Thought blockbusters were dead? Say ‘Hello’ to Adele

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

“Hello,” she said, and what we thought we knew about the music business went “Bye Bye Bye.”

Adele’s “25” was released Friday, and it’s poised to be a gargantuan, record-toppling smash. Industry forecasters are predicting it will sell as many as 2.5 million copies its first week in stores, which would best the first week sales record set 15 years ago by *NSYNC’s “No Strings Attached,” a chart feat many thought would never fall.

In a shifting record industry plagued by years of declining sales, the Adele bonanza is proof that while everything in the music business has changed, nothing has changed in the business of music. Adele’s not going to save the record industry, that ship has sailed, but she’s proof of the everlasting power of big, brassy ballads and the universality of heartbreak, her stock in trade.

The Brit was only 11 years old when *NSYNC’s “No Strings Attached,” bolstered by first single “Bye Bye Bye,” sold 2.4 million copies during its opening sales frame. (No album since has even eclipsed the 2 million mark.) The boy band’s triumph came during a high point for CD sales, before downloads and streaming redefined (or, to be more blunt, massacred) the industry’s business model.

Now along comes Adele, her mighty voice smashing records like Thor’s hammer crushes everything in its path. “Hello,” the devastating ballad that was released as the album’s first single, sold more than 1 million downloads its first week, nearly doubling the pre-existing one-week download record (held, somehow, by Flo Rida’s “Right Round”).

“Hello” went straight to No. 1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 singles chart and looks poised to camp out there for awhile. And if her last album is any indication, “25” will likely carve out a spot for itself at the top of the albums chart for the foreseeable future; a Billboard report this week indicated the album could sell as many as 5 million copies by Christmas.

One chart it won’t be topping is the Spotify’s, since “25” has not been made available on the streaming service. That means the popular platform’s users must go elsewhere to hear the album, either by purchasing a physical CD or downloading via iTunes.

Adele may well capture the first-week sales record, but she certainly would have claimed the first week streaming record, which is most important metric going forward. While the revenue from album sales will pay off better, streaming is where the industry is headed, and her adherence to the established model proves as old-fashioned as her piano-driven torch songs.

Yet there’s a reason why old-fashioned never goes away. If Adele sets the one-week sales record, she does it at as next month’s release of “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is predicted to shatter the record for opening weekend box office sales, setting a new high water mark for Hollywood.

Yes, the biggest things in our culture are a classically trained ballad singer and an update on a ’70s franchise based on serials from the ’30s and ’40s.

Say hello to the new world, same as the old one.