|“When We Were Young”|
| Single by Adele|
from the album 25
February 5, 2016 (digital download)
4:44 (radio edit)
|Adele singles chronology|
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|“Hello”||“Send My Love (To Your New Lover)”|
|25 track listing|
|← Previous||Next →|
|“I Miss You”||“Remedy”|
“When We Were Young” is a song recorded by Adele, taken from her third studio album, 25. The song was written by Adele with Tobias Jesso Jr., and produced by Ariel Rechtshaid. It appears as the fourth track on the album. “When We Were Young” is a soul ballad, with lyrics that talk about reminiscing on past memories with a loved one. Upon release, the song received critical acclaim from music critics, who praised the song’s lyrics and Adele’s vocals. Adele has stated on numerous occasions that “When We Were Young” is her favorite she has ever written.
Following the release of 25, “When We Were Young” had already sold 150,000 digital copies in the United States as an album track. It went on to reach the top 10 in Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Finland, Portugal, Slovakia, South Africa, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom. Adele promoted the song with live performances on the BBC one-hour special Adele at the BBC, Saturday Night Live, and Adele Live in New York City.
Adele has described “When We Were Young” as “a bit of a letter to myself.” She explained that, “It’s really about regrouping, because naturally, me and my friends have dispersed. We all love each other still, but we don’t have time to be unconditional and 24/7. My eyes were so cloudy for a year after I had my child, and I thought I would never regroup with myself, ever.”
She also opened up about the song in an interview with Carson Daly:
|“||‘When We Were Young’ is my favorite. It’s so nostalgic. I’ve been rehearsing it with my band, so we’re ready for whenever we’re going to be doing TV and stuff like that. Whenever I do that song, I just cry my eyes out. It’s just such a beautiful song and I wrote it with a great artist. It’s about seeing someone that you haven’t seen in so long. It’s written in the future, like 20 years’ time, and then you see this person and because so much time has passed and so much has happened to both of you, it’s ridiculous. And you get on so great. It’s just about enjoying each other in that moment and there’s a lyric in it that says, ‘Let me photograph you like this,’ because it’s amazing and this is how I want to remember us. The vibe is incredible.||”|
Speaking to The New York Times about “When We Were Young,” Adele revealed, “At rehearsal, when I was singing ‘When We Were Young,’ I suddenly had a vision of my best friend putting makeup on me for the first time when I was 17. I had never had that vision when I wrote the song. Every time a new memory comes back in one of my songs for myself, I love it. It’s like remembering your life through song.”
She expanded on the concept of the song in her “Up Close and Personal” interview with Julie James:
|“||The lyric ‘when we were young,’ I guess it would sum up the whole record, really. […] I yearn for my childhood, and not like, 6 or 7. I yearn for my like, 12 to like, 16-year-old self. And I yearn for my friends and I yearn for my mum and I yearn for my family and stuff like that, and only because it won’t come back. […] I still have all these people in my life. I just, I think it’s the responsibility of being an adult. You don’t realize how lucky you are when you’re a kid and you live someone else’s life, like your parent or your guardian, and you just get to have fun. Like, you don’t have the responsibilities of like, a fully-fledged life, like you do when you become an adult. You know, and I live an amazing life, and I live, you know, probably a much easier life compared to most people, but […] I still yearn for when I was younger, you know? And it’s got nothing to do with the fact that I’m successful—it’s got nothing to do with that at all. It’s just real life.||”|
Composition and recording Edit
Adele and Jesso wrote and recorded the song in Los Angeles; the song was written on Philip Glass’s piano. “When We Were Young” is a soul song written in common time in the key of E♭ major with a moderately slow tempo of 72 beats per minute. The song follows a chord progression of Cm–E♭/G–A♭–E♭/G–Fm7–E♭, and Adele’s vocals span two octaves, from E♭3 to E♭5.
Adele has spoken fondly about the writing and recording process of the song, commenting:
|“|| ‘When We Were Young’ is my favorite, I think, on the record, and I wrote it with another artist called Tobias Jesso Jr., who’s my favorite artist around at the moment, and probably one of my favorite humans. He’s like, one of my favorite friends, I absolutely love him. He’s so kind and amazing. And we got together and, yeah, he wrote me a song, which was amazing, and I was so flattered that he wrote me a song. And [...] if I asked someone to write me a song, I would want it to sound like how his sounded. But I really needed to write a song, and I had gone to LA just for one more crack at the album, one more, like, sort of last push, and you know, seeing who else was out there, because everyone kept flying to England for me, which was super kind, but I thought, ‘Let me make myself a bit uncomfortable by going over’—being in LA doesn’t make me uncomfortable, but [it was] coming away from my house and stuff like that.
