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Adele’s Worst Selling Album Is Still Considered A Success – But What Happend?
Adele is undoubtedly one of the most successful singers of our time, however her latest album “30” experienced a significant drop in sales of over 80% compared to her previous release “25”.
Proving that even the major artists of our time who have a huge machine behind them are not immune to the changing environment of the music industry.
So today we’re going to dig deeper into 3 theories on why Adele’s latest release saw such a dramatic decline and explore exactly what has changed during Adele’s 6 year hiatus from the release of “25” to her more recent release “30”.
Background On Adele
Adele Laurie Blue Adkins, or you might know her simply as Adele is an English singer/songwriter and arguably one of the world’s best-selling artists of our time.
She has also accumulated sales of over 120 million records since stepping into our lives. If you haven’t heard of Adele, then you should check what century you live in.
From a young age, Adele had been very talented, so much so that she left public school at the age of 14 to attend the BRIT performing school of arts. It was a place where musicians such as Leona Lewis and Amy Winehouse also attended and developed their craft.
During her time at BRIT, she uploaded three demos to her MySpace page, and among them was her first song – “Hometown Glory”. The song caught the attention of London record label XL Recordings and their VP at the time, Richard Russel.
By the time she turned 18, and just six months after graduation, Adele signed to XL Recordings and began her beautiful career. Ever since she has gone on to release four studio albums with each of them having a few years gap in between.
Adele’s Initial Releases
In 2008, she released her debut ” 19″ album, and it was followed up by her album “21” which was released in 2011 and brought us the timeless classic, “Rolling In The Deep”.
She would then go on to take a four-year break but then came back with a vengeance in 2015, with the release of “25” which went on to receive rave reviews from all over the world. This album would bring us the single, “Hello”, yet another instant classic from the singer.
However, by the time she released her latest and 4th studio album, “30” – on the 19th of November 2021, she had taken a whopping six-year break. The lead single for “30” was Easy On Me” which had everyone excited to have their beloved superstar back and releasing music again.
While the album was obviously a success in many ways it was not nearly as successful as the release of her album, “25”.
The Differences On Paper
To put things in perspective, Adele’s “25”:
- Had First week sales of 3.38 million in the US alone
- It went on to sell a massive 18 million copies worldwide over its first year.
- Spent a total of 11 non-consecutive weeks at No. 1 on billboards Top Album Sales chart.
- The most unique thing about this release was that the Delayed the release to streaming platforms and focused on physical sales and downloads in the beginning
- “25” wasn’t on streaming services for seven months after its release
Adele’s “30” on the other hand:
- Had First week sales of 692,000 copies in the (US)
- While this gave Adele the biggest opening week of any album of the year, it’s still a drop of nearly 80% from the 3.38 million copies she sold of “25” when it was released in 2015.
- Still, “30” spent six consecutive weeks at No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Album Sales chart (as of Jan. 8, 2022)
- After just 6 weeks into the release, 30 sold 1.463 million copies in the U.S., and easily closed the year as the top-selling album – and the only album to sell a million copies.
- It’s important to note that unlike “25” they Decided not to delay the release to streaming platforms
30 Is Adele’s Worst Selling Album – So What The Hell Happened?
Now let’s be clear here, Adele’s 30 is still a huge success. However “30” is also a modest drop in the ocean by Adele’s standards. It’s on pace to be her worst-selling album since her debut and maybe ever.
“25” was a huge success in terms of sales even with the delay to streaming and a primary focus on physical/digital sales.
But it is clear that waiting 6 years to release “30” meant the climate had changed dramatically since the release of “25”.
So what the hell happened?
Here are 3 of our theories on why Adele’s latest release “30” saw such a dramatic decline after her 6-year hiatus from the release of “25”.
The Evolution of Streaming
Streaming is now the focus over physical and back in 2015 streaming simply wasn’t relied upon as it is today.
Physical sales were certainly starting their decline but artists and fans were still getting familiar with these platforms and many artists were very much against them.
