It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that Adele has built her career off of heartbreak. Sure — her voice is stellar and her personality downright effervescent, but it was her songwriting — about love lost, love found, and then love lost again — that captured the ears and breaking hearts of the world from the first wavering lines of “
Someone Like You.”
Over three studio albums,
the British megastar has sung her share of breakup anthems, acutely diagnosing the subtle shades of difference between each of those relationships. She’s become a master at navigating those turbulent emotional waters with her songs going beyond simple “I miss us” messages, and into the nitty-gritty micro-emotions that overwhelm us at every stage of the grief cycle. There’s regret, anger, delusion, and treacherous moments of self-betrayal as she tries to hold on to a former flame. Sadness abounds, on many levels.
Below, we found 14 of the most heartbreaking lyrics from all of her albums, and ranked them from sad to crushingly devastating. Expect revisions to this list following the release of her highly-anticipated
fourth studio album . 30, out November 19 14. “When We Were Young,” 25 “Let me photograph you in this light/ In case it is the last time/ That we might be exactly like we were before we realized/ We were sad of getting old, it made us restless/ It was just like a movie, it was just like a song”
Alongside themes of heartbreak, Adele also likes to ponder the slow and crushing forward trudge of time. “When We Were Young” is her upbeat exploration of that phenomenon, but there’s also a thin layer of wistfulness in its lyrics that’s begging to be cracked open.
13. “Rolling In The Deep,” 21 “We could’ve had it all/ Rolling in the deep/ You had my heart inside your hand/ But you played it to the beat”
On this thunderous hit from
21, Adele says so long to a previous relationship with little regrets. It’s sad, of course, but Adele is more angry than heartbroken as she reminds him of everything he could’ve had. Oh well, and good riddance! 12. “Set Fire to the Rain,” 21 “But there's a side to you that I never knew, never knew/ All the things you'd say they were never true, never true/ And the games you'd play you would always win, always win”
This track is another R.I.P. to a past flame, but unlike “Rolling In The Deep,” Adele does seem more hung up here as she admits a few lines later: “Even now, when we're already over/ I can't help myself from lookin' for you.”
“I'm tired of trying/ Your teasing ain't enough/ Fed up of biding your time when I don't get nothing back/ And for what, and for what, and for what”
“Tired” is sonically upbeat, but there’s a sneaky and depressing bitterness in that last lyric — “And for what, and for what, and for what.” What’s sadder than knowing you’ve wasted precious time that you’ll never get back — and on a man at that?
“Who wants to be riding high when you'll just crumble back on down/ You give up everything you are and even then you don't get far/ They make believe that everything is exactly what it seems/ But at least when you're at your worst, you know how to feel things”
Adele is disillusioned with love! Cynicism is always a sad thing to hear from such a strong lover like Adele, but this song lacks a specific heartbreak narrative which puts these lyrics further at the top.
“Did you find the note that I wrote?/ I hid it in the seam of your coat/ It was hard to write with a lump in my throat/ Do you even know that I can't let go?”
Adele is always trying to deliver messages to unresponsive exes.
“Hello from the outside/ At least, I can say that I've tried/ To tell you I'm sorry for breaking your heart/ But it don't matter, it clearly doesn't tear you apart anymore”
Case in point number 2.
“But, despite the truth that I know/ I find it hard to let go and give up on you/ Seems I love the things you do/ Like the meaner you treat me, more eager I am/ To persist with this heartbreak of runnin' around/ And I will do until I'm findin' myself with you”
On “Best For Last,” Adele breaches delusional territory as she recognizes, pretty depressingly, that “the meaner you treat me, more eager I am.” At least she’s self-aware, though that might make the sentiment worse.
6. “Love in the Dark,” 25 “Please don't fall apart, I can't face your breaking heart/ I'm trying to be brave, stop asking me to stay”
The simplicity and directness of Adele’s plea magnifies the tragedy of this breakup ten fold — but Adele’s the one doing the leaving so it’s not
that sad yet. “But go on and take it/ Take it all with you/ Don't look back at this crumbling fool/ Just take it all with my love/ Take it all with my love”
Now Adele’s the one being left, and yeah, she’s down bad. Not only does she pitifully call herself a “crumbling fool,” she also tells him to “take it all with you” in one desperate, last ditch attempt to find connection.
“I'll be waiting for you when you're ready to love me again/ I'll put my hands up/ I'll be somebody different, I'll be better to you”
One may think “I’ll Be Waiting” is more of a love song, but hear us out: there’s actually something... very toxic about pledging to entirely change yourself for one person? That momentary lack of judgement makes these lyrics pretty chilling, if you ask us.
“If this is my last night with you, hold me like I'm more than just a friend/ Give me a memory I can use/ Take me by the hand while we do/ What lovers do/ It matters how this ends 'cause what if I never love again?”
Besides the demoralizing fact that Adele is asking for one last night with an ex, the immense sadness of these lines mostly hinges on the last part: “‘Cause what if I never love again?” It’s an extremely vulnerable question that cracks holes into Adele’s unbreakable facade.
2. “Million Years Ago,” 25 “I feel like my life is flashing by and all I can do is watch and cry/ I miss the air, I miss my friends/ I miss my mother, I miss it when/ Life was a party to be thrown/ But that was a million years ago”
And here we are at the crushing counterpart of lyric number 14. The wistfulness of growing older has transformed into a vibrant anxiety. Plus, nothing is sadder than remarking: “I miss my mother.”
1. “Someone Like You,” 21 “Never mind, I'll find someone like you/ I wish nothing but the best for you, too/ Don't forget me, I beg, I remember you said/ Sometimes it lasts in love, but sometimes it hurts instead”
What can we say — these are the lyrics that made Adele famous. They’re devastating in her painful downplaying of her own feelings, and a modern proverb was born out of those last lines: Sometimes it lasts in love, but sometimes it hurts instead.