Adele’s ‘Hello’ exemplifies shifting dynamic in music industry

Adele performs at the 54th Annual Grammy Awards at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California, on Feb. 12, 2012. Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times / MCT

For pop music aficionados, the term “imperial phase” is one full of meaning. Originally coined by Neil Tennant of the English electronic duo Pet Shop Boys, the term refers to a period of time in a pop star’s career when they have become so commercially and critically successful that they can do no wrong in the eyes of the public. In other words, the imperial phase is the highest point of a star’s career. Over the last couple decades, Madonna, Michael Jackson and Lady Gaga have all arguably hit this peak.

One could easily argue that British songstress Adele is currently basking in her own imperial phase. By any standards, her last album “21” (2011) was a once-in-a-career achievement, selling over 30 million copies worldwide, including 11 million here in the United States alone. Many anticipated that her next release — whenever it came — could reach even greater heights. With “Hello,” the newly released lead single from her upcoming third album “25,” already shattering records left and right, “25,” which will drop on Nov. 20, seems poised for similar success. 

On Monday, Billboard reported that the song had sold a whopping 1,112,000 downloads in its first week, crushing the 636,000 previous recorder holder Flo Rida saw for his hit “Right Round” (2009). The outlet also reported that “Hello” had become the 24th song ever to debut at number one on the Billboard Hot 100. The single was streamed 2.3 million times on its first day of release alone, garnering 5,000 more streams than One Direction’s July release “Drag Me Down,” which previously held the title. The song’s sepia-tinged music video broke records on Vevo for most views in 24 hours and fastest time to reach 100 million views.

These numbers are perhaps particularly impressive because Adele has largely remained out of the spotlight since 2012. Until the release of “Hello,” moreover, there had been little information from the artist about a new album. A vague tweet in 2014 temporarily had the internet buzzing when Adele wrote, “Bye bye 25…See you again later in the year x.” The rest of 2014 came and went, however, without so much as a blip about a new album release date. Fans were left puzzled and hoping and waiting for more news.

It wasn’t until last month, however, that fans received the update they had been so eagerly waiting for. On Oct. 12, a 30-second commercial on an episode of the British singing competition “The X Factor” (2004 – present) announced Adele’s comeback. In the ad, Adele croons to the millions of unsuspecting viewers, “Hello, it’s me.”

Within minutes, the clip had gone viral, indicating just how much eager fans had been waiting for new music from the British songstress after her hiatus from the music world. “Hello” was released in full 11 days later on Oct. 23 to near-universal praise from fans and music critics alike. 

With November finally here, the release of “25” is just around the corner, and, according to the AC/DC rule, the album is likely to be a massive success. The AC/DC rule says that an artist’s initial album sales are a product of the success of the artist’s previous release. Since “21” still stands as one of the most successful albums in music history, the AC/DC rule would indicate that “25” has the potential to reach similar heights. Initial projections for the album have already placed it well north of one million units in its opening week. These estimates put Adele on track to break yet another record — the highest first-week sales by a female artist. Britney Spears currently holds the title for “Oops!… I Did It Again,” which sold 1,319,000 copies back in 2001.

If pop music history can tell us anything, it is that one should never attempt to place a ceiling on a blockbuster release (see: Taylor Swift’s zooming past the original 750,000 copies-sold prediction for last year’s “1989”). With “Hello” already off to a stellar start, perhaps “25” itself will continue to break records. Could it become the album with the highest first week sales of all time? In this industry, only time will tell.