Adele’s “Hello” came out only 13 days ago, but you’ve probably heard it more than a hundred times already, even if you haven’t consciously sought it out. Not a bad thing! It’s a hell of a song. But it is inescapable. There’s some empirical data to support that assumption: “Hello” sold a record-breaking 1.12 million downloads in its first week of availability, and over that same seven-day span, it got 61.6 million video streams and 20.4 million on-demand streaming-service plays.
“Hello” is, of course, the first single off Adele’s upcoming third LP, 25, and there’s absolutely no question that album is going to be a monster. Maybe historically so! One year ago last week, Forbes wrote a piece titled “Why Taylor Swift’s 1989 Could Be The Last Platinum Album Ever” — but 1989 cruised past platinum certification like it was nothing. 1989 went platinum in its first week. In July, 1989 hit the 5x platinum mark, reaching that point faster than any other album in a decade. For the past year, nothing else has even come close to achieving those numbers.
But then again, nothing else is like Adele.
Since its 2011 release, the British singer’s last LP, 21, has sold more than 11 million copies in the US, and more than 30 million worldwide. (#Truth!) And based on the response to “Hello,” it seems reasonable to suggest that 25 could eclipse both 21 and 1989. But the parallels between Adele and Swift extend beyond sheer commercial heft: Just as Swift kept 1989 off Spotify (and soon afterward, pulled her whole catalog from the service), Adele initially withheld 21 from Spotify. And even though the release of 25 is only two weeks away (it comes out on 11/20), it appears Adele may withhold the new album from every streaming outlet. Or she may not. No one knows. According to a story in today’s New York Times:
Executives briefed on the plans for Adele’s release said that streaming services had been given no clear indications about whether, or when, the album would become available on those outlets.
It seems reasonable to imagine that some serious negotiations are currently underway: If one service were to get an exclusive lock on 25 — even if only temporarily — it would be a monumental boon to that service, irrespective of its price. (Presumably, the only services in contention for such an arrangement would be Apple Music and Spotify — Tidal, Deezer, the newly relaunched Napster, et al., can merely watch this one from the sidelines.) But as the Times’ sources point out: “One likely scenario [is] that the album could be withheld from streaming outlets for a week or more to maximize its CD and download sales.”
What makes this remarkable is the degree of secrecy. Swift spoke openly about her issues with Spotify and Apple Music — and immediately afterward, Spotify and Apple Music responded. Swift made her position known, and in doing so, generated conversation that led to increased transparency and eventually progress. But no one on either side is saying anything on the subject of 25. And according to the Times, Adele herself is calling the shots:
Adele is said to be personally involved in deciding whether and how her music should be streamed — an unusual level of involvement for a major star in such a granular business issue.
But is it so unusual? Is it so granular? Between Tay Sway and Jay Z, this sort of scenario seems increasingly commonplace, and the issue seems increasingly vital. Furthermore, it seems like musicians at all levels would prefer to be more involved with this aspect of their careers … but aren’t, only because few record deals allow the artist any say over their streaming rights (which is why Beyoncé’s catalog could have been pulled from Tidal, even though she and her husband are co-owners of the service).
Here, Adele — like Swift — wields unique power. And whatever choice Adele does make will speak volumes and be widely scrutinized. Will she withhold 25 from all streaming services for a period to bump sales? Will she ink an exclusive deal with one service in return for a substantial financial payout (or even an equity stake)? Or will she look at the 20.4 million on-demand streaming-service plays accrued in just one week by “Hello” and choose to stream 25 everywhere on 11/20 and beyond — thus getting her music to the most possible listeners at the exact moment those listeners are most excited to hear it?
It’ll be interesting to find out. As for finding the music, though … well, you probably won’t have to worry too much about that. Wherever it is, and wherever you are, 25 is going to find you.