Adele was no stranger to the world when she released 21 a decade ago.
The album, after all, was her sophomore effort. 19 had already introduced her to listeners in 2008. She'd had the good fortune to be Saturday Night Live's musical guest the night Sarah Palin stopped by for a much-ballyhooed cameo appearance during that year's presidential election, boosting the English singer's profile stateside considerably. A year later, she'd nab the Grammy for Best New Artist.
And yet, when that second album of hers was released on Jan. 24, 2011, in Europe—followed by a North American drop on Feb. 22—it set into motion a series of events that would catapult Adele from mere pop singer to bona fide global superstar. With a new sound influenced by contemporary and classic country and roots music—something she was turned on to by her bus driver as she toured the American South to promote 19—and a singular lyrical focus on the heartbreaking dissolution of a romance, instant classics like "Rolling in the Deep," "Set Fire to the Rain," "Someone Like You" and more managed to do the unthinkable: make fans out of nearly everyone on the planet.
It's hard to overstate the power this album truly had. Upon its release, Adele not only revived a sagging music industry with record-breaking sales, but she also steered pop music away from the outlandish theatrics of the day (think Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and Kesha) into something more stripped down and stately. Suddenly, ballads were cool again. You can practically draw a straight line from Adele's ascendency to the success of musicians like Ed Sheeran, Sam Smith and others who followed in her footsteps.
In short, 21 changed the game.
But don't just take our word for it. The numbers speak for themselves. In honor of the album's 10th anniversary, take a look at the 10 records broken to pieces by Adele and her magnum opus.
1. By January 2012, 21 became the best-selling digital album of all-time in the United States with 1.879 million copies sold.
2. The album spent nearly seven years(!!) on the Billboard U.S. 200 chart, never leaving the top 35 during the first two. After surpassing Carole King's Tapestry with 319 weeks, she set the record for longest-charting album by a female solo artist. All told, she spent an astounding 353 weeks on the chart. By February 2020, the album's frequent reappearances would make Adele the first woman to reach 450 non-consecutive weeks on the chart.
3. With more than 31 million copies sold worldwide to date, 21 is the best-selling album of the last decade, globally. It topped the charts in over 30 different countries.
4. With "Set Fire to the Rain" at No. 2, "Rolling in the Deep" at No. 5 and "Someone Like You" at No. 7 all during the same week in 2012, Adele became the first woman ever to have three singles in the Billboard Hot 100 top 10 at once.
5. That same week, she also became the first woman to have two titles in the top five of both the Hot 100 and the Billboard 200, with 21 still riding high at No. 1 and 19 returning to No. 4. Only The Beatles and 50 Cent had ever done it prior.
6. After reaching 24 weeks at No. 1 on the Billboard 200, Adele broke Whitney Houston's record for longest-running No. 1 album by a female solo artist in U.S. history (The Bodyguard soundtrack tapped out after 21 weeks). The run at the top made 21 the longest-running No. 1 in the modern Nielsen SoundScan era, which began 30 years ago.
7. 21 was the best-selling album in both the U.S. and Canada in 2011 and 2012, making it the first album to pull off that particular feat since Michael Jackson's Thriller in 1983 and 1984.
8. In December 2011, Billboard named Adele Artist of the Year, awarded 21 the Billboard 200 Album of the Year and revealed "Rolling in the Deep" as the Billboard Hot 100 Song of the Year, making her the first woman to ever top all three categories at once. Thanks to the enduring sales of the album, she was awarded Artist of the Year and Album of the Year in 2012 as well, making her the first artist to ever win both back-to-back.
9. At the 2012 Grammys, she won all six categories she was nominated in, including Album of the Year, Record of the Year and Song of the Year, making her only the second female artist in history (behind Beyoncé) to win that many awards in one night. Coupled with her earlier win for Best New Artist, she became the first female and second artist ever to win all four general field awards throughout her career, following Christopher Cross, who won them all at once in 1980. (Billie Eilish would, of course, become the first woman to sweep all four at once in 2020.)
10. When the Recording Industry Association of America awarded 21 with Diamond certification for more than 10 million copies sold in November 2012, Adele became the only artist or band in a decade to earn it with just a single-disc album in that short of time. She would, of course, go on to break her own record when 25, released in 2015, did it in less than a year.