In the pop world of 2015, there was Adele, and there was everyone else. Despite giving her peers a nine-and-a-half-month head start, she had no trouble blazing past the competition, becoming not only the year’s most talked-about artist, but its most wildly successful. Imagine a musical Donald Trump, using attention-monopolising superpowers for good instead of evil and trading in genuine emotion instead of empty bluster: Adele, with her long-awaited 25, was that benevolent juggernaut.
First came “Hello,” the tearjerking, record-setting ballad that served as her official reintroduction. Upon its release, the single captivated the Internet, got remixed by Rick Ross and riffed on by Lionel Richie, and had fans obsessing over its addictive video (which has now been watched more than 700 million times).
By the time of 25’s release in late November, Adele had officially taken over. As producer Paul Epworth put it, she “beat everyone else at their own game.” The album sold 200,000 copies in its first week (setting a new record), topped the charts and even got spoofed by the Muppets. Adele then took her timeless talent to the stage with dazzling performances at the BBC and Radio City Music Hall, later announcing a massive 2016 European tour. And after three quiet years, she opened up: first in a letter to fans, then in a string of interviews where she shared her own regrets and newfound wisdom, addressed the emotional weight of motherhood, and faced the fears and triumphs of making her return. This year, Adele raked in the cash, yes, but she also dominated our emotional lives, stealing back hearts and making history in the process. Here’s how:
October 18th: “Hello” Teased During X Factor Commercial Break
In the three years since her final pre-25 single, the Oscar-winning “Skyfall,” Adele cancelled a U.S. tour due to vocal-cord problems, stayed off social media (for fear of “drunk tweeting”), gave no interviews and largely stayed home to raise her son. But on October 18th, 2015, Adele broke her silence with three words that reshaped the year in pop. “Hello, it’s me” appeared in white letters on an all-black screen while the singer’s unmistakable voice greeted television viewers for 30 thrilling seconds. The surprise teaser aired during a commercial break on the U.K.’s X Factor, igniting a palpable buzz. Adele was back.
October 21st: Adele Announces 25 in Emotional Open Letter
After holding her cards close in the four years since 21, Adele opened up. In an open letter posted on Twitter and Facebook, she confessed, “I feel like I’ve spent my whole life so far wishing it away. Always wishing I was older, wishing I was somewhere else, wishing I could remember and wishing I could forget too.” The singer’s honest message flooded the Internet within seconds — her sentiment was painfully relatable, while her voice felt like fresh air. “My last record was a break-up record and if I had to label this one, I would call it a make-up record,” she wrote. “I’m making up with myself.” She went on to announce the album’s title, 25 — the year she came to a “turning point,” the year she had her son and the year she started the new record. “25 is about getting to know who I’ve become without realizing,” Adele concluded, “And I’m sorry it took so long, but you know, life happened.” She signed with love, and it felt real.
October 23rd: “Hello” Drops, Breaks First-Week Sales Record
The 2015 Adele takeover officially began October 23rd with the release of 25‘s lead single, “Hello.” Despite the enormous pressure surrounding the release, Adele delivered. Opening with the understated and now-iconic introduction, the impeccable ballad builds to a full unleashing of the vocal power the world so dearly missed. The Xavier Dolan–directed video, featuring a grainy nostalgic backdrop and the now-notorious flip phone, attracted a record breaking 27.7 million views in its first 24 hours, reaching 50 million after just 48 hours. The song, which took a full six months to write, became the first single in history to earn $1 million in first-week sales. “This song was a massive breakthrough to me with my writing, because I’ve been pretty slow up until this point,” Adele said of “Hello” in an interview with SiriusXM the day of the song’s release. “After this, it all poured out of me.”
October 25th: “Hello” Sparks Outpouring of Remixes, Covers
Dave J Hogan/Getty, Matt Kent/WireImage/Getty, Christopher Polk/Getty
Within days of its release, “Hello” spawned a flood of remixes and covers. A diverse group paid homage to the instant smash, including Lionel Richie, Rick Ross and even 89-year-old environmentalist David Attenborough. After a Richie-Adele mash-up went viral, Richie played along, posting a photo collage of the two singers on Instagram with the caption, “HELLO @adele, is it me you’re looking for?” Rick Ross offered something from his wheelhouse, releasing a version of the song on October 28th as part of his Renzel Remix series. (“This may be one of the biggest records in the history of our time,” the MC told RS US.) The elder Attenborough had a little something to add too when he narrated the “Hello” video in his thick, iconic British accent on BBC Radio 1. The beloved naturalist and broadcaster picked fun at his fellow Brit (respectfully, of course): “She, like all pop stars, needs to hunt to survive. But there’s a problem: The signal is poor and she hasn’t upgraded her handset since 1999. Hashtag flip phone.”
November 19th: Adele Announces She Will Hold Streaming of 25
On November 19th, less than 24 hours before the release of 25, the New York Times reported that the album would not be made available to the major digital music services for streaming. The reason was left unclear, but sources close to Adele said that she was personally involved in the decision.
With pre-sale album orders and “Hello” single sales pouring in, Billboard estimated the movement of 3.6 million physical copies in the first week (a considerable jump from their previous November 5th estimate of 1.3 to 1.5 million). The last album to rival those numbers was ‘NSync’s No Strings Attached when it sold 2.42 million copies in its first week in early 2000.
