Adele, Bigger Than [Insert Name Here]

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

Adele has sold more albums in a single week in the U.S. than anyone has since Nielsen started tracking data in 1991. What's even more impressive is that we know this before the album has even been out for a week. The previous titleholder was *NSYNC, with 2,416,000 copies of No Strings Attached moved in seven days of March of 2000. Adele’s 25 sold 2,433,000 units—in just three days.

How’d she do it? When her recent single “Hello” broke listenership records over its debut weekend, I compared Adele to a blockbuster film franchise like Star Wars or The Avengers. This holds up, I’d say:

The commercial dominance of “Hello” owes to [being a really genius comeback song, basically], as well as pent-up demand for the particular brand Adele represents. Pop history has shown that initial sales for albums are often referendums on the success of an artist’s previous release, and Adele’s 21 is one of the most successful albums in history. Plus there’s the fact of market differentiation: To anyone who says they wish for less-manufactured stars than those usually topping the charts, Adele is there—no matter how calculated the roll-out, the song construction, or the producer credits on the forthcoming album (Max Martin and Shellback produced track No. 2).

There’s one additional factor in the mix. Right before the released date, Adele’s team announced she would withhold 25 from streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music, forcing people who really wanted to hear the album to do an increasingly rare thing for pop consumers these days—actually buy it.

The new suspense around 25, now, is about its staying power. In my review, I predicted—perhaps foolishly—that in the long run this record wouldn’t be as huge, as lastingly significant, as 21. The songs just aren’t as memorable. Maybe the real test will come on Thanksgiving, when it’ll be seen whether anything but “Hello” can stop the family argument: