21 and Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

A few days ago I posted Adele’s track by track explanation of the new (#1!) album. I was struck by something she said when talking about the last track on the album, Someone Like You:

“…when I was writing it, I was feeling pretty miserable and pretty lonely, which I guess kind of contradicts Rolling in the Deep where I was like, ‘I’m gonna be fine without you!’ This one was me–kind of me on my knees really…”

Not only are Rolling in the Deep and Someone Like You thematically opposed, they are also opposites in placement, with the former opening the album and the latter closing it. I was reminded of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ model of grief.

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

Adele has repeatedly called this a breakup album and, as that represents dealing with a loss, does 21 mirror this process, I wondered?

Two caveats going into this:

  1. “Rumour Has it,” “He Won’t Go,” and “One and Only” were not written about the guy the rest of the album is about and “Lovesong” is a Cure cover so those don’t count.
  2. Ross’ model has faced criticism for being unscientific, which is to say, its replication in formalized settings has been inconsistent. In her defense she does say that stages may not happen in this precise order and that an individual may return to a stage multiple times before working through it.

On to the investigation!

Track 1
Rolling in the Deep

“Think of me in the depths of your despair
Make a home down there
As mine sure won’t be shared”

The album begins hitting the first 2 stages immediately: denial and anger. Denial because she mentions “the scars of your love”–so a relationship that obviously had a significant emotional impact–but relegates the ex-lover to a state of despair, and not herself. The anger comes in lines like, “I’m gonna make your head burn” and “You pay me back in kind and reap just what you sow” but, moreso than that, in the tone. The opening track is definitely the anthem of a woman scorned.

Track 3
Turning Tables

From the track-by-track,
“Who the fuck does he think he is?! Always fucking turns the tables on me!”

“So I won’t let you close enough to hurt me
I won’t rescue you to just desert me
I can’t give you the heart you think you gave me
It’s time to say goodbye to turning tables”

This song is interesting because the plaintive piano-based arrangement would have you think it’s a song of sadness but lyrically, this is definitely anger. The very first line even details how they are “close enough to start a war.” She goes on to say how she will be braver in the future and stand on her own 2 feet. I absolute love the instrumentation on this track but just looking at the lyrics, it could have very easily had a Rolling vibe.

Track 4
Don’t You Remember?


“I know I have a fickle heart
and a bitterness
and a wandering eye
and a heaviness in my head
But don’t you remember the reason you loved me before?
Baby please remember me once more”

According to Kübler-Ross, “The third stage involves the hope that the individual can somehow postpone or delay [the traumatic event]. Psychologically, the individual is saying, ‘I understand…, but if I could just have more time…'”

The honesty of this song, both lyrically and vocally, make it one of my favorite tracks on the album.

Track 5
Set Fire to the Rain

“I set fire to the rain
And I threw us into the flames”

A backtrack into anger.

I really hope this becomes a single. I’d love to see how they do this in a video.

Track 7
Take It All


From the track-by-track,
“The song’s about my devotion to someone and them not caring really and taking the piss out of me and exploiting me in a way.”

I don’t know what’s more depressing in a relationship than feeling like you’re giving your all to someone and your all isn’t good enough. (I’m demoralized just typing that.)

According to Kübler-Ross, “…the individual may become silent, refuse visitors and spend much of the time crying and grieving. This process allows the person to disconnect from things of love and affection.”

“…go on and take it
Take it all with you
Don’t look back at this crumbling fool
Just take it all
With my love…”

I didn’t grow up with the Black Southern Baptist church experience but when the song opens with her questioning, “Didn’t I give it all?” I find myself having a hallelujah moment.

Track 8
I’ll Be Waiting

So much bargaining in this song.

“I’ll be waiting for you when you’re ready to love me again
I put my hands up
I’ll do everything different
I’ll be better to you”

“Let me stay here for just one more night…
So I can tell you that I was wrong
I was a child then, but now I’m willing to learn”

“I’ll be somebody different
I’ll be better for you”

And finally,

Track 11
Someone Like You


Adele’s favorite song on the album and the one she feels the proudest of.

From the track-by-track,
“That relationship, that the entire record’s about…changed me in a really good way. It’s really made me who I am at the moment. And I’m sure there’ll be another relationship–well, I hope so anyway–that helps change me and define me as well.”

She goes to say that one of her fears is seeing him again, years down the line, him settled with a wife and kids and her still on her own. What I really love about this view of acceptance is that it’s not about painting a rosy picture of everything; it’s accepting that the relationship ended, that it was right to end, and that even in knowing that, you may still have anxieties about how things will play out in the future. It acknowledges that you survived: wounded, but not broken.

“Never mind I’ll find someone like you
I wish nothing but the best for you two
Don’t forget me
I beg
I remember you said, ‘Sometimes it lasts in love and sometimes it hurts instead'”

About J.

A former twentysomething with a head full of curls and heart full of questions wondering: when we get to nirvana, will there be food?
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