November 20th: Adele Officially Becomes a Meme
Despite her admitted wariness of fame, Adele in no way escaped the 2015 meme pool — in fact, she controlled it. Starting with her November 20th BBC special, Adele demonstrated her ability to laugh (well, cackle) at herself when she dressed as “Jenny,” an Adele look-alike with a “bum chin.” Adele pranked impersonators, playing along as “Jenny the nanny” until her inimitable vocal revealed her true identity. Raising the spoof bar still higher, Ellen DeGeneres and the Muppets’ own Miss Piggy followed suit, offering their own priceless parodies. Adele then made the rounds on late-night television where she played a stripped-down rendition of “Hello” with Jimmy Fallon and the Roots, salvaged Harrison Ford and Chewbacca’s broken relationship on Jimmy Kimmel and single-handedly saved Thanksgiving on Saturday Night Live.
November 23rd: Adele Calls for Drake Remix
Get Adele a bit tipsy, and she might get caught dancing on a tabletop to Drizzy. “I had a drink like three weeks ago [with] my best friends — in fact, it was to celebrate ‘Hello,'” Adele confessed to Canada’s etalk. “And I was off my face because I don’t really drink anymore, and they’ve got video of me dancing to [‘Hotline Bling’] on a coffee table.” Adele then declared her love for the rapper and admitted to ordering the same red coat from the “Hotline Bling” video. “I really want us to do an official remix,” Adele then said when addressing the common comparison made between “Hello” and his viral smash. Drizzy seemed to be a fan of the idea too, later responding, “I’d do anything with Adele. I’d literally go to Adele’s house right now and do laundry for her.”
November 26th: Adele Announces European Tour
After much of her 2012 tour was cancelled due to a vocal hemorrhage, Adele was hesitant to commit to hitting the road. “If my throat goes, then I’ll never be able to do a tour again,” she said in her Rolling Stone cover story. “I’ll be able to get my throat fixed again and do studio work, but do I want to do something and then fail at it and be too scared to ever try it again?” Taking on the risk, Adele announced that she would in fact be touring in 2016. “I have been bluffing this whole time, and I’m so relieved to finally tell you that I am of course coming on tour, and I can’t wait to see all of you there,” Adele said in a quirky video she released via Facebook. The singer then used a Harry Potter–esque wand with a light-up tip to point out on a map the 34 cities she’d be visiting on her European tour. The trip will begin February 29th in Belfast, Ireland, and will wrap up in mid-June in Belgium.
November 29th: Adele Smashes Sales Records
Photograph by Theo Wenner for Rolling Stone
By any logical prediction, 2015 was not the year to break album-sales records. Offering further proof that she is the exception to every current music-industry rule, Adele nearly broke them all. In its first week alone, 25 sold 200,000 copies, including 60,000 physical units to see 25 make its debut at Number One on the ARIA album chart.
Over in the U.S. 25 sold 3.38 million copies in it’s first week, yielding the single largest sales week ever recorded in U.S. history (Nielson Soundscan began tracking sales in 1991). The album sold 22,000 vinyl records, 1.71 million CDs and 1.64 million downloads at a rate of 335 copies per minute. Meaning of course, 25 also debuted at Number One on the Billboard 200 album chart, where it has held its top slot on the chart since its release. The album also reigned in the U.K., debuting at Number One on the charts and selling more than 800,000 copies in its first week. It went on to set the new record for the fastest million-selling album in U.K. history when it went platinum in just 10 days.
December 4th: Adele Talks New Music, Motherhood in Rolling Stone Cover Story
Photograph by Theo Wenner for Rolling Stone
Adele graced Rolling Stone‘s cover on December 4th, 2 weeks after 25‘s release. Caught in a stunning and rare eyeliner-less moment, Adele met her viewer with a steadfast gaze. In our forthcoming feature piece, she peeled back her many layers, displaying her sassy, f-bomb-dropping diva persona, her modest “just a girl from London” side, and her most recent and self-proclaimed “hippie,” “earth mother” facet.
She revealed the struggles and joys of success, of motherhood and of making new music. “I felt like I’d lost control of my life at one point,” she said when discussing 21‘s overwhelming success, “The bigger that your career gets, the smaller your life gets.” When addressing motherhood, the singer said that at first, her pregnancy halted her plans. But once Adele gave birth to son Angelo, she said it felt like perfect timing. “I’ve gotten my confidence to come and do me again,” Adele said, “Because I’m very proud of what I achieved. And I wasn’t, before I had Angelo. I didn’t understand, actually, what I had achieved and how far I had come.”
When it came to making 25, perfection didn’t happen overnight. Rick Rubin’s response to the first round of demos was that he didn’t believe her. The criticism forced Adele to dig deeper, inspiring profoundly personal songs like “Remedy,” co-written with Ryan Tedder. “I wrote it about my child,” she said. “But I sang it for everyone that I really love. When I wrote it, I got my confidence back in my writing ’cause I believed in myself.”
December 14th: Radio City Special Fuels Tour Excitement
On the day she announced her massive 56-date U.S. tour, fans reveled in an hour-long preview of the show that Adele will soon take on the road. The NBC concert special Adele Live in New York aired on December 14th after being filmed at Radio City Music Hall the prior month. The special gave fans a rare glimpse into Adele’s world as clips of her vocal warm-up and pre-show makeup prep flashed onscreen before she took the stage. Appearing in a stunning sequined gown and beehived hair, Adele opened with “Hello” (of course), before owning up to her showtime jitters. “I’m so nervous,” Adele joked. “I was trying to find the nearest exit before I came down.” Showing no signs of said stage fright, she went on to perform 25 cuts “When We Were Young,” “All I Ask” and “Million Years Ago”; 21‘s”Rolling in the Deep” and “Someone Like You”; and her James Bond theme song, “Skyfall,” among others. Jimmy Fallon, when introducing the star, said it best, “We’re here tonight to see a once-in-a-generation artist. Ladies and gentleman, say ‘Hello’ to Adele!” Following the announcement of extensive U.S. and U.K. dates, it is expected that further dates, including Australian shows, will be added to the tour.
Whatever Adele does next, expect the ovation to continue well into 2016.