When Adele first broke into the music scene seven years ago, her powerful voice, nostalgic charm and emotional lyrics captivated listeners around the world.
Now, after a three-year, much-publicized hiatus, she's released a new album — and audiences are welcoming her back with open arms.
Just days after its release, "25" broke the all-time record for the most albums sold in one week, and the lead single, Hello, debuted at number one in the US and UK. According to Nielsen, "25" sold about 3.4 million copies last week — shattering records that have stood for years in the face of the rise of singles and other transformations of the music industry.
But Adele admits the journey to get the album made was "the hardest process I've ever had," as she faced recurring vocal issues that kept her out of the studio, mounting pressure and finding a balance between work and being a new mother.
"I did work really hard — it kept getting interrupted with my vocal issues," she said in an interview with q host Shadrach Kabango. "I didn't want to let anyone down."
She also had trouble finding her lyrical voice, and said she struggled with focusing and coming up with song ideas. She said while making her previous album, 21, she would come into the studio with all her lyrics, but this time she was coming in with nothing.
"I wanted to go in with lyrics, but I didn't have time at home," she said. "I don't work at home at all. I don't even play guitar at home, because I was frightened I'd wake the baby up."
Part of the reason she didn't have time? A new baby. In October 2012, Adele gave birth to a son, Angelo James, with longtime boyfriend, British entrepreneur Simon Konecki.
"I was lost in my own wilderness, you know, with like milk in my hair and stuff like that, tripping over my breasts," she said.
She said it was a challenge challenge to find a balance between working on her much-anticipated album and being a mom.
"I feel like the process of writing my record was such a selfish act to do, being a parent. ... So I felt terrible. No more terrible than any other mom does, or other parent," she said, adding that the remorse came partly from knowing that she didn't have to go to work to provide for her family.
"The guilt of having a bad studio session and spending like eight hours away — still regret it."
One of the breakthrough moments she had while making "25" was working with Tobias Jesso Jr., a rising singer-songwriter from Vancouver. They met in Los Angeles and collaborated on the track "When We Were Young."
"Tobias was my first session when I got to L.A. and I hadn't travelled for years," Adele said. "We just chatted absolute rubbish for like five hours, and then we got into the room on the piano and stuff and everything we spoke about ended up being in the song. It was just a moment."
Jesso Jr. wrote about the experience on his Facebook page saying, "I learned a lot from her, most of all just how much she truly deserves to be exactly where she is, and why all of her songs mean so much to the people who hear them."
Adele has called Jesso Jr. her new secret weapon. "He will be writing songs with me for the rest of my career. I absolutely love him, he's wonderful."
Despite the media frenzy over her return to the stage, Adele said she feels "a lot more grounded" this time.
"I never got carried away with myself, but being a mom, I have a very real life going on with my kid," she said.
She attributes her ability to keep her feet on the ground to having a small group of loyal friends. She singled out her best friend, Laura, whom she's known since she was 14.
At the end of her most recent Saturday Night Live performance, when she mouthed "I love you," she said she was talking to Laura, who was sitting in the audience.
"She's the realest of all of us — oh my God, literally the realest human on the planet," said Adele. "She's just loved me since before everyone else."
Adele said her honesty and candidness are part of what she offers to her fans.
"I feel like when I wasn't giving very much of myself at all, that's when I was writing the songs that were rubbish, so I think it's just the sacrifice you have to make," she said. "My worst fear is not being believed, that's my worst fear. So if that means I've got to give away myself then that's fine."
Adele said despite her reputation for writing sad, emotional lyrics, she hoped she also brings joy.
"I think sadness does connect with people, but I hope I don't only bring sadness. I'd like to bring joy to people as well, but sometimes you find joy in sadness," she says. "And you know, I'm not a devastated person. I get my devastation out when I'm writing my songs, and if that brings any comfort to anyone then that's great."