Wednesday, February 8, 2012

How Adele Saved The Music Industry

2011 has come and gone, and it’ll hereon be known as the year where Adele Adkins conquered the charts.

Her sophomore album, 21, has been a steady presence on the charts since its release in the U.S. in February. It has been in the top five for 49 out of its 50 weeks on the chart, and has reached number one 19 times. This album was everywhere. You couldn’t turn on a radio, walk into a store, or watch a TV talent show without hearing one of her songs.

 When the year was over, the album was certified platinum with sales of 5.82 million, managing to sell double her nearest competitor. As of Feb. 8, the album has sold over 6 million copies and shows no signs of letting up.   Adele herself has been nominated for six Grammy awards, and will likely win in every category she is nominated in.

With these numbers, the album became the best selling album in a calendar year since 2004, and the music industry is rejoicing.  There are many lessons that can be learned from Adele’s year and they are lessons that can determine the future of the music industry.

I’ve listened to the album, and enjoyed it enough to put it on my favourite albums of the past year, and determined three reasons why the album was so popular.

First of all, the themes are universal.  Throughout the album, Adele sings about relationships, heartbreak and revenge, which is something that almost everyone can relate to. Who hasn’t had their heart broken or wished that they could get back at a partner that wronged them? The album, according to Adele, was inspired by a relationship that failed during the production, and she channeled her feelings into the songs. Real emotion will always strike a chord with listeners.

Another reason I felt the album was successful was due to the music itself appealing to multiple generations of listeners. 21 is largely a soul/R&B album, with a strong Etta James influence, but contains strong pop sensibilities and even a little bit of country influence on several songs (“Don’t You Remember?” and "Hiding My Heart” especially). It was poppy enough for the younger crowd, but was grounded in the style of music that appealed strongly to adult listeners. Adults are probably the key reason for why the album was so successful. They didn’t feel alienated by it, like they would with some of the artists the young crowd is listening to.

Finally, Adele stands out in a music industry that emphasizes style over substance. Almost every female pop singer today has a gimmick. Lady Gaga has her weird outfits; Katy Perry relies strongly on sexuality; Britney Spears is now part of the old guard (at 30 years old). Adele’s gimmick is that she has no gimmick. She goes out on stage in a dress and just sings.  It’s a breath of fresh air among a sea of Autotuned vocals and unusual outfits.

Adele had one of the best years in music last year, and the music industry should pay attention to her success moving forward. Talent will always win out over showmanship.

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