"Never mind, I'll find someone like you," I wailed, as Adele wailed, as we wailed together, aged 22 and 23 respectively, to her album, 21. Did I mean it? Did she? Was I really committing myself to a dignified farewell with my ex, wishing "nothing but the best" for him? Was Adele?
That's the beauty of heartbreak. It's never straightforward; it is never simply one thing. The best heartbreak anthems know this. It's why Taylor Swift's most personal songs made her famous, why Olivia Rodrigo's debut album about a failed teen relationship went interstellar this year, why Adele had me wailing in tandem. They cut deep with the bitter sting of disappointment; with pride, foolishness and knotty contradictions - of wanting to be the sort of person who bestows future happiness upon their past loves, while also fully being the person who turns up "out of the blue, uninvited" to say, "for me, it isn't over".
There's a reason Adele is the queen of heartbreak anthems, and why her latest album, which she has openly said is about her divorce, has been so breathlessly awaited. She gets it. She understands that what broken-hearted people need is the voice of experience. We want mess, hope, desperation and killer vocals that feel aspirational in the shower.
Adele's heartbreak, you see, tracks my own. When 21 came out, I was 22 and I had just ended a relationship with the first man who ever truly owned my heart enough to smash it into itsy bitsy pieces. I was only moderately aware of Adele before I saw that infamous Brits performance of Someone Like You in 2011. I remember watching it in my university bedroom, and hearing James Corden say, "If you've ever had a broken heart, you're about to remember it now." I sobbed through it all and immediately bought her album. Every word of it felt as though it was written about me, and him. It was on repeat for far longer than was probably healthy. But when is heartbreak ever healthy?
I happily put the album away when I got a bit of perspective and decided I didn't need to wallow quite so much in her soulful retelling of my disastrous relationship. But then, of course, I decided I hadn't quite tortured myself enough and, aged 24, I got back with the same ex-boyfriend. When we inevitably broke up again, it was like Adele knew... She released '25', just in time. I dutifully wrecked my soul on Million Years Ago and nearly strained a vocal cord cry-belting All I Ask. It was just what I needed.
What Adele gets so right about heartbreak anthems is the searing vulnerability she puts into them. Sure, there are tons of female empowerment tracks (the Little Mixes, TLCs, Destiny's Childs of the world) that are equally effective at helping us through romantic pain, but these are the same as nights out with your girlfriends. They are bold and fast and fun and lift you up, but they don't burn as long as they need to. The pain will still be there in the quiet that comes when you crawl back into bed alone at the end of the night. These small, sad moments are the fodder of Adele songs, where the desire to be powerful and 'over' him is so realistically paired with a feverish honesty about begging to not be forgotten.
Even though my heartbreak (volumes 1 and 2) is now neatly packed away and I am currently in a very happy, long-term relationship, I still listen to these songs. I am surely not the only one who does. Perhaps that it is because we never want to forget we felt that way once, and that we survived. It is affirming, in an odd way, to know we loved so fiercely, however silly or regretfully we may now view that. Just as Adele signposted her albums with her age, for us too, they serve as diary entries we can look back at and cringe, smile, and cry about what it was like back then.
For that is the universal appeal of a heartbreak anthem, it both ties us to a specific memory and liberates us from the pain we once thought we would never escape. And, of course, for those living through heartbreak right now, or the many who may just have gone through divorce, Adele is providing - once again - a timely, resonant salve.
As for me, I now sing Someone Like You and know that I actually did meet someone like him, and that I really do now wish him nothing but the best. I still can't quite hit that high note in the shower, but I'm working on it.
And isn't that sort of the point?
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