By: Gabriela Yareliz
Today, we are looking at “Rolling In the Deep” from Adele’s top-selling 21 album. This was the lead single and first song on the album. This song put her on the map! People say this was the biggest crossover hit since 1985. (Source) The song is another “scorned lover” ballad. Perhaps, this is Adele’s way of telling us that she is like Seth Cohen from the O.C. They excel at being rejected.
The song emerges after a breakup (naturally). Apparently, it was hitting her hard and Adele decided to tell a tour bus driver about it. You know that feeling, when something is bothering you and you just need to talk to someone about it. Adele told The Independent that apparently, this conversation did not go well. Adele said the song was a comeback after being told that “‘my life was going to be boring and lonely and rubbish, and that I was a weak person if I didn’t stay in the relationship. I was very insulted and wrote that as a sort of ‘f— you.'” The song was written that afternoon with Paul Epworth. (Source) This explains some of the fresh rage that is palpable when one listens to the song.
In this song, we see the typical Adele imagery; there is darkness, water falling, fire burning, and a heart in someone’s hands (not her own). Most, if not all, of this imagery is used in “Set Fire to the Rain”; see our discussion here.
The song starts off with a pretty good beat. Dare I say the song is almost upbeat? (Can something be sarcastically upbeat?) The beat is an element of the song, as she says the person who wronged her played her heart (to a beat). In the music video, we see the beat causing ripples in a room filled with glasses of water.
/There’s a fire starting in my heart
Reaching a fever pitch and it’s bringin’ me out the dark
Finally, I can see you crystal clear
Go ahead and sell me out and I’ll lay your sh** bare/
So, we start with fire. Adele loves her fire. It seems that in the context of this song, it’s a rage type fire. (You can let me know in the comments, if you feel differently). Like in many of her songs, she starts in darkness. This song is no exception. The fire is illuminating her space and taking her out of the darkness. Just as we see in “Set Fire to the Rain”, the songs spell out an arrival to clarity. When she sings of clarity in the video, the camera zooms in on clear glasses filled with water.
/See how I’ll leave with every piece of you
Don’t underestimate the things that I will do/
There is almost a level of threat here. She is threatening to leave him “bare,” and tells him not to underestimate her. She also previously mentions that “if he sells her out” she will respond. Who knows what this is in reference to?
/The scars of your love, they leave me breathless
I can’t help feeling
We could have had it all (You’re gonna wish you never had met me)
Rolling in the deep (Tears are gonna fall, rolling in the deep)/
So, we enter the chorus. She is declaring they could have “had it all”, but apparently, thanks to him, they do not. She has scars. Scars usually indicate healing, but that doesn’t seem to be the song’s vibe. Not with this level of rage. And then, one can’t help but ask… what does “Rolling in the Deep” mean? Apparently, “it is a nautical term used to denote the condition of utter hopelessness of a situation.” (Source) Nothing is saving this love. It’s a sinking ship.
In common Adele imagery, there is the idea of a partner holding a heart in his hands (always in the wrong hands).
/You had my heart inside of your hand/
There are several things this type of imagery evokes. It evokes a degree of powerlessness that seems to be an undercurrent in many of her songs. What happened was in someone else’s control, and she is wronged (repeatedly). There is also simply the element of a completely surrendered love that leaves you entirely vulnerable.
It’s clear she wants him to think about her and feel guilt and definitely despair about leaving her. She notes she is also there in the despair, as if it’s a place that she won’t share with him. My question is, is she there alone?
The bridge is filled with tons of Biblical imagery and language. We see references to the soul, “counting blessings”, treasure, sorrow and “reaping what you sow”.
/Throw your soul through every open door
Count your blessings to find what you look for
Turn my sorrow into treasured gold
You’ll pay me back in kind and reap just what you sow/
This idea of finding what you are looking for and reaping what one sows. The language here is very similar to a certain older version of Scripture. This adds to the poetry of the song. I’ll also note that some of the parting words in one of my most heartbreaking goodbyes was “I hope you find what you are looking for.” I tend to associate that type of sentiment with a permanent goodbye.
In the end, the song ends with a vengeance tone. Her whole thing is, “You’re gonna wish you never had met me”. Did he ever feel that way? Who knows? Maybe, he felt embarrassed when the album came out. Maybe, he moved on and lived happily ever after. The truth is that this song is more about how she feels. There is no controlling the other party. It’s sort of like a fountain of anger and yes, scorn, in my mind. It reminds me of the things we say to ourselves to feel better after being abandoned. And yet– I highly doubt anything here made the other party change his ways.
Maybe, rather than dwelling on the fact that we “could of had it all,” we could just focus on the fact that we didn’t (and perhaps that’s a good thing, and we can have better). (And for the love of all that is on fire, we should strive to put our hearts in the right hands). People can often reveal themselves to be extremely selfish and hurtful people, and then we pine for them. Our idea of “having it all” can at times exclude reality and who the person really was/is/chose to be. Too many lives get crushed into misery holding onto illusions.
One thing that rings true and gives every scorned lover hope is the fact that, yes, we always do reap what we sow. Here is to hoping none of you are “rolling in the deep”, right now. Turn the lights on, only put your heart in the hands that deserve it (and if it’s in the wrong hands, take it back. It’s yours), and don’t take bus driver advice too personally. In the end, the only one “rolling in the deep” will be you, if you allow the rage to consume you.