“21” has overtaken Carole King’s “Tapestry” as the top female album ever
She became the greatest via streams, downloads and old-fashioned CD sales.
Adele’s “21” has now spent more time on the Billboard 200 chart than any other album created by a woman. The trade publication reported that the British singer-songwriter’s 2011 album has charted for 319 weeks, overtaking the 1971 Carole King album “Tapestry.” By that reckoning, “21” is now the 11th most popular album of all time. (The top 10 is dominated by male acts, with Pink Floyd’s “The Dark Side of the Moon” in first place with 927 weeks on the charts.)
The accolade has been a long time coming. As of last year, “21” had sold more than 30 million copies worldwide, despite the general downturn in the music industry’s fortunes over the past decade. “She’s now the biggest act in the world,” says Bob Lefsetz, the veteran music consultant who writes the Lefsetz Letter blog.
A big reason behind the 28-year-old’s success is that she’s popular with everyone from teenagers dealing with their first heartbreak to wizened Gen Xers. “She has a good voice and sings in melodies that people can sing along with,” says Lefsetz. “She appeals to the largest number of people.”
What makes Adele’s achievement even more stunning is that she followed it up with another blockbuster in “25.” That album, released in 2015, wasn’t even available on streaming services like Spotify for more than half a year. That was a financially lucrative decision: artists typically make much more in revenue from downloads and physical CD sales than from streaming services.
Nevertheless, “25” sold 2.4 million copies in the first week out, overtaking ‘NSync’s 2000 record. It spent 10 weeks on top of the Billboard albums chart, the second most of 2016. By some estimates, “25” did $115 million in sales in its first six weeks.
Still, Lefsetz doesn’t think that even a star as big as Adele can replicate her decision to hold streaming services at bay for months. According to recent data from the Recording Industry Association of America, streaming revenue grew by 68.5% from the previous year to $3.93 billion in 2016. It now brings in more income than from music downloads and physical album sales combined. “That’s a dead paradigm,” he says. “I would bet my life the next time she comes out an album, it’ll be on all the streaming services.”
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