This is a song by English singer-songwriter Adele, from her second album, titled 21. She premiered the song on November 16, 2010 on Later Live with Jools Holland, and it took off from there, reaching an audience that welcomed a song without synthesizers, Auto-Tune, or any kind of production sheen.
Adele told The Sun: “It’s simple – just letting go. It makes me really upset. It’s my most articulate song. It’s just to the point, it’s not trying to be clever, I think that’s why I like it so much, because it’s just so honest, no glitter on it.”
Adele penned this hushed closing track with former Semisonic frontman Dan Wilson. The songwriter hooked up with Adele after being recruited by 21 co-producer Rick Rubin, who had previously enlisted Wilson’s services on other projects by Dixie Chicks and Josh Groban.
Most of 21′s lyrics refer to Adele working through the ending of a relationship. In this song, she sings, “I heard that you’re settled down/That you found a girl and you’re married now/I heard that your dreams came true/Guess she gave you things I wouldn’t give to you.” “We didn’t try to make it open-ended so it could apply to ‘anybody,’ ” said Wilson to Billboard magazine. “We tried to make it as personal as possible.”
The songs on 21 come from a deep place. “The experience of writing this record was quite exhausting, because I would go from being a bitch to being completely on my knees,” she said in an interview with UK newspaper The Daily Telegraph. “It was like the stages of my recovery. I was trying to explain to myself why the relationship broke down, to the point that I actually forgot about people hearing it.
When I did ‘Someone Like You’ live on Jools Holland, I got so upset wondering and hoping and wishing that my ex would be watching it, I went back to my dressing room and sobbed. Making a record is like standing in the middle of Trafalgar Square naked, you let everyone see your good bits and bad bits. I don’t know what possesses me to do that, but I’m not good at anything else.”
Adele told Q magazine about this heartbreaking album-closer: “It’s about my last relationship, which was my first sort of life-defining one. He was a little older than me and he’d had a lot more experiences… No one did anything wrong; we just grew out of each other. But it was so intense.”
After writing a number of songs dissing her former lover, Adele portrays her ex in a more positive way on this track. “Well, I wrote that song because I was exhausted from being such a bitch, with ‘Rolling In The Deep’ or ‘Rumour Has It,’” she laughed to MTV News. “I was really emotionally drained from the way I was portraying him, because even though I’m very bitter and regret some parts of it, he’s still the most important person that’s ever been in my life, and ‘Someone Like You,’ I had to write it to feel OK with myself and OK with the two years I spent with him. And when I did it, I felt so freed.”
Adele revealed that her former boyfriend may not know that he provided the inspiration for this and other tracks on 21. “I have no idea if he’s heard the record, or is kind of clever enough to link it, to think it’s him,” she said. “I’m not saying he’s dim. It’s just that toward the end I don’t think he felt like I loved him enough to write a record about him. But I did.”
A show-stopping performance from Adele of this song at the BRIT awards propelled it to the top of the UK singles charts dated February 20, 2011. With “Rolling in the Deep” at #4 as well and her first two albums at #4 and #1 respectively, Adele became the first living act to have two Top 5 singles and Top 5 albums in the same week since The Beatles back in 1964. (John Lennon also did so in the immediate aftermath of his death in December 1980).
The song was written quickly by Adele on her acoustic guitar, in the wake of her 18-month relationship with the 30-year-old man whom she believed was The One. “We were so intense I thought we would get married, ” she told Q magazine. “But that was something he never wanted.”
A few months after they split, he was engaged to someone else, “so when I found out that he does want that (marriage) with someone else, it was just the horrible-est feeling ever,” she continued. “But after I wrote it, I felt more at peace. It set me free. I’m wiser in my songs. My words are always what I can never say (in real life). But I didn’t think it would resonate…with the world! I’m never gonna write a song like that again. I think that’s the song I’ll be known for.”
The singer added; “I wrote that song on the end of my bed. I had a cold. I was waiting for my bath to run. I’d found out he’d got engaged. And it blows my mind how things cross over like that.”
This was the first single of the 2010s to sell over one million copies in the UK. The previous million seller was “I Gotta Feelin’,” which achieved the feat in 2009.
The song leapt to the summit of the Billboard Hot 100 following an acclaimed performance by Adele on the MTV Video Music Awards on August 28, 2011. It ended a chart-topping drought for ballads becoming the first slow song to reach #1 since Rihanna’s “Take A Bow” led the May 24, 2008 survey.
It was announced in September 2011 that 21 had become the first album to sell more than three million copies in the UK in one calendar year. Commenting on Adele’s record breaking success, Charts Company supremo Martin Talbot told CMU: “Three million albums in a year is a simply extraordinary achievement by Adele, who is now occupying an unparalleled position in the history of British music. In reaching such an elevated landmark so quickly, 21 has eclipsed any other album previously released in the UK – superseding even the likes of Sgt Pepper, Thriller, Dark Side of the Moon and Brothers In Arms. There is no questioning now that Adele has joined the ranks of British music legends.”
According to Billboard magazine, this was the first piano-and-vocal-only ballad to top the Hot 100 since it started the charts in 1958. This is astounding when you consider that 1008 songs had been #1, and somehow none of them were just piano and voice. Some songs that came close, but include a some other instruments, include Elton John’s “Candle In The Wind ’97″ and Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”
When this replaced “Moves Like Jagger” at the summit of the Hot 100 it marked the first time that back-to-back chart toppers had both featured similes. There had been 12 previous #1s sporting similes in their titles starting with “Walk Like a Man” back in 1963.
The black and white Jack Nava directed video was shot at night in Paris, and finds a sad Adele wandering the deserted streets of the city.
According to a survey by Karaoke company Lucky Voice, around 25% of UK karaoke performers chose a track by Adele in 2011. This song was the most popular one for Lucky Voice’s users, accounting for 14 percent of the 3 million songs sung in over that period, while her cover of “Make You Feel My Love” was the second most popular with 10 percent.
Adele penned the first verse sitting on the edge of her bed. She then met up with Dan Wilson at Harmony Studio in Hollywood to complete the song. Wilson recalled to American Songwriter magazine: “Adele came to the session with lyrics and melody for the first half of the verse at least – there was a real vibe and idea already.
She told me she wanted to write a song about her heartbreak…that was how she put it. 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.”
The pair worked on the song over two days. Wilson recalled: “At the end of the second day we finished the recording, which ended up on the album. She couldn’t stay late, as I remember, because she had a meeting in Malibu to play Rick and other people from her label the song. So we finished it in the late afternoon and she took it to them.”
The recording on 21 was intended to be just a demo. Wilson expected Rick Rubin to make it into a big power ballad with strings and choirs etc. He recalled to American Songwriter: “By the end of the first day, the demo was sounding lovely, and very affecting, but it was only half-written, there were no words on the second verse or the bridge as I remember. Adele came to the studio the next day and said, ‘I played it for my manager and me Mum’” I was a little nervous about this because I don’t like people to hear works-in-progress. I asked her what they thought of the song. ‘My manager loves it and me Mum cried.’”
Over the following months Wilson heard sporadic reports from other people who heard it, and all of them told them that it made them cry. So it became obvious that they should retain the demo version.
Scientists have studied this song to find out why it creates such an emotional reaction in listeners. A Wall Street Journal story revealed that musically, it’s very much about small, unexpected changes in the melody. What they call “ornamental notes” appear all over the song, which create a kind of melancholy tension. Tearjerkers often move from soft to loud and contain some dramatic shifts at key moments – in “Someone Like You,” this is when Adele’s voice jumps an octave and becomes much louder in the chorus. Of course, none of this would help without heartfelt lyrics delivered with conviction.