During one of her 2017 shows at Marvel Stadium, Adele described what we were about to witness in typical self-effacing style: “It’s basically two hours of crying and songs about my ex-boyfriend,” she said, before joshing, “You’re not gonna have too good of a time, because my songs are miserable!”
During this same concert, Adele admitted that writing her second album – the every-award-winning, gazillion x Platinum-certified 21 – “helped [her] get over being bitchy and witchy,” and she further revealed that touring isn’t really her thing (she’d rather be at home “eating a Chinese [meal],” apparently).
As for that sporadic, infectious cackle? Adele is the actual best.
Back when her star began to rise, rapidly, many “lazy” (her word) journos compared Adele to some of the other female soul singers who were making waves around that time such as Amy Winehouse and Duffy. Adele nailed it when she quipped, “We’re a gender, not a genre.”
Such was Baby Adele’s love for British singer-songwriter Gabrielle that she asked her mum Penny to make a sequinned eyepatch modelled on her idol’s trademark accessory. Penny obliged, and so off to school Adele went, proudly sporting her blinged-out pirate look. Penny had Adele when she was only 18 and the pair are super-close, perhaps enhanced by the fact that the father of the house jumped ship when Adele was just three years old. During a television appearance, Adele claimed that Penny smuggled her toddler-aged daughter into a Cure show, at Brixton Academy, under her trench coat. (Is she having a laugh, though? It’s hard to tell with Adele.)
Check out the touching version of The Cure’s Lovesong, which appears on 21, that Adele dedicated to her mum! When Adele informed Penny that she’d covered Lovesong, she recalls, “I said, ‘Oh mum, I’ve covered Lovesong; it’s a bossa nova version,’ and she was mortified. Then I played it for her and she loved it and she cried, but the [initial] thought of someone ruining a Cure song filled her with despair. She’d disown me if she didn’t like it, but she loved it.” Apparently we have session guitarist Smokey Hormel to thank for this inspired choice of cover, and the first take, recorded when Adele was feeling particularly homesick while recording in Malibu, is what we hear on the album.
Even though Adele wrote her first song, Hometown Glory – a homage to her hometown of West Norwood, where she moved aged 11 after spending her formative years in Tottenham – at 16, her debut album, 19, was so named to reflect her age at the time of most of these songwriting sessions. “I just kinda remember becoming a bit of a woman during that time,” she told journalist Pete Lewis. “And I think that is definitely documented in the songs.”
The story goes that Adele wrote Hometown Glory in 10 minutes after her mother tried to persuade her to fly the West Norwood coop. “I wrote Hometown Glory on the guitar,” Adele revealed. “It’s just four chords pressing one string – and it was actually the first song I ever wrote from start to finish. It was kind of about me and my mum not agreeing on where I should go to university. Because, though at first I’d wanted to go to Liverpool, later I changed my mind and wanted to go to university in London. But, because I love being at home and I’m really dependent on my mum, she still wanted me to go to Liverpool – so that I’d have to learn how to do things on my own, rather than still be coming home for dinner, having her do my washing and stuff like that.”
Back when she was coming up on the scene, Adele’s North London accent was more prominent when she sang (come to think of it, she would be perfectly cast as Nancy in Oliver!). Her stupendously golden, god-given pipes are at the heart of Adele’s artistry. But when she graduated from the BRIT School for Performing Arts & Technology (where her classmates included Leona Lewis and Jessie J), Adele actually fancied pursuing a career in A&R.
However, the musician wound up taking centre stage thanks to one of her mates, who uploaded a three-song demo the future-superstar had recorded – for a BRIT School class project – to MySpace. When XL Recordings head Richard Russell stumbled across the demo (which included the breezily jazzy 19 track, My Same) on MySpace, he offered Adele a recording contract within months. Adele had already mostly written the material for her debut album – which she would finesse with co-writers/producers Eg White, Jim Abbiss and Mark Ronson – and so 19 was released less than two years after she graduated from the BRIT School.
In another fortuitous twist of fate, Adele first met Abbiss in the studio while supplying vocals for Jack Peñate’s song, My Yvonne. Abbiss went on to produce the majority of tracks on both 19 and 21. Peñate then returned the favour, scoring a BVs credit on 19. Little known fact: Adele is a multi-instrumentalist and is accredited in the 19 liner notes for supplying keys, bass and lead guitar.
Of her decision to include a cover of Bob Dylan’s Make You Feel My Love on 19, Adele explained during a 2008 interview: “I wrote nine songs in a short space of time, all about this awful relationship I was in. I never quite got down what I was really feeling in those songs, though. Although I was trying to. It wasn’t that I was holding back or anything, but I just couldn’t get it down. I was bitterly upset, and then my manager played me this Bob Dylan song, Make You Feel My Love. The lyrics are just amazing, and summed up exactly what I’d been trying to say in my songs. It’s about regretting not being with someone, and it’s beautiful. It’s weird that my favourite song on my album is a cover, but I couldn’t not put it on there.”
19 debuted at #1 on the UK charts and has since sold over 6.5 million copies worldwide (that’s 8 x Platinum) – but by mid-October 2008, Stateside success had so far eluded Adele. That is, until she was booked as the musical guest for the Saturday Night Live episode that was co-hosted by Sarah Palin, which attracted SNL’s highest ratings in 14 years. The day after Adele performed Chasing Pavements and Cold Shoulder on SNL, 19 topped the iTunes Albums Chart and jumped 35 places to reach #11 on the Billboard 200.
According to Adele, Chasing Pavements is “about all the heartache and all the crap a typical 19-year-old goes through”. “In reality, I can’t really admit things to myself, so I have to put it in a song,” she acknowledged. Together with fellow 19 tracks Melt My Heart To Stone and Tired, Chasing Pavements was written in collaboration with Eg White. But Adele wrote the majority of Chasing Pavements after getting thrown out of a bar for punching a former boyfriend in the face, after discovering he was a filthy rotten cheater. While walking down the street on her Scott Malone, post-ejection, Adele reportedly thought to herself, ‘What is it you’re chasing? You’re chasing an empty pavement,’ before singing and riffing on this idea and then recording a voice memo in her smartphone. Most of the chords were arranged once she got home.
At the 51st Annual Grammy Awards, Adele took home Best New Artist and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance (Chasing Pavements) off the back of her debut album release. “A lot of the reviews said, ‘I don’t think her songs are as good as I think her voice is’,” Adele has reflected of how 19 was received by critics. “I was like, ‘Right?… I want to make records forever. I don’t want to be a flash in the pan. I really want to show development in my records’.”
In vast contrast to Eminem’s 8 Mile advice (“You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow…”), Adele cancelled a series of dates on her 2008 U.S. tour due to “family issues”, but has since admitted she just wanted to prioritise partying with her boyf – WTF!? Don’t worry, Adele is gobsmacked when she looks back on this self-sabotage: “I’m like, ‘I can’t believe I did that.’ It seems so ungrateful… I was drinking far too much and that was kind of the basis of my relationship with this boy. I couldn’t bear to be without him, so I was like, ‘Well, okay, I’ll just cancel my stuff then’.”
But, hey! We have said ex-boyfriend to thank for Adele’s stunning follow-up to 19 – her break-up album, 21.