When you’re talking about the music business’s fortunes in 2015, it’s now become customary to drop in a dramatic caveat: ‘Of course, that’s taking into account the Adele factor‘.
See this very scathing yet very readable write-up of Nielsen’s annual US figures for evidence, which concludes of last year: ‘There was Adele… and then there was NOBODY else.’
This phenomenon has now gone so far, MBW hears that it’s even cropping up in label meetings: “And this is what our market share would have looked like if you took out… the Adele factor.”
It’s certainly true that Adele’s 25 was by far the dominant force of the 12 months.
Here are some astonishing figures just on its US performance that prove the theory:
- 25’s first week US sales figure (3.33m) was the biggest in Nielsen Soundscan history;
- Its full-year sales tally (7.44m) was bigger than the next five biggest LPs (Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, Ed Sheeran, Drake, Sam Smith) combined;
- It was the biggest-selling CD album (5.02m), digital album (2.31m) and vinyl album (116k) of the year.
It ruled OK.
She ruled, okay?
And yet… are we possibly in danger of going a little overboard about the anomalous power of ‘the Adele factor’?
One senior record exec politely pointed out to MBW this week: ‘The Adele factor is real, it’s brilliant for the industry and she’s done amazingly well.
“But most years, there’s a ‘factor’ – whether that’s the Taylor factor, the Mariah factor, the Eminem factor or the Usher factor.”
The point: Adele is not a deified freak. She should not be removed from industry analysis on that basis – she’s just a very rare breed of icon.
So is 25 completely in a league of its own when you consider the dominant mega-selling artists of years gone by?
Short answer: in the last decade, very.
In the last 15 years, not so much.
MBW has tracked back over every biggest-selling album since 2000 in the States. Here’s what we found.
(Some important footnotes: this is annual Nielsen Soundscan data, so albums released earlier in their year had an advantage, and it doesn’t count ‘streaming/track equivalent’ sales… because we didn’t need them for Adele.)
Adele’s 25 was the US’s biggest annual seller since Usher’s Confessions back in 2004, which shifted 7.98m copies in the US that year.
In fact, back in the early noughties, Adele-levels of sales weren’t anything out of the ordinary.
50 Cent got close in 2003 (6.54m), Eminem pipped her in 2002 (7.61m) and NSync almost hit 10m sales back in 2000 (9.94m).
Which begs the question: how did 25 manage to sell such a volume in 2015?
Is it simply because Adele is a once-in-a-blue-moon kind of superstar?
Did her streaming strategy pay massive dividends amongst a consumer base that is shifting from ownership to access?
Or have we just been starved in recent years of the kind of artist that can attract this level of loyalty from the masses?
Music Business Worldwide