Adèle is back. Everything has changed since she was in charge of the music business.

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The last time Adele released an album, Barack Obama was president, and streaming was a niche format that had yet to capture the music industry.

Six years later, after a long time out of the limelight, the British superstar is back with a new single, “Easy on Me”, released on Thursday, and she is expected to release a new album soon.

The record is set to be one of the biggest music events of the year, according to music industry analysts. But for Adele, the best-selling artist of the 2010s, famous for moving huge sums of CDs and digital downloads, the stakes are high. Industry analysts are watching to see if it can maintain its numbers and cultural impact in a very different music market, one that favors streaming over traditional sales and where artists struggle to retain music. public attention.

Today, streaming subscriptions drive nearly two-thirds of recorded music revenue in the United States, up from less than 20% in 2015, according to the Recording Industry Association of America. Artists now release music much more frequently, making it harder for a single act to dominate public conversation for a long time.

“It’s easier for her to look like a failure,” says Mark Mulligan, music industry analyst at Midia Research. “But also, if she can succeed through thick and thin …

Analysts and industry executives expect his traditional album sales to drop significantly from his last record. But they also see her cultural power remaining intact, betting that Adele’s new album will dominate public debate next year.

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Adele’s record “25” was released in 2015, as subscriptions to streaming services gained momentum. The following year marked a turning point for the music industry, when streaming saw the first big jump in recorded music revenue in the United States since 1999.

At the time, some of the big music stars hadn’t fully embraced streaming, which isn’t as lucrative as CDs and digital downloads. To maximize her album sales, Adele retained “25” streaming services for months; Spotify and Apple Music weren’t even sure initially if the album would appear on their platforms. Despite the momentum of streaming, “25” became the second best-selling album of the 2010s in the United States (behind Adele’s own “21” of 2011), according to Billboard.

Adele recently suggested that her new album would be different from her previous work, comments that could also serve to manage expectations. “There is no such thing as a bombastic ‘Hello’,” the singer told Vogue magazine, referring to her mega-bit. “I don’t want another song like this,” she said. “This song catapulted me to fame on another level that I don’t want to reproduce.” Adele declined an interview request.

The biggest change will probably be its sales of traditional music. It will be difficult for Adele to match “25”, who moved a record 3.4 million copies in her first week in the US To date, “25” has racked up 9.6 million sales in the United States, of which 6.7 million physical copies, MRC Data says.

Dan Runcie, founder of Trapital, a media company for the music business, for example, expects Adele’s week one US numbers to total over 800,000 album-equivalent units, a measure that includes both traditional sales and streaming.

Unlike “25,” Adele appears to be planning on streaming her album immediately, according to her interview with Vogue. This means that fans have the option of not purchasing it. A larger portion of her fan base, which is older and more feminine, could have become streamers as well. As with many artists these days, Adele’s streams could be concentrated in a few hit songs.

Listening to music, meanwhile, has become more fragmented than ever. Shared cultural moments are rarer as long-standing media institutions such as late-night radio and television have lost considerable reach. Major stars can even go unnoticed by many people. And the music itself is losing the attention of young audiences to social media platforms like TikTok.

“We are in a post-album era,” Mr. