The Real Meaning Behind Adele's Song Hello

Nostalgia can hit you at different stages in your life. When you stumble on a picture of a fading memory or sift through old messages from childhood friends, you suddenly find yourself retreating into your past. You reflect on the person you used to be and marvel at how much has changed since then, while trying to pinpoint that all-compassing feeling of disconnect between who you were then and who you are now, however fleeting it may be. When you stop to take stock of your past and how far you've come, are you plagued by regrets or content with how your decisions have shaped you? 

This question is buried deep in the rousing words, melodies, and themes featured on Adele's masterpiece "Hello." The 2015 release of Adele's highly-celebrated, sonically-cohesive third studio album, 25, ushered in a new era for pop and saw the singer-songwriter laying her vulnerabilities and fears about love, parenthood, and growing up all on the table, according to NPR.

Unsurprisingly, her lead single "Hello" racked up a series of accolades, including three Grammy awards (via the Recording Academy), breaking the record for the most U.S. downloads in a week with 1.11 million downloads, and dominating the No. 1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 for 10 consecutive weeks, per Billboard. With purposeful lyrics that are cognizant of the ups and downs that come with change and growth, there's a lot to unpack in "Hello."

In Hello, Adele struggles to reconnect with herself and the world around her

At first look, Adele's "Hello" checks off all of the boxes of a break-up song. It has a haunting melody, deep lyrics, and an addictive and painfully relatable chorus. But after penetrating through the song's metaphorical walls, it painstakingly catalogues the transformative journey that many of us go through. 

Moving lyrics like "Hello, it's me / I was wondering if after all these years you'd like to meet" and "They say that time's supposed to heal ya / But I ain't done much healing" (via Genius) had fans speculating that she was revisiting old wounds in her past relationship with ex Alex Sturrock, whom she's written songs about before. The singer and photographer dated for a year, and Sturrock was the inspiration behind her critically acclaimed album 21, per Capital FM.

However, the singer-songwriter countered those rumors and offered another perspective on the hit single. In an interview with the Today show, Adele opened up about how she internalized her song's heart-rending but hopeful lyrics. "'Hello' is just about reconnecting with everyone else and myself. From the other side, I couldn't get over my guilt of leaving my kid to go and write a record and stuff like that. So getting over that — getting on the other side of that. It was just, you know; it's, in general, just hello to everyone," she explained.

Hello also explores themes of self-acceptance and growth

In an October 2015 tweet, Adele reflected on past regrets and committed to actively making changes in her life, writing, "My last record was a break-up record and if I had to label this one I would call it a make-up record. I'm making up with myself. Making up for lost time. Making up for everything I ever did and never did."

Equipped with this context, the second half of the first verse flirts with the idea of self-realization and slowly coming to terms with your past decisions and actions: "I'm in California dreaming about who we used to be / When we were younger and free / I've forgotten how it felt before the world fell at our feet (via Genius). Her "dreaming" about a time she was "younger and free" showcases her acknowledgement that she's a different person now than she was back then.

Remnants of this self-awareness are sprinkled into the first pre-chorus, which contains the single line, "There's such a difference between us / And a million miles." In the chorus, she admits to calling someone a "thousand times" with no response, which is consistent with this idea of figuring out who you are, and understanding where you came from and where you're going.

Eventually, a theme of self-acceptance emerges as the penultimate chorus drops and the tone shifts from anxious and questioning to understanding with the emphasis and repetition of the words "I've tried."

The haunting and reflective song almost turned out completely different

The writing process for "Hello" was a labor of love. In an interview with American Songwriter, Adele revealed that the intro of the compelling power ballad that fans know and love today originally had a darker feel. "'Hello' actually started with the lyric, 'Hello misery.' So you can imagine the mood I was in!" she said, laughing. "I was [effing] miserable." Her co-writer Greg Kurstin suggested taking another route (aka not hitting us with the feels right off the bat), and thus the catchy and poignant first line "Hello, it's me" was born.

Kurstin added that they experimented with the piano chords and different ideas for the song until they came up with its powerful verses. "I was trying to find a balance, and with the verse production being what it was, the chorus ended up quite uplifting," he said (via American Songwriter). "Adele sang the chorus out while we wrote it, as it is on the record. It was originally in F# minor but we took it down to F minor. I like the darker sound that it became after doing that."

Adele also shared that her grandfather's death during her childhood was a major influence on the song, which adds another layer of interpretation to the opening chorus line, "Hello from the other side" (via American Songwriter). 

Adele intentionally leaves "Hello" up for interpretation, and invites her fans to imprint their own experiences and life journeys into the lyrics.