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Weaving classic soul, confessional songwriting, and pop polish, English singer Adele became a global phenomenon in the 2010s, breaking records and collecting accolades along the way with her powerhouse vocals and all-too-relatable songs. Beginning with her 2011 sophomore set 21, no singer could compare in terms of sheer sales or stardom and Adele existed in a different stratosphere than her British or American peers, selling tens of millions of albums at a time when many musicians struggled just to get to a million. The key to Adele's appeal lay in her sly, subtle execution, first heard on her 2008 debut 19 (named, like her subsequent albums, for her age upon the time of its creation) and its U.K. Top Ten single "Chasing Pavements." However, it was 21 and its hit singles "Rolling in the Deep," "Someone Like You," and "Set Fire to the Rain" that established her as an artist of a generation. In 2015, she continued to break records with her third effort, 25. Ushered in by the global smash "Hello," the set became the best-selling album in the world in 2015, staying at number one in the U.S. for ten consecutive weeks and taking home Grammy Awards for Album of the Year, Best Pop Vocal, Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Pop Solo Performance. After an extended break, she returned in 2021 with her fourth LP, the aptly titled 30.
Born in London in 1988, Adele Laurie Blue Adkins first made an impression in 2006 when her demo landed her a deal with XL Recordings. She toured as an opening act for Jack Penate, and graduated to headlining status by the end of 2007, thanks to BBC Radio 1 playing her single "Daydreamer"; another song, "Hometown Glory," was also released as a single on Jamie T.'s label Pacemaker. An appearance alongside Paul McCartney and Björk on the BBC 2 television show Later with Jools Holland came next, and a recording contract with XL Recordings was finalized soon afterward. Early 2008 brought similar luck as Adele found herself atop the BBC's new music talent list, which was compiled from the votes of 150 music critics. That same January, XL issued a new single, "Chasing Pavements," along with her debut album 19. The title reflected Adele's age at the time of the album's release, and its popularity resulted in the release of several bonus editions throughout the year. In 2009, Adele won Grammy Awards for Best New Artist and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.
Her sophomore album, 21, featuring the gospel and disco-infused single "Rolling in the Deep," was released in February of 2011. The album proved to be both a critical and commercial success, becoming one of the longest-running number one albums in history and spending over 18 weeks at the top spot. The glow of 21's success was dimmed somewhat when Adele was forced to cancel her tour after suffering a hemorrhage on her vocal cords, undergoing surgery for the ailment in November of 2011. That same month, she released the concert CD/DVD Live at the Royal Albert Hall. Both Adele and 21 received many end-of-year honors, and in February 2012, as album sales began to creep closer toward ten million copies, she won six major Grammy Awards, one of the few artists in history to accomplish the feat in one night.
In October 2012, Adele announced that she had recorded the theme to the 23rd James Bond film Skyfall. Produced by Paul Epworth and recorded at the prestigious Abbey Road Studios, the single entered the Top Ten of both the U.K. singles chart and the Billboard Hot 100 upon its release. By early 2013, 21 had registered sales of over 25 million copies. Although she promised she was in the early stages of creating her third album, 2013 and 2014 came and went without fresh material.
In the summer of 2015, reports of an imminent third album started to surface and, in October, the rumors were confirmed by Adele and her label. Its first single, "Hello," debuted at number one in both the U.K. and U.S., becoming the first song to sell over a million downloads in its first week of release. 25 debuted worldwide in late November 2015 and broke the single-week U.S. sales record previously held by *NSYNC's No Strings Attached. 25 went on to top the Billboard 200 for ten weeks and took home awards for Album, Song, and Record of the Year, as well as Best Pop Solo Performance and Pop Vocal, at the Grammy Awards in 2017.
Following several years of relative quiet, Adele resurfaced in October 2020 to host an episode of Saturday Night Live. A year later, she issued the single "Easy on Me," the first offering from her fourth album, November 2021's 30. Featuring production input from familiar faces Greg Kurstin, Max Martin, Shellback, and Tobias Jesso, Jr., 30 also welcomed Ludwig Goransson and Sault's Inflo (Michael Kiwanuka, Little Simz) for a mature and graceful set that focused on themes of separation and parenthood. ~ David Jeffries & Neil Z. Yeung