Grammy-winning singer and songwriter Adele found fame and international success with hits like ‘Rolling in the Deep’ and ‘Someone Like You’, but how was she discovered? How did Adele become famous and how did she get started in the industry?
Adele found success at a young age after her demo caught the attention of British independent record label XL Recordings and she released her debut album ’19’ – named for her age when she recorded it – in 2008.
A favourite of the critics and with legions of fans worldwide, Adele is a powerhouse performer know not just for her voice, but also for her emotional and evocative songwriting, which heavily influenced her favourite singers, such as Etta James and Ella Fitzgerald. Read on to find out how Adele became a household name.
How did Adele start her singing career?
Adele was born in Tottenham, London and was mostly raised by her mother, after her parents divorced when she was just two.
She started singing at the age of four and developed a love of music, encouraged by her mother who bought her a toy guitar from a charity shop. At the age of nine, she and her mother relocated to Brighton.
She mostly listened to pop music on the radio, but that all changed when a 15-year-old Adele discovered a collection of Etta James and Ella Fitzgerald records at a local shop.
“There was no musical heritage in our family,” she told The Telegraph in 2008. “Chart music was all I ever knew. So when I listened to the Ettas and the Ellas, it sounds so cheesy, but it was like an awakening.
“I was like, oh, right, some people have proper longevity and are legends. I was so inspired that as a 15-year-old I was listening to music that had been made in the Forties. The idea that people might look back to my music in 50 years’ time was a real spur to doing this.”
Did Adele go to BRIT school?
Yes, Adele is another graduate of the prestigious BRIT School for Performing Arts & Technology (fellow alumni include Amy Winehouse, Jessie J and Leona Lewis), attending the Croydon-based institution after moving back to London with her mother in her teens.
Adele auditioned by singing ‘Free’ by Stevie Wonder and playing James Rae’s ‘Tumbledown Blues’ on the clarinet.
How did Adele get discovered as a singer?
While at the BRIT school, Adele made a three-track demo for a class project and a friend of hers posted it on MySpace. It was very popular on the platform, amassing over 10,000 plays and quickly caught the attention of executives at XL Recordings.
They contacted the singer and, thinking they were interested in giving her a job in A&R and only knowing the record label Virgin, she attended the meeting with a friend, saying to Rolling Stone: “I wanted to help other people sell records. I went in thinking I could get a scouting job – then they said, ‘We want to sign you.’ ”
Record label boss Richard Russel then went to see a young Adele at a small west London gig, where he was impressed with her confidence as a performer.
In November 2006, just four months after Adele had graduated school, XL Recordings signed her to a record deal.
How did Adele become famous?
Adele is known for the emotional connection in her songwriting; writing about love and heartbreak are common themes. “I don’t write songs about a specific, elusive thing. I write about love, and everyone knows what it is like to have your heart broken.”
After being signed to XL, Adele started working in the studio on her first album. She made her debut TV appearance on BBC’s Later… with Jools Holland performing ‘Daydreamer’ in 2007.
The same year she played at Glastonbury, playing an acoustic set in the Guardian Live Lounge. Here’s 19-year-old Adele singing ‘Crazy For You’:
Adele was getting in some stage miles, but she was still nervous performing in front of a crowd: “I’m scared of audiences. One show in Amsterdam I was so nervous, I escaped out the fire exit. I’ve thrown up a couple of times. Once in Brussels, I projectile vomited on someone. I just gotta bear it. But I don’t like touring. I have anxiety attacks a lot.”
Adele albums – 19
Released in the UK under XL and in the United States through Columbia Records, her debut album ’19’ received praise from critics and fans, and an appearance on Saturday Night Live as the guest performer brought her a whole new audience in the States.
Before the show, the album was ranked No. 40 on iTunes. Less than 24 hours later, it was the number-one album and Adele was on her way to becoming a household name.
As fate would have it, just as her professional life was taking off, her personal life was falling apart. She found out her boyfriend at the time was cheating on her while working on her debut album.
Walking home alone after their breakup, she found inspiration for one of her first singles, ‘Chasing Pavements’, thinking at the time: “What is it you’re chasing? You’re chasing an empty pavement.”
The album was released in 2008 and was nominated for a Mercury Prize. Adele won Best New Artist and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance at the Grammy Awards.
So what became of the ex-boyfriend? “We’re still friends,” Adele said at the time. “I’m grateful – I got a multiplatinum album out of it, and he still works at a phone shop.”
For her debut album ’19’, Adele wrote most of the songs herself. The lead single for the album was ‘Hometown Glory’, which she wrote when she was 16.
The song was modestly successful in the UK and US charts and, after it was featured in the show Skins, it re-entering the top 40.
At the 52nd Annual Grammy Awards, Hometown Glory was nominated for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, losing out to Beyoncé’s ‘Halo’.
The second single released on the album was ‘Chasing Pavements’, which peaked at number 7 in the charts. Written after being thrown out of a pub for punching her ex-boyfriend, Adele sang and recorded it on her mobile phone and arranged the chords when she got home.
‘Chasing Pavements’ received nominations for Record of the Year, Song of the Year and for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, and won the latter.
Make You Feel My Love
The fourth single released was a cover of the Bob Dylan song ‘Make You Feel My Love’, the only cover song on the album. Her manager Jonathan Dickins is a massive Bob Dylan fan and was insistent she record her own version of one of his songs.
