Blockbusters Still Matter. Just Ask Adele.
Yeah, I bought it this morning. Didn’t you?
It’s not that there’s anything all that amazing or surprising about Adele Laurie Blue Adkins’s new collection of songs, “25.” As Alexis Petridis put it in the Guardian, “no one who buys it is going to angrily return it to the shop because it wasn’t what they expected.” That is, it sounds a lot like Adele’s last album.
But that came out four whole years ago. Adele does scarcity well. As the head of her label, XL Recordings, put it a few years ago: “The problem in this business is that too many records are put out.”
This new one is being accompanied by a months-long publicity campaign. First came a 30-second teaser from the single “Hello,” which aired during a commercial break on the U.K. version of “The X Factor” Oct. 17. A week later it was time for the actual single, “Hello,” which immediately jumped to the top of the Billboard chart, and a video that has been viewed 426 million times so far on YouTube. Now there’s the album. It won’t be available on streaming services such as Spotify and iTunes Music for a while. But there’s an deluxe version, with three extra songs, if you’re willing to make the trek to Target stores in the U.S. and buy an actual CD.
Except for the part about the video being viewed 426 million times on YouTube, this all feels like a throwback to an earlier era -- an era when people actually bought albums. An estimated 30 million copies were sold of Adele’s “21,” and “25” is off to a pretty spectacular start. Clearly, the blockbuster isn’t dead, and there’s still a role for an entertainment industry that can help build something like “25” into an inescapable global event.
And it isn’t just the entertainment industry pushing Adele. The grassroots, long tail effects of digital technology are at work too, as evidenced by the instant imitations and homages that “Hello” has spawned. There are already dozens of cover versions on YouTube. Billboard has a list of the 11 best; my current favorite is by Los Angeles-based Zimbabwean singer Taps Mugadza:
So that’s pretty cool. It gives exposure (1.7 million views so far) to a talented but little-known performer, while at the same time bringing yet more attention to Adele’s new release. I just don’t remember ever being barraged from so many different directions about a new album -- “25” is inescapable.
All that attention, though, doesn’t translate into sales the way it used to. The 30 million CDs/downloads/whatevers sold of “21” have made it far and away the best-selling album of the past decade. All-time, though, according the painstakingly documented best-selling albums list on Wikipedia, it comes in somewhere around 25th place. That’s the reality of music in the digital era. With the rise of streaming since “21” was released, it will likely be even harder for “25” to attain those kinds of numbers. As a cultural phenomenon, “25” seems like a much bigger deal than, say, Shania Twain’s “Come On Over.” As a moneymaker, maybe not.
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