Although Adele’s debut proved to be a homeland success, with 4 hits that placed in the UK charts, the worldwide success came only two years later. More specifically, it came with the release of 21, Adele’s second album that is responsible for the birth of no less than 3 international number ones. Set Fire to the Rain was the last of the 3 to top Billboard, a song written by the British singer in collaboration with Fraser T Smith. Smith was also responsible for hits such as James Morrison’s Broken Strings and Taio Cruz’s Break Your Heart.
In an interview with the Daily Mail, the co-writer detailed on the context in which Set Fire to the Rain was conceived: “Adele had just broken up with her boyfriend. She was in a vulnerable place and had brought her dog Louis along to keep her company. We started working from scratch on a song that would become Set Fire to the Rain, which reached No 1 all over the world. Adele sat in the kitchen, drinking endless cups of coffee, smoking Marlboro Lights and scribbling down lyrics while I worked on the music.” The live version of the song got Adele a Grammy Award, for Best Pop Solo Performance and together with Smith and everybody else involved in the writing 21, she also won the award for Album of the Year.
The critics’ consensus was that Adele’s vocal performance was the song’s focal point. Her voice was described by Entertainment Weekly as a “titanic wail” and by Digital Spy as a “breathtaking blast from her impressive pipes”. Pop Crush stated that “Adele sings her guts out as the song swells”, while also praising the subject matter: “Set Fire to the Rain is one of those songs that can be a salve to soothe the so-deep-it-reaches-marrow pain of heartbreak.” Consequence of Sound called the song simply “Adele at her strongest and most open.”
Set Fire to the Rain spent 2 consecutive weeks at number one in Billboard Top 100, before being dethroned by Kelly Clarkson’s Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You).