Adele told Premiere Networks, “I was being quite defiant against it. I said, ‘I don’t want a cover on my album. It kind of implies that I’m incapable of writing enough of my own songs for my first record.’ And then I heard it in New York when he played it for me, and it just really touched me. It’s cheesy, but I think it’s just a stunning song, and it really just summed up everything that I’d been trying to write in my songs.”
Adele albums – 21
Adele’s second album, ’21’, was released in 2011 and was a massive success, both commercially and critically, selling 352,000 copies in its first week.
Another album inspired by a break-up, it went on to become the biggest-selling album of the 21st century, establishing her as a star worldwide. The album won the 2012 Grammy Award for Album of the Year as well as the Brit Award for British Album of the Year, along with a host of other big awards.
Rolling in the Deep
The opening track of the album and lead single was ‘Rolling in the Deep’, a caustic ballad written about the heartbreak of ending a relationship. Adele was emotionally fragile at the time and working on the song with indie songwriter and musician Paul Epworth, remembering: “I never get angry, but I was ready to murder. I went in crying and stuff, and said: ‘Let’s write a ballad.’” And he was like: ‘Absolutely not! I want to write a fierce tune.’”
‘Rolling in the Deep’ debuted at number 2 in the UK charts, spending 10 weeks in the top 10. It went on to win Grammy Awards for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Short Form Music Video.
Someone Like You
The second single and last song chronologically on the album was the sombre ballad ‘Someone Like You’. The bookend to ‘Rolling in the Deep’ is lyrically where the singer is coming to terms with and accepting the end of the relationship.
Adele vocal range
Adele has a vocal range of three octaves and is a mezzo-soprano, with a range that is between soprano and contralto. The lowest note that she can hit is B2, whilst her highest note is D6.
When did Adele get throat surgery?
Right at the beginning of her world promotional tour for ’21’, Adele lost her voice. Every singer’s nightmare and the reason so many are protective of their vocal cords.
“I’ve been singing properly every day since I was about fifteen or sixteen,” she told Vogue. “and I have never had any problems with my voice, ever. I’ve had a sore throat here and there, had a cold and sung through it, but that day it just went while I was onstage in Paris during a radio show. It was literally like someone had pulled a curtain over it.”
She flew to London the next day and was diagnosed with acute laryngitis, but the problem only worsened, leading to eventual surgery, after a polyp was discovered on one of Adele’s vocal cords.
Fortunately, the surgery was successful and Adele made a full recovery.
Adel released the theme song ‘Skyfall’ for the eponymous Bond movie in 2012. Co-written with Paul Epsworth the song was recorded with a 77-piece orchestra at Abbey Road Studios in London.
Rolling Stone said the song: “feels like a quintessential Bond theme of brooding Sixties-throwback balladry with sombre chords and explosive, mysterious vocals.”
‘Skyfall’ was widely praised and took home a slew of awards, including the Oscar for Best Original Song, and Adele performed it live at The 85th Annual Academy Awards.
Adele albums – 25
After a 5 year break following ’21’, Adele released her third album ’25’ in 2015. It received positive reviews
The lead single on ’25’ was the intense, soulful piano ballad, ‘Hello’, which debuted at the number one spot in 36 countries, including the UK. ‘Hello’ won three Grammy awards and a Brit Award for Song of the Year and was the biggest hit on the album.
Co-Written with Gregory Allen Kurstin, an American record producer, multi-instrumentalist and songwriter, the track took over 6 months to write.
Send My Love (To Your New Lover)
The third single on the album, ‘Send My Love (To Your New Lover)’ is an upbeat pop song about being happy after moving on from a relationship or a ‘kiss-off track‘.
When did Adele headline Glastonbury?
Adele headlined Glastonbury in 2016. She famously suffers from stage fright: “It has gotten worse as I’m becoming more successful. My nerves. Just because there’s a bit more pressure, and people are expecting a lot more from me,” and she cried before her emotive performance:
Adele’s musical influences
Before discovering Ella Fitzgerald and Etta James, Adele loved pop music. Growing up in the 90s, she was a big fan of the girl group The Spices Girls. She attended their reunion show in 2019 and went full fangirl:
Adele was also a fan of the US girl group Destiny’s Child and one of her favourite artists is Beyoncé. She said about meeting her for the first time: “I was about to meet Beyoncé, and I had a full-blown anxiety attack. Then she popped in looking gorgeous, and said, ‘You’re amazing! When I listen to you I feel like I’m listening to God.’”
When she won Album of The Year at the Grammy’s, she gave a sincere speech where she said she felt the award should have gone to Beyoncé instead: “I can’t possibly accept this award … I’m very humbled and I’m very grateful … but the artist of my life is Beyoncé. And this album to me, the Lemonade album, is just so monumental.”
Adele albums – 30
Adele moved to America, she’s a mother to a young boy named Angelo, and she split from her long-term partner Simon Konecki in early 2019.
There was a lot of buzz around when Adele would release her next album, and as we know it was released last year. Her hit “I Drink Wine” was serviced as the album’s third single on November 4, 2022. Her Las Vegas residency Weekend with Adele began on 18 November 2022 and is scheduled to run until 25 March 2023.
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