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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.
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.
However, studio sessions ended prematurely due to a lack of inspiration.
She resumed production immediately after the breakdown of her relationship, channelling her heartbreak and depression into her songs.
Adele recorded the demo with Jim Abbiss the following day.
Adele and Tedder arranged a second meeting and reconvened at Serenity West Studios in Los Angeles weeks later to write and record "Rumour Has It." In an interview, Tedder recalled his astonishment at the singer's musicality and vocal prowess after she completed the main vocals to the song in 10 minutes: "She sang it once top to bottom, pitch perfect, she didn't miss a note.
British producer Fraser T Smith recalled following a similar trajectory when he teamed up with Adele to compose the subsequent third single "Set Fire to the Rain" at his My Audiotonic Studios in London.
However, studio sessions were generally unproductive and, after two weeks, yielded only one song recorded to the singer's satisfaction—the Jim Abbiss-produced "Take It All," a lovelorn piano ballad not unlike the songs on 19.
Adele had written "Take It All" during a difficult moment in her relationship.
With the demos to two songs recorded, Adele approached American musician and One Republic frontman Ryan Tedder, who was in London at the time for a radio show.
Tedder had expressed interest in collaborating with the singer after they met at the 2009 Grammy Awards ceremony in February.
21 shares the folk and Motown soul influences of her 2008 debut album 19, but was further inspired by the American country and Southern blues music to which she had been exposed during her 2008–09 North American tour An Evening with Adele.