You might remember a little singer named Adele? No, she hasn’t put out any new music since 2015’s year-end blockbuster 25, but that album, along with her other work, is still resonating in such a profound way that it’s time to revisit her for a brief math lesson. It’ll be fun I promise.
Her modest success has been “a thing” since she burst onto the scene back in 2008 with 19, but where it really picks up is three years later, in 2011 with 21, when Adele had the best-selling album of the year for two years in a row — taking the top spot in both 2011 and 2012. It only gets bigger from there.
In order to accurately address the Adele phenomenon, a group of researchers in analytics at American University began a project investigating her impact that they dubbed “Adelytics.” They used Nielsen data to take a look at her unprecedented album sales and several other aspects of her career, while comparing them to previous chart-toppers both before and after online streaming became the most popular way to listen to music.
The first astonishing fact from their study is one that was being passed around last year while 25 broke records — that album infamously sold 7.4 million albums in the final six weeks of 2015. The closest anyone has got to that number of total albums sold recently was Taylor Swift’s 1989 in 2014 — but her record only sold 3.6 million copies, less than half of what 25 moved. Comparatively, in 2000, NSYNC’s No Strings Attached sold more than nine million copies in the pre-streaming era. For Adele to be getting so close to that total album sales number in the age of streaming is otherworldly. The seven million range hasn’t been reached since 2004, when Usher’s Confessions was the best-selling album of the year.
Broken down a few other ways, Adele’s album sold over a million copies in three separate weeks last year, and also set the new record for number of copies sold in a week, with 3.37 million in its first week. That means Adele was selling just about as many copies in her first week as Taylor Swift sold total. (*Nicki Minaj voice* No shade, no, no shade.)
Another chart from the group’s research reveals Adele’s day rate when it comes to sales, which also far exceeds anything else in history. A great album will sell around 50,000 copies per day. Adele topped out around 175,000 copies per day.