The Adele Effect


After years of declining album sells and a consumer consumption preference in digital singles and music streaming services, full studio album purchases have been left behind with the likes of cassette tapes and CD players.

With the impending release of the highly anticipated Adele third studio album, "25," set for this Friday, the power to shape how the U.S. music industry will end its year is all in its hands.

The years of albums dominating the music industry are back.

In the past five years alone, music met Taylor Swift. And while even Swift has not been able to have as much of a worldwide success as Adele, Swift has easily pioneered the comeback of studio albums as profitable commodities in the U.S. music industry.

"1989" - the album - was as much as a gift to the music industry than it was to Taylor Swift. The official departure from the country music sound that made Taylor Swift Taylor Swift proved that pop music was gaining selling power again in a way that had not been seen since the presence of Michael Jackson in the pop music space.

In the first week of its October 2014 release, "1989" sold 1.28 million copies - something that had not been done since "The Eminem Show" was released in 2002. One year later, the album was certified five times platinum in the U.S. - something that industry experts predicted would not happen again for a long time. That is however, until Adele announced the release of her third studio album in late 2014.

Can one person truly revolutionize such an industry though?

While the biggest-selling album of the year has not belonged to an artist outside of the pop genre since 2010, the music industry has shifted quite a bit since the March 2011 release of Adele's globally successful sophomore album, "21," and was just as different before it.

Back when Lady Gaga wore a meat dress to the Video Music Awards and Justin Bieber, who was only 17-years-old at the time, became the youngest male artist to top the charts with his debut album, "My World 2.0," the year in music belonged to Eminem.

Not a stranger to end of the year charts, "Recovery," the first studio album from the rapper after being named the best-selling artist of the decade (based of Nielsen SoundScan numbers), gave him his second top-selling album of the year (an achievement which would later be outdone by Adele when "21" became the first consecutive top-selling album of the year in 2011 and 2012).

Although Taylor Swift outperformed Eminem that year in terms of overall album sales with her follow-up to the 2009 Grammy winning Album of the Year and top selling album "Fearless," "Recovery" only trailed behind the 2010 released "Speak Now" by under 15,000 albums - a difference that now a days has not been matched my many others.

After U.S. music sales saw a record drop in 2009, 2010 only added to the explanation behind that. In 2010, both digital and physical purchases of music singles increased, while the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) reported that physical CD copies purchased decreased by 22.9% and digital copies only increased by 2.1%.

With the beginning of a new decade came the beginning of the new music business model era. Music had already established itself as a digital platform in the early millennium with the likes of file sharing services like Napster opening the door to such possibilities for the industry but also challenging it.

Music was finally beginning to be taken seriously as a service, an infinity, a rotation, and ultimately a multi-functional business venture after being considered to be free for many years. Services such as Pandora in 2000, Spotify in 2003, and YouTube in 2005 changed the approach artists needed to make to have their music be both accessible and profitable in a space that was not the same as before.

This is the point where Taylor Swift succeeded as a brand, but Adele succeeded as a market.

After the likes of oversexualized female superstars and infectious boy bands had become the new definition of pop music, Adele offered the opposite. Taylor Swift became a brand that was known for female orientated music about teenage experiences and young adult breakups while Adele, also known for speaking about love and romance, offered music that was attractive to both female and male audiences with a difference sense of lyrical and musical maturity (even when the two are only two years apart).

In the financial success of the music industry, the market will outlive the brand. The brand adapts to the market they are currently living in, but the market is ultimately the one that creates it.

This is why the top five selling albums in 2011 were all experimental in their own right. "21" dominated the end of the year chart with 5.82 million copies sold. The second top charting album, while also pop, was a seasonal album (Michael Buble, "Christmas") and did not offer any competition to "21" with only 2.45 million copies sold. While Lady Gaga had already established herself as a pop music icon with her studio album debut and EP ("The Fame", "The Fame Monster"), her 2011 follow up, "Born This Way," saw Last Gaga broadening her musical style and ultimately straying away from the dance-pop style she had become known for. With such effort however, "Born This Way" showed a decrease of over 2 million records in U.S. album sales when compared to the 2008 "The Fame" and only sold 2.1 million records. The fourth and fifth top selling albums of 2011 both sold under 2 million records with rapper Lil Wayne's "Tha Carter IV" only moving 1.92 million copies and country's Jason Aldean's album "My Kinda Party" only selling 1.58 million copies.

Such high album sales had not seen since Usher topped the charts in 2004 with "Confessions" selling 7.98 million copies. "21" was so ground baking that it also topped the end of the year charts in 2012 with 4.41 million copies sold. While it continued to stay in the Top 200 album charts in 2013 and 2014, the industry was not able to match the numbers "21" had previously achieved.

In fact, 2013 saw the first year that the top selling album of the year sold less than 3 million copies since 2008. That year also witnessed Justin Timberlake's "The 20/20 Experience" be the only album to sell over 2 million copies. While 2013 was also the year that Beyoncé released her self-titled fifth studio album, and Katy Perry released her fourth studio album, "Prism", pop music consumers were not responding the same way they did to Adele's "21." Both albums were ranked number eight and number 14 in the 2013 end of the year charts respectfully.

The state of pop music and album sales was so deteriorating that the 2014 top selling album of the year almost went to a movie (Frozen) soundtrack until "1989" was able to outsell it in the last week to push itself to the top selling album by only a few thousand copies. 2014 also saw three of its end of the year top 10 albums released in 2013 and the tenth top selling album sell less than 800k copies.

With a few weeks left in 2015, and "Hello," the first single of "25" being the first single to sell one-million downloads in its release week, it's safe to say that the top selling album of the year will go to Adele's "25."

But there are a few competitors.

With "1989" still being high in the charts, Swift will probably end the year with the second top selling album unless Rihanna's long awaited eight studio album "Anti" is released. The rest of the Top 10 spots will belong to albums such as Sam Smith's "In the Lonely Hour", Ed Sheeran's "X", and the November 13th released albums by pop heavyweights One Direction "Made in the A.M." and Justin Bieber "Purpose."

However the end of the year chart may end up to be, join me in saying hello to Adele again.

The state of studio album sells and the pop music industry can only go up from here.