark, but Adele instantly loved it. Once in the studio, she wrote the first draft of the lyrics for the song in 10 minutes. “She had the lyrics ready in her head when she drove over,” said Epworth. “It was the most absurd thing. She’s fast, but it was really quite phenomenal.“
“Skyfall” won the Oscar for Best Original Song in 2012.
3. “Hello” (2015)
Written by Adele and Greg Kurstin
When Adele’s third album 25 rolled around, the relationship trauma that inspired many of her earlier songs of 19 and 21 had somewhat subsided. Instead, Adele tapped into her own reflections on her life and mindset at 25, motherhood, and the reality of getting older. “It was hard work to write these songs,” said Adele. “I felt a lot of pressure writing the songs for 25, and for a long time, I didn’t really find my voice. I don’t know if I even did find it, but the reception to ‘Hello’ showed me people loved it.”
For the album, Adele pulled in longtime producers and co-writers Paul Epworth and Ryan Tedder, along with new collaborators, including Bruno Mars, Danger Mouse, and Max Martin.
Read our full Behind the Song Lyrics on “Hello” HERE.
2. “When We Were Young” (2015)
Written by Adele and Tobias Jesso Jr.
Still struggling with a bout of writer’s block during the 25 album, Adele wrote “When We Were Young” with Canadian artist Tobias Jesso Jr. in Los Angeles over three days. Much like her Royal Albert Hall video for “Set Fire to the Rain,” Adele set the visuals around “When We Were Young” around a performance at The Church Studios in Crouch End in North London. A more soulful ballad, “When We Were Young” addresses the fear of getting older and nostalgia for simpler days. The official artwork for the single features a photo of a very young Adele.
Everybody loves the things you do
From the way you talk
To the way you move
Everybody here is watching you
‘Cause you feel like home
You’re like a dream come true
But if by chance you’re here alone
Can I have a moment?
Before I go?
‘Cause I’ve been by myself all night long
Hoping you’re someone I used to know
You look like a movie
You sound like a song
My God this reminds me, of when we were young
1. “Easy on Me” (2021)
Written by Adele and Greg Kurstin
Released Oct. 15, 2021, “Easy on Me” was Adele’s first release in seven years following her third album 25. Produced by Greg Kurstin, who also co-wrote the song with Adele, the sweeping piano-led ballad became part of a greater narrative of despair, loss, and hopefulness Adele was experiencing during her divorce.
“I learned a lot of blistering home truths about myself along the way,” said Adele of the song. “I’ve shed many layers but also wrapped myself in new ones. Discovered genuinely useful and wholesome mentalities to lead with, and I feel like I’ve finally found my feeling again. I’d go as far as to say that I’ve never felt more peaceful in my life.”
Read out full Behind the Song Meaning of “Easy on Me” HERE.
Photo by Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images for Adele