This song is about getting over an ex, hoping to find another who can bring back those feelings that made it so special.
At a 2017 concert in Brisbane, Adele talked about the feeling that inspired this song. "I was trying to remember how it was I felt at the beginning of a relationship," she said. "Because as bad as a break up can be, as bitter and horrible and messy as it can be, that feeling when you first fall for someone is the best feeling on earth, and I am addicted to that feeling."
Adele took up with her partner Simon Konecki not long after she wrote the song - the couple had a child in 2012. "Obviously I can't go through with those feelings because I'm married now," Adele added. "I've found my next person."
Adele had boundless resources at her disposal, but all this song needed was two people, two days, and a studio with a grand piano. She wrote and recorded it at Harmony Studios in Los Angeles with Dan Wilson of the band Semisonic, whose co-writing credits include "Not Ready To Make Nice
" with Dixie Chicks and "Hidden Away
" with Josh Groban. The demo they recorded at the end of their second day (with Wilson on piano) ended up being so good that Adele decided to use it as the actual recording. She tried recording it with a band and a full orchestra, but couldn't beat that demo.
In a Songfacts interview with Dan Wilson
, he said: "I had a small case of demo-itis about the version that Adele and I had done. But I honestly thought about my version with Adele as a demo and I never entertained the idea that it was going to be on the record. I was just hoping for the best possible more-fleshed-out version."
What's "demo-itis"? Wilson defines it as, "The general fact that you're always going to like the first version of a song you hear best."
Adele and Dan Wilson didn't know each other when they got together to write this song - it was the album's co-producer Rick Rubin who paired them up. She copped to knowing little about his work, but told him her mum was a big fan. (When Wilson wrote a song with Carol King - "One True Love" - on the 2001 Semisonic album All About Chemistry - he told her his mom was a big fan. "Thank you for making me feel old," she replied.) Before they got down to business, Wilson and Adele spent about 45 minutes getting to know each other and watching YouTube videos of rockabilly queen Wanda Jackson, which got them out of the present and into a mindset of a different era when songs were more enduring.
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."
This understated song was used at the closing track to the 21 album, and also released as the second single from the set, following "Rolling In The Deep."
Adele premiered this song on November 16, 2010 on Later Live with Jools Holland. It took off from there, reaching an audience that welcomed a song without synthesizers, Auto-Tune, or any kind of production sheen.
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."
The line, "I wish nothing but the best for you, too" was originally just "I wish nothing but the best for you." Adele added the extra word during the second songwriting session.
That extra word adds another layer of meaning to the song, as we now know that Adele's ex used that line on her, and now she's returning it back at him.
When songwriters record a demo, it often takes weeks before they get feedback from the record label and producer. The verdict on this one came in the next day: Everyone loved it, including Rick Rubin, whose opinion carries a lot of weight.
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."
Adele wrote the first verse on 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."
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).
This was the first single of the 2010s to sell over one million copies in the UK. The previous million seller was "I Gotta Feeling
," 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.
Adele and Dan Wilson knew they had something special after their first session working on this song. When Adele played their rough mix for her manager, he loved it. When she played it for her mum, she cried.
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
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.
One of the quirks in this song that makes it so engaging is the pre-chorus, which is nine-bars long instead of the usual eight. "That extra bar was like holding your breath just a little too long before the chorus hit," Dan Wilson explained. "We were both really excited about that section of the song."
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
, Dark Side of the Moon
and Brothers In Arms
. There is no questioning now that Adele has joined the ranks of British music legends."
Dan Wilson usually comes into songwriting sessions with "starts," which are bits of songs they can work on, but he didn't need them here, as Adele came in with two of her own: the first verse and refrain of what later became "Rumour Has It," and the first verse and melody of this song. Wilson, a "sucker for a sad story," chose "Someone Like You."
At first, Adele played guitar, but they quickly decided to make use of the Yamaha grand piano in the room (Wilson requests real pianos at his sessions).
As they wrote, Wilson played piano arpeggios that served as a second voice, providing a counterpoint to Adele's lead. They came up with the pre-chorus ("I hate to turn up out of the blue, uninvited..."), then the chorus, which changes chords. In their second day of songwriting, they finished the second verse, wrote a bride and made a few tweaks (Adele added "too" to the line, "I wish nothing but the best for you"), finishing by recording the demo that ended up being the actual recording.
The second half of the chorus ("Don't forget me, I begged...") is in a higher register, which was Dan Wilson's idea. It's hard to sing, even for Adele, and it took a little convincing for him to sell the idea. She thought it sounded uncomfortable, but he felt that vulnerability was what the song needed.
Adele wrote two other 21 tracks with Dan Wilson: "Don't You Remember" and "One and Only."
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.
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.
Adele won Best Pop Solo Performance for this song at the 2012 Grammy Awards.
During her NBC special, Adele: Live in New York City, the singer explained to the audience how the meaning on the song has changed for her. "I don't sing this from the same place anymore," she announced. "I sing it from an amazing place because of my man who is here tonight - and I love you - and this is the first show that he's ever seen me do!"
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.
Lucky Voice also named this as the most popular karaoke song of 2012. The Karaoke website said that of the 3.1 million songs recorded by them, "Someone Like You" accounted for 7.4 per cent of all plays. Runner-up was Carly Rae Jepsen's "Call Me Maybe
," with 5.4 per cent of their plays.
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."
Dan Wilson recorded a new version of this song with the Kronos Quartet for his 2017 album Re-Covered.
This was used in a 2011 Saturday Night Live skit where an office worker plays the song to get a good cry. Emma Stone catches her doing it, and wants in, leading others to follow. By the end, even the guys have joined in the action, bawling to Adele.