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The secret to Adele's global success
It's exactly a year since we first heard Adele's second album, 21. We had pestered her record label on an almost daily basis; gripped by an irrational fear that someone we know might hear it before we did. We were played it on the condition we didn't write about it, tweet about it or even so much as mention to other people that we'd heard it, until review copies were sent out.
At the end of the playback, somewhat awestruck at the musical leaps and lyrical bounds Adele had taken since her first record, we made a prediction - telling the label's press officer that 21 would be the second biggest selling album globally, in 2011. We were wrong.
By the end of this year Adele will have sold more albums than anyone else, by several horses' heads. Over 12 million copies worldwide, to be inexact. Not bad for a Tottenham girl.
We had wrongly assumed Adele would come a respectful second to the unstoppable Lady Gaga. Who would've bet against her? And yet Born This Way is having to make do with a measly four million copies sold. Where did it all go wrong?
More importantly, where did it all go right for Adele? What fiendish feat of PR or Machiavellian hype ensured that 21 stayed in the Top 5 on both sides of the Atlantic for 12 months? They must've spent a heck of a lot of money on promotion.
Only the galling fact for less successful record companies is that this is one of the least expensive campaigns of the year. Sure, there was an arty video for Rolling In The Deep, although everyone preferred the home movie footage that accompanied the initial release of the song.
And then there was a second video, for Someone Like You, with Adele walking moodily along the Seine, although it wasn't necessary as everyone had already fallen in love with her live performances of it on Later with Jools and The Brits, meaning they could've saved the few quid it cost to shoot her having a black & white stroll.
And anyone lucky enough to see the non-cancelled dates of her tour (or bought the live DVD) would've noticed no real expense spent. The lampshade lighting at the back might've cost a few bob, but no more than far smaller acts spend on stage backdrops. Her band was small. There were no costume changes (other than when she took her shoes off). There was a confetti canon... But we can hardly call it a big production.
It could've all fitted comfortably in one truck, with room for the roadies' caretaker outfits.
So is the secret to her success down to the studio? Is that where the big bucks were spent? Again, not really. There were big names: Air, Metropolis, Shangri-La in Malibu... They don't come cheap, but neither are they extravagant for an artist of Adele's stature.
Producers Rick Rubin and Paul Epworth most likely worked for a percentage of the album's sales rather than a fee, as is increasingly the norm. Then there were the musicians: an orchestra and a choir's worth. But they're professionals and would've worked quickly.
21 was not one of those long torturous albums to complete; a year from the start of writing to the finished product (with a fairly big gap at the beginning while she broke up with the man who inspired the bulk of the material).
The fact is that the entire production and promotion of Adele's album cost no more, and in all likelihood a lot less, than most of the albums in the Top 40 right now.
And yet it's sold three times as much as its closest rival, is the biggest seller in her label XL's history and is showing no signs of slowing down.
If it were just down to good songs sung well, we could all think of records which deserved to sell as much. So there must be something more to Adele and to 21 that's made her such an unrivalled global success.
We've written before about how Adele's music exudes an air of quality and of timelessness. And it's these elements that people turn to at times of financial uncertainty.
Like Britain, America is also up a financial creek searching in vain for something paddle shaped. At a time when buying music seems an unnecessary luxury, a record like 21 feels like a justifiable investment. If we're going to listen to music, might as well make it music that's built to last.
And while her camp gobby charms are possibly lost on much of her American audience, her oft-mentioned affability, apparent lack of ego and realistic body shape must come as a welcome relief to an audience who've been bombarded with bling, superstardom and stick-thin boob-a-matrons for popstars.
Gaga's fantastical fakery is a wondrous distraction but, as the old Coca Cola adverts told us, you can't beat the real thing. To the USA, Adele is authenticity incarnate.
Regardless of your personal tastes, Adele is an undeniably talented and engaging singer. But unlike similarly soulful belters like Beyonce or Mary J Blige, her voice isn't rooted in any particular genre. It's hard to think of any other artist with such a broad appeal.
Adele certainly owes a debt to the great soul singers, yet there's also an unmistakeable jazz element to her phrasing - all delivered in a uniquely English way.
While she was making her debut record 19, forgotten folk blues heroine Karen Dalton was mentioned as an influence, and you can hear that in her lightly picked guitar style and lovelorn vocal inflections.
In her choice of cover versions she's shown she's a fan of Bob Dylan, The Cure and current country music stars Lady Antebellum.
With a simple pop album, Adele has catered for most of the music buying spectrum (even the punk, metal and techno fans like something soppy to listen to after a hard night out).
Songs like Turning Tables and Take It All manage to be both emotionally raw and yet reassuringly middle of the road, simultaneously. Meaning no one feels embarrassed to buy the album, despite it being the housewife's choice (traditionally the biggest yet most difficult market to tap).
Like ABBA, The Carpenters and Dolly Parton before her, Adele appeals to those who like nice songs sung nicely, whilst also attracting those who hear the pain and honesty at the heart of them. Adele's 21 is the best of both worlds.
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