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Adele collaborated with various songwriters and producers, including Columbia Records co-president Rick Rubin, Paul Epworth, Ryan Tedder, Jim Abbiss, and Dan Wilson.
Praised by critics for its understated production, vintage aesthetic, and Adele's vocal performance, 21 defied the modest commercial expectations of her indie record label XL Recordings.
Five singles were released to promote the album, with "Rolling in the Deep," "Someone like You" and "Set Fire to the Rain" becoming international number-one songs, while "Rumour Has It" charted in the top 20 across Europe and North America.
Globally, 21 was the biggest selling musical release for both 20, and helped revitalise lagging sales of the UK and US music industry.
The revenge song "Rolling in the Deep" was conceived only hours after Adele's separation from her ex-lover.
A "dark, bluesy, gospel, disco tune" in the singer's own words, it was written in response to disparaging comments he made towards her during an argument.
At the suggestion of Columbia Records group president Ashley Newton, she met with songwriter Greg Wells at his studio in Culver City, Los Angeles, where they co-wrote the gospel-tinged ballad "One and Only." In 2008, Adele's appearance on the NBC sketch comedy show Saturday Night Live caught the attention of producer Rick Rubin.
Although unaware of Adele's personal predicament, he composed the opening piano sequence and first few lines to what became the lovelorn ballad "Turning Tables": "Close enough to start a war/All that I have is on the floor." Coincidentally, it perfectly captured the experience of the singer, who arrived at the studio moments after another altercation with her former lover.
Angry and unfocused, she denounced her ex-lover's tendency to "turn the tables" on her during their arguments, an expression that Tedder decided to reference in the song's lyrics.
The album topped the charts in more than 30 countries and became the world's best-selling album of the year for 20.
In the United Kingdom, it is the best-selling album of the 21st century and fourth best-selling album of all time, while its 23-week tenure atop the UK Albums Chart is the longest by a female solo artist.
In the United States, the album held the top position for 24 weeks, longer than any other album since 1985 and the longest by a female solo artist in Billboard 200 history.