Adele’s 25 is a very special album – but it’s not a miracle


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?

AdelevstherestMusic Business Worldwide

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  • Bruce Hawes

    MBW, This article does not address the real problem with our industry. Before the year 2000 the music industry artists rosters were demographically diverse. Since the takeover of radio regional stations, corporate-radio policies limiting each station’s playlist and it lacking demographic diversity has hurt everyone in the industry’s new music sales. New music artists that are signed by the major labels are for a specific age group which is below the age of 25. It is funny that an album named “25” appealed to every age group? The real problem is by limiting the age of new artists that are signed by the major labels or played on terrestrial radio has caused the industry have lower music sales. 20 new album are about to be released by the majors. But none of them will greatly appeal to the huge album buying market that the industry has ignored. That being the 35 and above age group. Adele’s music appeals to everyone that the majors have ignored as well as the 25 and below age group are not crash and burn type of young people. You are all of of touch with what Adele’s music has proven. Go ahead and continue to ignore the truth that is plain to see. A blind man could see what is going on here. America’s Hollywood brain trust personnel have lost their touch. So now the only recourse is mass artist music releases in ope that one sticks like Adele has. No one is going to stop to buy a whole lot of music about nothing.

    • Truth Sayer

      God bless you for this statement. It’s great to finally see people thinking the same things I’ve been thinking.

      • Bruce Hawes

        @disqus_A8LG4EZnrc:disqus the major labels already know that my conclusion is true. Execs have been relying on the recommendations from advisers who are out-of-touch with the real world. Most of the label’s advisors should be fired. Adele out sold all of the top 5 artist on the Billboard chart over the past two year in 2 months.

  • Sordel

    Usher’s Confessions was released in March, as was NYNC’s No Strings Attached. The Eminem Show was released in May. 25 was released in late November. So 25 may well yet prove to be the biggest selling album of 2016 by a long way: which would be the first time that this trick has been pulled off since Thriller, which was another late November release. I think it’s fair to say that something exceptional is happening with Adele’s sales, and that whatever it is it cannot be expected or anticipated for anyone else right now.

    The main issue though is that the record industry has been caught out by such high sales and is trying to exclude Adele from its thinking going forward … because if Adele can sell this many then the pro-streaming direction the industry has taken may prove to be a misstep of historic proportions.

  • MrRamyon74

    There are two or three points which I think that the analysis in this article fails to discuss.
    25 was released at the end of the year and yet still sold over 7 million in the US, the rest of those albums were released very early on in their relevant year. Adele already has the biggest album of the 21st century so to have a second which is up there too is to dominate more than any other artist in the past 15 years. Finally worldwide Adele sells more than most American artists, 25 has already sold over 15 million copies in just two months and 21 has reportedly sold 30 million over the past five years…..Like her or hate her but Adele’s album sales are epic in any era…

  • vick368

    Adele is a “fresh sound” to the music industry, after years of the over produced over hyped noise producers and artist call music. Adele is not original as I read an article that said Adele’s voice and music is what popular music was between the 1930’s and 1950’s and since that time popular music has changed; just like fashion repeating itself. Adele is non threatening as old and young people can listen to her and the “old” are very big music buyers. I was worried about Adele because I wondered how she would fit in the fold with her peers like Beyonce, Rihanna,Katy Perry, Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga (and in that order) because she has such great music and I felt it would be drowned out by these artist and other artist (no shade) and she wouldn’t be given a chance. To me her music does sound old ladyish and would appeal to a certain crowd, and I was proven wrong. ( and yes I do own 21, and 25 and my favorite songs from 25 are Send My Love, Water Under the Bridge, When We Were Young and Sweetest Devotion and I have been listening to Water Under the Bridge for weeks now on repeat) Adele is not a miracle because this is the music most people grew up listening to and now she is taking it back to the basics in a great way, unlike Xtina oops!

    • Bruce Hawes

      Your statement is so true Vick. A lot of today’s music is over-produced because the producer have to hide the fact that the songs that they are producing are not relatable to people who live normal lives.