When Adele made her debut with “19” in 2008, she was the second or third-rate Amy Winehouse. At that time, there was an influx of British female singers with a throwback vibe and while Adele’s voice made her special, she lacked a “Rehab,” or even a “Mercy”-sized hit, needed to truly breakout. Since then, the stars have aligned. With a Best New Artist Grammy and the downfall of Winehouse, Adele is a bigger star than ever on the eve of her U.S. sophomore release, “21.”
So, what’s changed? How did Adele become the premiere British songstress, eclipsing the likes of Amy Winehouse and Duffy? First and foremost, she started to make music that’s both more exciting and more relatable. As we’ve seen with the likes of Taylor Swift, being able to relate to your audience is everything. While Adele doesn’t relate to the same tween girls as Swift, it’s easy to see that many of the songs on her new record are influenced by the storytelling used in country music. There were glimpses of this on her debut, but “21” takes it to a whole new level. Almost immediately after “Rolling In the Deep” premiered, Adele began performing other songs to promote “21.” This is what really made me pay attention. Many times, these neo soul artists have one cathcy, marketable song and the rest of their album, well, blows. Having only heard “Rolling In the Deep,” would I have anticipated, or even took the time to listen, to her new album? Maybe. Maybe not. But, after hearing live performances of “Someone Like You” and “Don’t You Remember,” Adele sealed the deal.
Adele is great live and that’s another key element to her success. Admittedly, she’s also not the type of live artist I’m usually attracted to. I like a show. But, Adele’s voice and interpretation is a show in itself. Following her performance at the Brits (see above), “Someone Like You” shot to #1 in the U.K. It’s no surprise her tour (on both sides of the pond) has almost immediately sold out. And luckily, her team played it safe. Could Adele have played larger venues that 1,500-3,000 seat theaters? Probably. But there’s time for that. She will gain even more fans playing smaller venues that really showcase her craft. You have to create a demand and some scarcity to build hype–and that’s what this tour will do. She has the rest of 2011 and 2012 (assuming the album will have a second wind after the Grammys next year) to make some real money touring.
While it took almost six months for “19” to be released here after it’s European release, “21” will be released tomorrow in the U.S., a few weeks after it hit the U.K. For now, the staggered release dates work. Will Adele’s next album be released simultaneously worldwide? Most likely. But her team’s smart. They give her time to really work the album on both sides of the Atlantic and have lined up a great TV promo tour for this week. While some artists are better off not performing their material on live TV, once you see Adele, there’s no going back. That, coupled with her growing fan base, will put “21” at the top of the Billboard 200 next week.
Where will the rest of 2011 take Adele? “21” will obviously be a big worldwide success and I expect another headlining tour following her spring dates. I also think Adele will have her first pop hit with “Rolling In the Deep” approaching the top 10 on iTunes and building on radio. Follow that up with “Set Fire to the Rain” (on pop) and she’s good to go. Also, make sure she performs “Someone Like You” wherever she goes. While it’s not a radio hit, it’s a song that sells albums. And the album will sell (and also win a couple Grammys next year).
Just as a side note, Adele’s face is also plastered all over my college campus. More artists need to actively pursue this demographic. We buy albums too.