Adele happened to be one of these artists which was a big reason why she left “25” off of streaming platforms initially.
Depending on how you look at it, this could have been seen as a risk as the question will always be what would have happened if Adele didn’t withhold her album from streaming back in 2015?
At the time, this was a risk they were more than willing to take as the numbers certainly speak for themselves.
Not to mention this was a common thing at the time with other major artists like Kanye West, Taylor Swift, and Rhianna implementing similar selective distribution rollouts.
However, in today’s market 6 years later, the reality is that streaming has become such a powerhouse due to how fans consume music today. Purchasing music like we once did just simply doesn’t happen anymore.
The only caveat to this is the fact that vinyl has made a valiant comeback and this was even a focus for Adele in the rollout of “30” where there was an urgency to have vinyl available to align with the digital release.
This whole selective rollout approach has certainly fizzled out over the years with a few outliers here and there but it feels as though even superstars like Adele would be sacrificing far too much to take this approach at this point.
Given the significant drop in numbers that Adele experienced one could say they were looking at this release a lot differently.
It’s easy to throw numbers around and consider a release a “Flop” but the fact is the numbers alone don’t tell the whole story. In reality, the million dollar selling first weeks that came so abundantly in previous years are an endangered species now.
The numbers don’t lie and we don’t have to look much further than the other major artists who also released albums in 2021 and couldn’t reach the 1 million range:
Whether you love or hate streaming platforms, they have stood the test of time and continue to streamline our access to music.
We now have access to music much cheaper and faster than we ever. But it’s clear that their presence is forcing the hands of the creator to look for alternative methods of releasing new music and different streams of income outside of just physical music sales and streaming.
If artists like Adele aren’t immune to the evolution of streaming then nobody is.
The Evolution of Social Media
Speaking on a CBC radio show, Adele said: ‘We are a dying breed. There was like 10 of us. You know, I don’t think there’ll ever be that many of us again at the top doing it the way we were doing it.’
Adele added: ‘We came out before streaming. We came out before all the social media frenzies of like, “You’ve got five seconds to entertain; otherwise, get out”.
‘We existed in the old school-ness of the industry that we grew up watching and aspiring to [be part of].’
It’s almost depressing to read but it would seem as though Adele too can see the writing on the wall.
Now all is not doom and gloom but what Adele is alluding to here can certainly relate to the impact that social media has had on music consumption and how we view our so-called stars of today.
When Adele released “25” in 2015 social media was popular at the time but we didn’t have a strong association between those platforms and our favorite music.
It wasn’t until more recently that you could directly distribute your music to the likes of Facebook and Instagram and allow people to integrate your music with their social sharing activities.
Fast forward a little more and we saw the rise of TikTok and how the platform reshaped the idea of what it meant to have your music go viral.
You even have artists now creating music with the sole purpose of going viral on the platform and using that success as a launching pad for their careers.
The rise of TikTok has helped extend the life of some albums in spontaneous ways that artists and their labels never anticipated.
For example the #SilhouetteChallenge has sent Doja Cat’s “Streets” into the top 20 over a year after the release of her Hot Pink album.
Now I can’t see Adele going into a studio and creating music with TikTok as the primary focus or anticipating a viral moment but there is something to be said about how social media has drastically changed how artists are perceived, how music is consumed and artists approach to releasing new music.
Adele also makes music meant to strike a chord with almost anyone who hears it after all she is a global act. But this time around with “30” there is a whole new breed of fans who were raised on these platforms and don’t exactly care what you did in 2015 and beyond.
Not to mention, the popularity contests of the past used to take place at award shows, guest appearances on talk shows, and the like. However, award shows don’t quite hit the same as they used to and the fact remains that your popularity and relevance is usually gaged by your activity online and the overall perception held of you online.
The idea of being a real star is watered down now. As Adele said, ‘We existed in the old school-ness of the industry that we grew up watching and aspiring to [be part of].’