And we started it, and I just… There’s something so 70s about his piano playing. I don’t know, the melody came really quickly. Like, it was really low, and then I went lower, and it sort of reminded me of Karen Carpenter and stuff like that, and I got really excited really quickly. And we’d have these long conversations about like, our childhoods, and stuff like that, and getting to know each other and like, ‘Oh, I like that album. I like that movie,’ and stuff like that, and then we wrote ‘When We Were Young’ and it was just amazing, and it was great. And I’ve got a video of it, ‘cause we just did it at his friend’s house, we wrote it, [...] so I videoed it as my recording so I could like, take it away with me, and I’ve got it, and it’s just like, me and him in it and it’s just amazing. I love watching it, ‘cause the song was happening as we were performing it.
And then we got Ariel Rechtshaid to produce it, and he just nailed it, really. He nailed the production, ‘cause I didn’t want it to be subtle. I didn’t want it to be a piano ballad. I wanted it to have a band, and I wanted each instrument […] to be [like] a person at a party, you know. I wanted the bass to be like, that guy in the corner having a drink, and I wanted the tambourine to be some girl dancing like, by the stairs, you know, and Ariel really nailed that for me, so I was supper chuffed.
On December 14, a representative from Adele’s US record distributor, Columbia Records, confirmed that “When We Were Young” would be released as the album’s second single. It was sent to radio on January 22, 2016, and released worldwide on February 5, 2016.
Prior to the release of 25, Adele partnered with Target to promote the album. Seven short music videos were filmed for different songs on the album in order to promote the Target deluxe edition, one of which was for “When We Were Young.” The video features Adele sitting at a table in an empty room, looking into a mirror as she sings the song’s chorus.
The single artwork, which features a childhood photo of Adele, was released on February 4, a day before the single itself. To promote the song, the single artwork was spotted in various locations throughout London on the day of its release.
Music video Edit
On November 17, three days before the release of the album, a video of Adele performing “When We Were Young” live at the Church Studios was uploaded to her official Vevo channel. Initially, it was intended to serve solely as promotion for the album; however, it was eventually released as the official music video for the song. Adele later revealed that originally, there were plans to release a new video for the song, but she was unsatisfied with the end result:
|“||I did want to do one for ‘When We Were Young’—and we had an idea for it, but we couldn’t get it right, and I was like, ‘I can’t do any old video for “When We Were Young.”’ Because that’s like, my favorite song I’ve ever written.||”|
Live performances Edit
A preview of Adele’s performance of the song on 60 Minutes Australia debuted on social media on November 16, 2015, four days before the album's release. The whole performance was released on her official website, as well as on her Vevo channel, on November 17, 2015. She performed the song on the television special Adele at the BBC aired on November 20, and on the Saturday Night Live episode aired on November 21. The SNL performance was released on her Vevo channel the following day. She also performed “When We Were Young” at Radio City Music Hall for her Adele Live in New York City special, which aired on December 14.
Adele was scheduled to perform the song on the Grammys on February 15, but, at the last minute, opted to perform “All I Ask” instead. She performed both “All I Ask” and “When We Were Young” on Ellen on February 18.
The song was also included in the setlist for the Adele Live 2016, performed during the encore in between “All I Ask” and “Rolling in the Deep.” During performances of the song, a montage of pictures from when Adele was younger is shown in the background, concluding with a photograph of Adele the day before giving birth to her son Angelo.
Critical reception Edit
The track was acclaimed by critics. Pitchfork named it “Best New Track” and praised Adele’s vocal performance and how she was “capable of elevating maudlin sentiment into high art.” Writing for Inquirer.net, Joseph R. Atilano remarked that “a single like this further showcases how lyrically intelligent she is as a composer as well as one of the greatest pure singers alive today.” Time named “When We Were Young” the fourth-best song of 2015.
Prior to the album's release, i-D compared the song to “Rolling in the Deep,” and further called it “a great big fat love song” and “70s styled shimmery disco ballad.” Rolling Stone compared the song to the work of Elton John and further noted similarities between it and Barbara Streisand’s “The Way We Were.”
- Adele – songwriting, vocals
- Tobias Jesso Jr. – songwriting, piano, backing vocals
- Ariel Rechstshaid – engineer, producer, programmer, organ, glockenspiel, synthesizer, percussion, backing vocals
- Roger Manning Jr. – organ
- Nico Muhly – piano, harmonium
- Guy Seyffert – bass
- Joey Waronker – drums
- Benji Lysaght – guitar
- Austen Jux Chandler – engineer
- Chris Kaysch – engineer
- David Schiffman – engineer
- Nick Rowe – engineer
- Aaron Ahmad – engineering assistant
- Christopher Cerullo – engineering assistant
- John DeBold – engineering assistant
- Michael Harris – engineering assistant
- Tom Elmhirst – mixer
- Joe Visciano – mixing assistant
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