I'm Clifford Stumme, and I use literary analysis and research to explain the deeper meanings of pop songs. Feel free to leave a comment or to email me at with questions or ideas!

What does "Water under the Bridge" by Adele mean?

What does "Water under the Bridge" by Adele mean?


SONG MEANING: "Water under the Bridge" is about someone breaking up with Adele. She doesn't want the relationship to be "Water under the Bridge" and wants him to admit that it is and was real. Adele is slowly teasing and releasing songs from 25 until she releases the entire album tomorrow, and yesterday she teased a 30 second clip of her singing one song--"Water under the Bridge"--in New York's Radio City Music Hall. The lyrics also went up all around the Internet, so I'm ready to explain them. The music and her voice will, I'm sure, add new levels and depths of meaning when we have them, but for now, here's what the lyrics mean.

"Water under the Bridge" Lyrics Meaning

Based on the clip above, the song, if not quite upbeat, is at least driving and hopeful. Adele doesn't want a relationship to be "Water under the Bridge," and so her song reflects that in its fast-paced and rising melody. "Water under the Bridge" is an excellent example of the music fitting the lyrics.

As for the lyrics themselves, the First Verse has a rather hopeless feel. The verse is based on four couplets (sets of two rhyming lines together), and each couplet is a hypothetical statement: if x is true, then y. In the first one, Adele sings, "If you're not the one for me / Then I'll come back and bring you to your knees." If she and this man aren't "fated" for each other, she'll fight for him.

In the second couplet, she sings, “If you’re not the one for me / Why do I hate the idea of being free?” She doesn’t want to be without him–she prefers him to being single. Then she sings, “And if I’m not the one for you / You’ve gotta stop holding me the way you do.” If they have to part, he’s making it too difficult. Finally, she explains that if they’re not meant for each other, “Why have we been through what we have been through?” Their relationship has been a difficult adventure, and it abruptly ending seems anti-climactic.

In the Pre-chorus, Adele sings that she’s “cold” in his “wilderness.” He’s left her alone, and she wants him back; she wants him to be her “keeper”–someone responsible for her–but only if he’s not “so reckless.”

My theory is that the fellow told her he didn’t think they were meant for each other, and Adele responded with these impassioned pleas. You can imagine her saying that if they really aren’t meant for each other, then he needs to stop holding her, he needs to explain the situation to her, and she may still try to convince him otherwise. She wants to stay with him, but he’s got to not be “so [outrageously] reckless” that he’ll claim they may not be right for each other in his search for “rightness.”

The Chorus backs up my theory: “If you’re gonna let me down, let me down gently.” Adele knows what’s about to happen–she’s being broken up with–and she doesn’t want it to hurt. She knows that he still wants her and asks him not to “pretend” otherwise because “[o]ur love ain’t water under the bridge,” and she wants him to “[s]ay” so as well.

Adele realizes he’s breaking up with her, and she wants him to either stop or (I think) to admit that there’s another reason. Their love is still real–it’s not “water under the bridge”–it hasn’t just slipped away unnoticeably. He’s forcing this to happen.

In Verse Two, Adele sings, “See, you are water under the bridge / What are you waiting for?” He’s already moved on; why is he hesitating in breaking up with her? She observes that “[he] never seem[s] to make it through the door” or that he can never fully to commit to something, almost as if he’s “hiding from” someone. She wants him to stop living “like [he’s] on the run” and to give her his “love” because doesn’t “[ask] for much . . .” and it’s “[t]he only thing that [she wants].”

The Outro summarizes the entire song well; Adele sings, “Say it ain’t so, say it ain’t so / Say that our love ain’t water under the bridge,” several times. She’s given him an ultimatum but ultimately wants this man to love her and for them to be happy together. She wants to believe that their love was something and that it was worthwhile and good. If he doesn’t believe that they aren’t “water under the bridge” and admit it, she will be devastated.

Thanks for reading about “Water under the Bridge” by Adele! You can email me at if you want to talk lyrics or life.

Clifford Stumme has his master’s in English literature and is a blogger and a college instructor/desk-watcher at Liberty University. He likes juggling and reading/writing, and he is married to the wonderful and beautiful Wife April. He thinks pop music is awesome. Seriously awesome.

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