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Released: 2015

Adele’s “When We Were Young” is a soul-stirring ballad that explores themes of nostalgia, lost love, and the inevitability of ageing. With its evocative lyrics and Adele’s raspy, emotive vocals, it paints a vivid picture of the power and poignancy of youthful memories.

The song starts with everyone admiring a certain individual for their captivating personality and charm: ‘Everybody loves the things you do / From the way you talk / To the way you move.’ The persona is smitten yet filled with a certain yearning, hinted at by the lines, ‘Can I have a moment? / Before I go?’ and ‘Hoping you’re someone I used to know.’ It’s clear that there is a complex emotional history here.

The chorus has a hauntingly beautiful proposition: ‘Let me photograph you in this light / In case it is the last time,’ signifying the fear of loss, a desire to hold onto the ephemeral, and a ruminative reflection on the past. The line ‘We were scared of getting old / It made us restless’ underscores this fear of losing one’s youth, vitality, and even identity, striking a universal chord.

The lines, ‘I was so scared to face my fears / Nobody told me that you’d be here / And I’d swear you moved overseas / That’s what you said, when you left me’ are a clear indication of a past relationship that ended on a sour note. It also seems to speak to the unexpected run-ins that can occur long after a relationship has ended.

The song’s refrain ‘When we were young’ is a powerful allusion to the seemingly magical moments of youth, full of promise and potential. It’s both an emotional anchor and a narrative pivot, informing us that this is a song about looking back and grappling with what’s been lost in the process.

The lines ‘It’s hard to win me back / Everything just takes me back / 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?’ eloquently dives deeper into the protagonist’s emotional state. It’s a poignant blend of longing, regret, and unresolved feelings.

The concluding verses, ‘Oh I’m so mad I’m getting old / It makes me reckless’ are a raw, candid acknowledgement of the fear of ageing, the frustration it incites, and the recklessness it can inspire when faced with the transience of life. The repeated phrase, ‘It was just like a movie / It was just like a song’, is a metaphorical representation of the idealized, romanticized memories of youth and love, reinforcing the overarching theme of yearning for the past.

‘When We Were Young’ is a beautiful, melancholic ode to the passing of time, the sea-change that occurs as we age, and the emotional baggage of past love. Adele encapsulates it all with her commanding voice, making it a modern pop classic.

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