See most of us grew up watching our idols on TV and it was because of that TV that we associated them with stardom. The main way for our perception of these artists to be shaped was through the TV.
The lives of our Stars were personal for the most part because we didn’t have access to them 24/7. It was something about the unknown that made them invincible in our eyes and essentially something we aspired to be.
Nowadays our phones have become the TV and it doesn’t take much for us to idolize someone even if they are undeserving of such praise.
The bar is set so low and anyone can turn on their phone today and sell you an image of something that you may idolize.
The ability and ease at which this can be done means that there is more noise and distractions than ever before and this ultimately impacts the music industry because even for adele, being an amazingly talented artist is no longer enough.
Which brings us to our next point.
The Shortened Attention Spans of Audiences
Attracting the attention of the public and maintaining it for a long period of time is getting harder and harder each day.
There is simply too much going on and the rate at which we receive and process information is a lot faster than in years past.
Think about what people do nowadays to attain and maintain relevance. Whether that is clout chasing or random outbursts that get people talking.
I think of Kanye and his ability to consistently stay trending this past year. Whether this has all been calculated or coincidence all of this has aligned with the release of two albums, a documentary, and more.
Now is everything Kanye is doing ethical or just about the music? No, but it just goes to show how important both good and bad press is nowadays.
If you are not being talked about in today’s day and age it is easy to be forgotten.
In the subconscious minds of fans it’s the spoiled mentality of what have you done for me lately?
A fan’s connection to the artists they love are more fleeting than ever before and we have seen how quickly audiences can turn on an artist in the digital age over the littlest things.
Think back to the old videos of Micheal Jackson making fans at his concert faint before the show even began.
Which artists do you know that have this kind of impact today?
This is because streaming and social media have reduced the commitment factor that was once required to be a fan of an artist.
The fan who physically had to go into a store, purchase a CD, take it home, and sit with it whether they liked the project or not is different from the fan who can simply stream any song whenever or wherever they want in a matter of seconds.
The growth of that relationship between fan and artist is often stunted today unless the artist can come up with ways to strengthen the relationship.
The attraction to Adele’s release of 25 was a lot stronger back in 2015 because there was still a relatively high commitment from the average fan to purchase music and after all, it is adele.
Now that content is king, society has a hunger for new content with zero desire for commitment leading to many challenges in relation to how artists release new music.
When there is a low level of commitment from fans it is hard to keep their attention for long periods of time. Your emotions towards something will always be stronger when you have skin in the game.
This primarily comes in the form of monetary support of an artist because as we know likes and follows are pretty low commitment and don’t always convert into physical sales.
Now by no means was a star like Adele forgotten after her 6-year hiatus and a talent like Adele shouldn’t be rushed. She has never been one to release at a consistent clip either like some of her peers.
However, it would be interesting to see how the last 6 years would have gone if she was consistently releasing music and continually adjusting to the changes as the years passed.
In those 6 years the industry has seen the prominence of releasing more singles/EPs over albums, shorter and less elaborate build ups to the release of projects or more surprise releases as some would call it. We even have artists not even bothering to release a single before the album drops.
All of which seems to be an attempt to evolve with the current climate. In reality, adele hasn’t changed course too much with the exception of going straight to streaming this time around, and given the climate, her numbers are very impressive all things considered.
Our Final Thoughts On Adele’s Worst Selling Album
While “30” may not have had the same impact as “25” it was still a moment in time where Adele once again had the world’s attention in anticipation of her release because of the star she is.
The sad reality of the times now is that the ability to hold that attention takes an immense amount of effort and probably a bit of stooping to a level not everyone is willing to go to.
That said, it will be interesting to see what Adele’s next move might be. After all, she is known for taking extended breaks between projects which is fair given the fact that these artists are human beings after all and I think in our craze for content and gossip we tend to lose sight of that.
So what do you think? Should artists be scared of the fact that even artists like Adele are not immune to these changes? Or do you think that these changes are good for music?
Music With Flavor Staff
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