Adele Wiki

“When We Were Young”
When We Were Young
Single by Adele
from the album 25
Released January 22, 2016 (radio)[1]
February 5, 2016 (digital download)
Recorded 2015
Genre Soul
Length 4:51
4:44 (radio edit)[2]
Label XL Recordings
Writer(s) Adele Adkins, Tobias Jesso Jr.
Producer(s) Ariel Rechtshaid
Adele singles chronology
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“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.[3] 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 song 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.[4] 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.[5]


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.”[6]

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.[7]

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.”[8]

During her album release party on November 20, Adele told fans that she considers “When We Were Young” to be “my favorite song I've ever written, I think.”[9]

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.[10]

Composition and recording[]

Adele and Jesso wrote and recorded the song in Los Angeles; the song was written on Philip Glass’s piano.[11] “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.[12]

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.[10]


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.[4] It was sent to radio on January 22, 2016[13], and released worldwide on February 5, 2016.[14]


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.”[15] 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.[16]

Music video[]

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.[17] 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.[18] 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.[19]

Live performances[]

Adele - When We Were Young (Live From The BRITs)

The artwork for the live version of “When We Were Young,” taken from the 2016 Brits.

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.[20] 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.[21] 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.

On February 24, she closed the Brit Awards with a performance of “When We Were Young.” which was temporarily released on Google Play Music for free in the UK.[22]

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.[23]


Adele commissioned Strobe for the song’s official remixes, which were released on January 17, 2016.[24] Columbia Records went on to state that they felt the remix was “better” than the original.[25]

Critical reception[]

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.”[26] Writing for, 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.”[27] Time named “When We Were Young” the fourth-best song of 2015.[28]

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.”[11] 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.”[29]


Singer Demi Lovato covered the song during her Future Now Tour.[30]



  • 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


Everybody loves the things you do
From the way you talk
To the way you move

Everybody here is watching you
‘Cause you feel like home
You’re like a dream come true

But if by chance you’re here alone
Can I have a moment
Before I go?

‘Cause I’ve been by myself all night long
Hoping you're someone, I used to know

You look like a movie
You sound like a song
My god, this reminds me
Of when we were young

Let me photograph you in this light
In case it is the last time
That we might be exactly like we were
Before we realized

We were sad of getting old, it made us restless
It was just like a movie
It was just like a song

I was so scared to face my fears
‘Cause nobody told me
That you’d be here

And I swear you’d moved overseas
That’s what you said
When you left me

You still look like a movie
You still sound like a song
My god, this reminds me
Of when we were young

Let me photograph you in this light
In case it is the last time
That we might be exactly like we were
Before we realized

We were sad of getting old, it made us restless
It was just like a movie
It was just like a song

When we were young
When we were young
When we were young
When we were young

It’s hard to admit that
Everything just takes me back
To when you were there
To when you were there

And a part of me keeps holding on
Just in case it hasn’t gone
I guess I still care
Do you still care?

It was just like a movie
It was just like a song
My god this reminds me
Of when we were young

When we were young
When we were young
When we were young
When we were young

Let me photograph you in this light
In case it is the last time
That we might be exactly like we were
Before we realized
We were sad of getting old, it made us restless
Oh, I’m so mad I’m getting old, it makes me reckless

It was just like a movie
It was just like a song
When we were young


  4. 4.0 4.1
  10. 10.0 10.1
  11. 11.0 11.1