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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.
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.
I looked at the engineer then at her and said, 'Adele I don't know what to tell you but I have never had anyone do that in ten years'." After working with Smith, Tedder, and Epworth, Adele travelled to the United States for the remainder of the album's production.
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.
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.
A thumping drum beat was set to mimic her racing heartbeat.
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.
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.