Her origin story wasn’t out of the ordinary: Back in 2006, a then-teenaged Adele Adkins—a recent graduate of England’s prestigious BRIT School—asked a friend to upload a few DIY tracks to the social media networking site Myspace. The record industry soon came calling, with Adele eventually joining the roster of the legendary independent label XL Recordings, home to such era-defining artists as The White Stripes and M.I.A. Other young artists would have toppled under the pressure of being thrust into the big leagues so quickly. But Adele’s 2008 debut album, 19, proved she was a one-of-a-kind talent. Released at a time when British female solo artists were topping the charts—think the quirky indie of Kate Nash and Lily Allen—19 offered something different. Adele produced classic songwriting that appealed to as broad a market as you can imagine, her music combining Hollywood-era glamour with the relatable narrative of your typical London girl. In her vocals, Adele—born in Tottenham, and raised in South London’s Brixton, then West Norwood—stretched her vowels to paint her tales of everyday heartbreak. She was—and still is—bold and brassy, with a knack for pushing your emotions to the max, usually by the end of any given song’s first line. Lyrically, 19 is about the strangeness of late-teenage life—a time when you’re facing the difficulties of young adulthood, yet are far too inexperienced to actually be an adult. The acoustic-driven opening track, “Daydreamer,” encapsulates that childlike wonder in its melody, while the lyrics speak to Adele’s already world-weary attitude. Elsewhere on this 12-track collection, Adele swings between exquisite suffering (“Make You Feel My Love”), exasperation (“Tired”), and wry pragmatism (“Right As Rain”). But if any 19 track captures the spirit of this album, it’s the bombastic and wistful hit “Chasing Pavements,” which was written after Adele discovered her boyfriend’s infidelity and subsequently confronted him at the pub. Adele writes with the intention of her songs being timeless—and indeed, the tracks on 19 would remain radio staples for years to come. By the time she released 19’s fourth and final single—the devastating quintessential ballad “Make You Feel My Love”—the five-letter moniker “Adele” had become a household name. And one of this generation’s defining talents had arrived in earnest.

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