Adele217;s sophomore set, “21,” bowed on the Billboard 200 today with sales of 352,000, according to Nielsen SoundScan. That’s the highest opening week tally in 2011. It also marks the biggest debut for a new album since Kanye West started with 496,000 with “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy” the week ending Nov. 28. That same week, Nicki Minaj launched “Pink Friday” with sales of 375,000. As well as she's doing here, she's blowing up even bigger in her native U.K.: She is the first artist since the Beatles to have entries in both the top 5 of the album and singles charts. Here’s how she did it and what other artists can learn.
1) Set up, set up, set up. Columbia, Adele’s U.S. label, began greasing the wheels in September by discreetly playing one or two tracks for people to start to get a whisper campaign going. Then in October, a full four months before the release date, Adele played small showcases in New York and Los Angeles for tastemakers to continue to build the buzz. Here’s our report from her Los Angeles show. There has been a slow, but steady simmering on the project ever since then that came to a boil as the release date approached.
2) The focus has been squarely on the music. While paparazzi have hassled Adele in her native London, here she’s simply not the stuff of tabloid fodder. Maybe it’s because she’s not posing in next to nothing or falling drunk out of a bar or dating a semi-celeb, but when we talk about Adele, we talk about the music...and her talent. And isn’t that a nice change of pace? What a concept.
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3) Adele put in the work. Instead of acting like she was a superstar based on one hit album and copping any kind of attitude, her label has worked her like she’s a still new, developing artist, which is exactly what she is. She has been on practically every talk show known to man and she’s not only charmed the hosts when she’s gotten couch time, her performances have been spot on and have been the focus of her appearance.
4) Adele honed her craft. Most importantly than Adele putting the work into promoting the set, she put the work in the music. She decided after “19,” that she needed to improve her songwriting so she holed up in her London apartment and took herself to school, listening to country music and hip hop music and everything in between and teaching herself what make a song appealing. Plus, she knew she needed help. Unlike “19,” which she wrote primarily by herself, she co-wrote with such stellar mentors as Dan Wilson and Ryan Tedder for “21," as well as brought in superstar producer Rick Rubin.
5) Smart touring. Adele’s booking agent used one of the smartest and oldest tricks in the book when setting up her current U.S. tour: book her into venues that are marginally too small for her, thereby creating a rush for tickets and instant sellouts...and more buzz just as the album was streeting. Most dates for her U.S. tour, which starts May 12 in Washington, D.C., went clean in minutes, and a few dates had to be moved to a larger venue. Plus, too many British artists say they’ve touring the U.S. when their itinerary has five major cities on it. Adele’s Spring tour has 24 dates on it. That’s great and we hope there’s more dates coming. You haven’t really toured the U.S. until you’ve played Pocatello, Idaho.
6) Great single choice. Columbia orchestrated a smart radio plan for first single “Rolling In the Deep.” They didn't reinvent the wheel here, they just used common sense and patience: Instead of trying to push her at Top 40, they started small at Triple A and tied in TV from the beginning: she debuted the song on “Ellen” last year instead of holding that performance for the album’s release. Plus, the song is so strong that we’re now seeing other artists cover it, just as they did Kayne West’s “Heartless.” Check out Mike Posner’s cover and Young the Giant’s version here.