Sunday, March 25, 2012

Breaking down the massive success of Adele's '21'...

Are we all sick of Adele yet? 21 is simply too spectacular of an album for me to grow tired of, at least so far. I still listen to it at least once a week, even though it's been over a year since I bought the CD. It's extremely rare that an album can stand up to so many repeated listens for me before fatigue sets in, but it also helps that I never listen to the radio and very rarely watch music video channels, so any added saturation from her heavily played singles hasn't worn me out. Like many people, I'm more burnt out hearing about Adele than hearing her actual music, but considering that 21 is a once-in-a-decade kind of musical phenomenon, the non-stop media attention is more than warranted. And yes, I realize the irony of this post based on that previous sentence. Here's a look at some of the ridiculously monstrous accomplishments that 21 has achieved since its European release in January of last year (the North American release was a month later). Sources for these figures are taken from Billboard, The Hollywood Reporter, and Nielsen SoundScan:
  • 21 has now sold, appropriately, approximately 21 million copies worldwide.
  • As of the first week of March, 21 had sold 1,135,000 copies in Canada, making it one of only 90 or so albums that have ever attained diamond status (sales of 1 million) in this country. That means, on average, 1 in 29 Canadians own the album (and that's just legally).
  • The album has now sold over 8 million copies in the U.S., 2 million alone this year.
  • In her native UK, Adele became the first artist ever to sell 3 million copies of a single album in a calendar year...and 21 had accomplished that by August. Toss the names of, say, The Beatles and Pink Floyd into that equation and it highlights the stunning achievement even more. By last December, 21 had become the best-selling album in Britain in the 21st century, selling 3.4 million copies and moving past Amy Winehouse's Back To Black album. It currently sits at over 4 million sold.
  • 21's worst sales week in the U.S. since its release was 73,000 copies sold during a week last August.
  • 21 was the first digital album ever to go double platinum in a single country with 2 million sales from the U.S. iTunes store.
  • Last month, 21 became the longest running U.S. #1 album (in non-consecutive weeks) by a female artist ever, surpassing Whitney Houston's soundtrack for The Bodyguard, which held the record at 20 weeks. Next up on the list is Prince and The Revolution's Purple Rain soundtrack, which ran (again, non-consecutively) for 24 weeks at #1 in 1984 and 1985. To put all of this in perspective, 21 is now ninth on the all-time U.S. list in that category - Michael Jackson's Thriller sits at 37 weeks and the 1962 soundtrack for West Side Story is tops at 54 weeks.
  • Last month, 21 had logged 9 straight weeks in the U.S. #1 spot, the longest-running consecutive #1 album since The Titanic soundtrack logged 14 straight weeks in 1998.
  • "Rolling In The Deep", the album's first single, was the biggest-selling digital single in the U.S. last year with just under 6 million sales. Earlier this month, it became the biggest-selling single by a female artist in the digital era (measured since 2003). The best-selling digital single of all time? That would be "I Gotta Feeling" by the horrendous Black Eyed Peas, with sales of approximately 7.9 million.
  • 21 will likely be the first album since the implementation of the SoundScan sales tracking system in 1991 to be the best-selling U.S. album 2 years in a row.
All of those figures are even more extraordinary when you take into consideration a couple of facts: first, Adele was forced to cancel dozens of 2011 tour dates due to throat problems, resulting in the inability to capitalize on the marketing benefits that touring and its resultant media exposure bring. Second, she accomplished all of this in an age where, to paraphrase Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor, anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of how to use a computer and Google can illegally download an album quite easily. It also bears mentioning that this album just had its fourth and final single ("Rumour Has It") released earlier this month - that's quite a low number when you look at the history of some of the heavyweight albums that 21 is now rubbing shoulders with. Amazingly, 21 had just a couple of singles ("Rolling In The Deep" and "Someone Like You") released in the first 10 months following the album's release.
Whether she's connecting with a younger audience or an older demographic that rarely buys music any more, Adele's crossover appeal clearly wasn't reliant on her fitting in with any superficial musical trend, nor was it accompanied by a commonplace pop starlet over-reliance on selling a slick and sexed-up image. Refreshingly, it derives from pure talent, which helps make this an even better story. Her recent comeback from career-threatening vocal cord surgery, along with subsequent triumphs at the Grammys in February, only add to the fairy tale's embarrassment of riches.