No singer of the 2010s could compare to Adele in terms of sheer sales or stardom. Beginning with 21, her sophomore set from 2011, Adele existed in a different stratosphere than her British or American peers, selling tens of millions of her albums at a time when many musicians scrambled to get to a million. The key to Adele's appeal lay in her sly, subtle interweaving of old-fashioned soul, confessional songwriting, and pop polish -- diverse sounds tied together by her powerhouse vocals. All of this was evident on her 2008 debut 19 (named, like her subsequent albums, after her age upon the time of its creation) and its U.K. Top 10 single "Chasing Pavements," but 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 international phenomenon.
Adele 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. Also 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. She underwent surgery for it 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 to 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. The album's 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. It 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. ~ David Jeffries
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