Apple Music 100 Best Albums

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Unguarded feelings and an otherworldly voice made this one of the 21st century’s biggest albums.

When Adele began writing the follow-up to her 2008 debut 19, she had a difficult time finding inspiration. Then, her relationship imploded—and within a day of her breakup, she and producer Paul Epworth had written the stormy, tearful “Rolling in the Deep,” which would go on to not only open her second album, 21, but eventually become one of 2011’s defining singles, setting the tone for a vibrant portrait of young heartbreak that showcases her fierce alto.

“It was so big and so many people took it into their lives. I can never live up to that again, and that’s fine.”


On 19, Adele established herself as a key part of the 2000s class of British R&B-inspired singers that included Amy Winehouse and Duffy. For 21, however, she added new dimensions to her sound, bringing in ideas borrowed from country, rock, gospel, and modern pop—as well as a gently psychedelic take on the downcast “Lovesong,” originally by fellow Brit miserablists The Cure. But Adele’s powerful voice and unguarded feelings were 21’s main draw, and her savvy about using them—as well as going all in only when a song’s emotional force required her to—made it one of the 21st century’s biggest albums, both a refuge and a rallying cry for anyone nursing a broken heart.