November 24, 2015


How Did Adele Sell So Many Albums? 10 Reasons Why '25' is Unstoppable

Dana Edelson/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images
Dana Edelson/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Adele is a really, really great singer; this much, we know for sure. She’s also a tremendous songwriter, as she’s proven time and time again. The U.K. artist has notched four career No. 1 singles, toured the world, appeared on virtually every variety show that matters and swept the Grammys. Adele is a superstar. But there are a lot of superstars in popular music—how did she become the one to break the single-week album sales record?

This week, Adele’s 25  blew by *NSYNC’s No Strings Attached to become the fastest-selling album in the Soundscan era. Back in 2000, No Strings Attached sold 2.416 million copies in its first week; 25 has sold 2.433 million units so far, according to Nielsen Music, and it only took half-a-week to do so. Adele’s latest LP is expected to sell 2.9 million copies by week’s end, which is an absolutely absurd number of albums to sell in seven days in the year 2015. Some perspective: Taylor Swift has never sold half of that number in one week.

So, now that she’s done it, how did Adele do it? How did this U.K. soul-pop singer conquer our world so thoroughly, and sell so many copies in one frame? Here are the 10 reasons why Adele’s 25 just became the new queen of single-week album sales:

1. She was gone for a while. 21, Adele’s previous album, was released in January 2011—nearly five years ago. With that long of a drought between new Adele music (her last new tune was “Skyfall,” from October 2012), can you really blame her fans for developing a ravenous hunger for a new album? Adele returned after the feeling of missing her presence in pop reached a fever pitch—but not before she was absent for too long and forgotten.

2. 21 is still huge. Adele didn’t become capable of selling massive amounts of albums overnight: She’s done this before, with her sophomore album, 21. The Grammy winner for album of the year is one of the rare modern full-lengths to be certified diamond, and was the 76th biggest-selling album of 2014—three years after its release. With 21, Adele proved that she’s the type of artist in which you need the entire album, not just the singles a la carte.

3. The short lead-up. There were rumors of Adele’s return to music throughout 2015, but nothing concrete until October 23, when lead single “Hello” and the album date were released. That gave casual fans less than a month of Adele fever—or, way too short of a timeframe for people to get sick of the 25 promotional blitz. By forgoing the “surprise release” model as well as multiple months of teases, Adele made her album campaign easily contained, and more digestible.

4. A single that reminds fans of 21. Let’s face it: If you loved Adele’s era-defining 2011 breakup album, you loved “Hello,” the forceful single that announced her return. With sweeping instrumentation and a grandiose chorus, “Hello” allowed Adele to (literally) reintroduce herself, and gave fans an easy re-entrance into her world. There are songs on 25 that shift the singer’s aesthetic, but “Hello” sounds like it could have been a standout on 21, too.

5. A lack of advance music. Adele released the 25 track list weeks before the album’s release, but only released a follow-up to “Hello,” “When We Were Young,” days before the full-length dropped. Simply put, not a lot of 25 was out in the world prior to its release (legally, at least), so fans wanted to hear the thing as soon as it came out. Imagine if Adele had flooded the market with a new song every other day prior to the release of 25; would so many people have rushed out to snap it up?

6. No streaming. This leads back to the previous point—the decision not to put 25 on streaming services during its opening week was controversial, but it undoubtedly compelled more listeners to purchase the full-length. With no means of sampling the product, Adele fans had to go all-in at retail.

7. Smart promo choices. Although the past month has seemed like an all-out Adele takeover, the singer has carefully picked her spots: a handful of select cover stories, a BBC performance, a fans-only show at New York’s Radio City Music Hall and an SNL showcase the night after the album release. It’s been a nice blend of showcasing the songs and the woman behind them.

8. Great timing. Could Adele’s 25 have been released in early June and still been a record-setter? Maybe, but everything about the album’s breakup balladry screams “autumn,” and Adele is the type of artist that’s perfect for Q4. By releasing her album six days before Thanksgiving, Adele appealed to consumers looking to get a jump on Christmas shopping, and positioned herself for a gargantuan Black Friday audience. Let’s just say a whole bunch of people are getting 25 stuffed in their stockings next month.

9. Positive reviews. This isn’t a huge point, but 25 has received generally favorable takes from critics, and has thus far received a 75 out of 100 on the review aggregator Metacritic. Adele’s album would have sold a boatload even if a few critics had lambasted it, but a handful of those 2.4 million buyers might have been dissuaded from dropping coin on 25 if they had heard that it was a huge letdown from 21. Adele’s latest came with sky-high expectations, and most people agree that the album lives up to them.

10. The perfect demographic. Simply stated, moms love Adele, and the music fans that go to the store to purchase an album tend to skew on the older side. There’s a reason why One Direction can pack stadiums but has never come close to selling 1 million copies in a single week: As a rule, younger music fans worry less about buying full albums than adults who don’t want to be bothered with new music discovery avenues, and who like straightforward soul-pop songwriting with warm, classic production. However, Adele doesn’t only appeal to the olds: Her shows are packed with scores of young fans, and her name can trend on Twitter at a moment’s notice. Truly, this is the reason why Adele’s 25 is selling so quickly: Everyone is an Adele fan. And “everyone” is a pretty darn good target demographic.