Next week, barring any stunning surprises, Adele’s “21” will celebrate its 16th non-consecutive week at No. 1 on the Billboard 200. That statistic gives the album the most weeks at No. 1 since the “Titanic” soundtrack in 1997-1998.
How can there by anything bad about that? Well, plenty. Especially when you think about what her success says about the state of the music industry and today’s music makers.
Let’s make something clear: This is not meant to take anything away from Adele, and her U.S. label, Columbia, which set up the album beautifully and have paced the singles perfectly. This is more a look at what's wrong with everything else. Here’s the bad news:
*If you subtract “21’s” success from the 2011 numbers, sales for 2011 were down from 2010; her album sales alone can wipe away the 1.4% increase experienced over the previous year. Since “21” first debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard chart dated March 12 2011, 23 other albums have hit No. 1, but “21” always bounced back to the top, never spending more than 10 weeks out of No. 1. Plus, it has never dropped out of the Top 10 since its release.
*Other than “21,” the only other album to spend more than two weeks at No. 1 since “21’s” release is Michael Buble’s “Christmas.” A holiday album. An album that does not rely on radio play and has an extraordinarily short shelf life (although it is a perennial) and does nothing to build an artist’s career.
*To drive the nail further in the coffin, the gap between “21’s” sales and sales of “Christmas,” the second-best selling album in 2011, was around 3 million copies . Do you want us to repeat that? “21” sold 5.8 million copies; “Christmas” sold 2.45 million. There are 310 million people in the U.S.
*Nearly a year after “21’s” release, Columbia is only on the third single, “Set Fire To The Rain.” How many pop records, especially urban leanings ones, are on their third single by the time the album comes out? Granted, a “Rolling in the Deep” only comes along once in, apparently, every 25 years, but there’s something to be learned from sticking with a single and not rushing things. It’s called patience and development.
*Acts need to make albums that capture people’s interest for more than a second. Coldplay’s “Mylo Xyloto?” Lady Antebellum’s “Own the Night?” Drake’s “Take Care?” All highly anticipated albums that got one and were done: one week at No. 1 and then started to drop. All the emphasis is on opening week, there’s no building or sustaining a story.
*Artists need to make better albums. Yes, we are transitioning to a digital download world, but note that Adele had the biggest selling single of the year, as well as album. That says that people wanted to buy the album because they wanted to hear more after purchasing “Rolling In the Deep,” and they had faith that the tracks they had not heard would be just as good as the ones that they had. How many other albums can you say that about recently?
*Is it really as simple as Dave Grohl makes it sound? He told Billboard earlier this week: “Someone asked me recently, ‘What do you think the problem with the music industry is?’ I said, take the Adele record, for example. It's an amazing record and everybody's so shocked that it's such a phenomenon. I'm not. You know why that record's huge? Because it's fucking good and it's real. When you have an artist singing about something real and she's incredibly talented, it deserves all the rewards it gets, it's a great record. Now imagine if all records were that good. Do you think only one of them would sell? Fuck no! All of them would...A lot of people are promoting records that are just throw-it-against-the-wall-see-if-it-sticks meaningless bullshit. Everybody has the responsibility to do the right thing and promote artists that mean something."
No, of course it’s not that simple. The Foo Fighters’ “Wasting Light” has sold around 670,000 copies. Does that mean it’s only 1/9 as good as “21?” Of course not, but Grohl’s broader point is well taken about the industry's continued mentality that settles for merely good enough. And that's too bad.