19, 21, 25, 30. All formative ages, all titles of Adele albums. Now at 33, the artist has made a habit of naming her albums after the age she was while writing them, each one providing a sonic time capsule that charts the learning, growing and, yes, crying that shaped her into the woman she is today. From 19’s final track Hometown Glory to Easy On Me, the lead single for her latest album 30 (out tomorrow), we’ve watched, and listened, to Adele’s coming of age in real time.
But of course, Adele is not the only 33-year-old in the world. And she’s definitely not the only person that uses her music to process adulthood’s growing pains. There are Adele fans and then there are those who have literally grown up with her, people who were the same age as Adele when she wrote each of the albums and have used them to soundtrack their lives.
“I remember the first time I heard her I was just like, this voice is really phenomenal,” says hospital manager Samantha Morell, who is (surprise!) 33. “I thought she was much older than she was based on the sound of her voice, so when I found out we were the same age – at the time, 20 – to hear that voice come out of a 20-year-old is really like… wow.”
Since, Adele’s music has been in constant rotation on Morell’s playlist, a source of solace during hard times and a source of joy when belting out Someone Like You in the car with her friends. “I definitely have identified with different songs on each album,” she says. “Depending on my mood, there are certain songs I’ll gravitate to, but there hasn’t been any that I’ve thought: ‘I don’t really connect with this.’ I feel like every single one is different in its own way.”
Working in digital communications for non-profit charity Immigrants Rising, Tony Choi, again 33, was introduced to Adele later in his 20s, but echoes a similar sentiment. “The first song I heard was Rolling in the Deep,” he says. “When that song came out, it hit all the right nerves. I had just ended my college relationship and I was kind of mourning the loss of it. The combo of Rolling in the Deep, Someone Like You and Set Fire to the Rain [on 21], it was like, yes, I’m definitely going through it, but at least I have Adele to go through it with.”
Heartache is a common point of connection for the Adele fans who have navigated adult life with her. At 30, office administrator Liz Phelps isn’t exactly the same age as the artist, but each album release has conveniently aligned with her age at the time. “I first heard 19 when I was around the same age. At that time, I was living with my best friend from high school and I had a crush on her,” she says. “All that longing and pining [on the album] made me feel seen and it felt so relatable. [When I hear that song now] it throws me right back to that time, so I don’t listen to it terribly often.”
The beauty of the connection these fans have with Adele’s music is that each album evokes memories of those periods of time, for better or worse, and offers a chance for reflection when revisited. “When I listen to 19, I feel young again, 21 is that growth album – I’m talking like they’re mine,” Morell laughs. “But it’s true, especially being so close in age to her. I’m like: ‘Oh yeah, Adele, I remember when we were 25, we were going through it!”
And when her fans embark on a trip down memory lane with Adele, it can be hard to stop. “If I listen to one of my favourite songs All I Ask, I then have to listen to the whole of 25,” says Phelps. “Then I have to listen to 21, which then makes me think of 19. I just have to listen to the whole discography. It’s like a singular train of thought, really.” Phelps is such a devoted Adele fan that she even missed a friend’s wedding to see her 25 tour. “She was so annoyed with me, but in my defence, I bought the tickets before she set the wedding date!”
For Choi, it’s the unfiltered vulnerability in Adele’s lyrics that keeps him revisiting the same songs over and over again. “After my breakup, I remember trying to find someone who was exactly like my ex. ‘Never mind, I’ll find someone like you,’ I get that,” he says. “There’s such raw pain there. I’m not a British woman, but it’s something that resonates across cultures.”
And as Choi notes, the deep personal connection that fans his age have with Adele is something that’s unique to her music. “It’s interesting because there are other artists like Rihanna and Taylor Swift who are all the same age and each of them kind of represent different aspects of where my life is,” he says. “She’s not a Scorpio, but Rihanna has that Scorpio energy, that provocativeness and fierceness. When I look at Taylor Swift, it’s like the idealised version of where I want my life to be, it’s very aspirational. With Adele, it’s like, wow, this is someone who sings for our generation.”
Phelps agrees. “I’ve grown up with Taylor Swift too. Her music is great and really relatable, but it’s different with Adele,” she says. “It’s not that it’s more meaningful or anything like that, but there’s a little bit of a deeper connection only because the albums are the exact age [that I am at the time].”
What are these fans hoping to hear on Adele’s latest offering? “I want to hear what it’s like to come to terms with the fact that you’re no longer considered ‘young’,” says Choi. “She did that well on 25’s When We Were Young, but I think it’s something that she could definitely expand upon.”
Although Choi, Morell and Phelps are currently experiencing different challenges to Adele (no divorces, babe), they all hope that the themes explored on 30 will illustrate the growth of your late twenties. “For me, my journey to 30 was really becoming myself and hitting my stride in my career, my life and my personal relationships,” says Morell. “I was actually kind of the opposite of Adele. She was going through a divorce and I was entering the most stable relationship of my life. But I can identify with the emotions that come with a stable relationship or with a rocky one. You have to be very vulnerable in either situation.”
And after looking at the album’s tracklist, there’s one song that everyone’s particularly excited about: I Drink Wine. “Every single one of my friends, we immediately knew we were going to like that song,” says Phelps, laughing. “After hearing it on [her Oprah special], it was different than expected, but it is about that growth.”
Morell concurs. “In my 30s, I’m just like, give me a bottle of wine. I don’t need liquor. I don’t need beer. I don’t need any of that, if I can get a bottle of wine,” she jokes. “I can’t wait to hear it. It’s like six minutes long or something too, which is great. Can I drink a whole bottle of wine while I listen to it? We’ll see.
“When I was reading articles [about the album], there was some speculation that she wouldn’t name it after her current age this time around and I was devastated,” Morell continues. “If she does this, hopefully, throughout our lives, I can be like 70 and say, ‘Well, 30 was really the album I resonated with the most.’”
We’ll check in 40 years from now.
HAIR Lucas Wilson at Home Agency MAKE-UP Yadim at Art Partner MANICURIST Kimmie Kyees at The Wallgroup TALENT’S STYLIST Jamie Mizrahi SET DESIGNER Nick Des Jardins at Streeters TAILOR Hasmik Kourinian PHOTOGRAPHER’S STUDIO ASSISTANT Luca Trevisani PHOTOGRAPHER’S ASSISTANTS Steve Yang and Jolson Diaz DIGITAL TECH Alex Woods STYLIST’S ASSISTANTS Marcus Cuffie, Lennon Gabriel, Niki Ravari and Jenny Wyman HAIR ASSISTANT Tania Becker MAKE-UP ASSISTANT Joseph Paul TALENT’S STYLIST’S ASSISTANT Analiese Kern SET DESIGN ASSISTANT Gautam Sahi PRODUCERS Helena Martel Seward and Chrissy Hampton PRODUCTION ASSISTANTS Griffith Snyder and Christian James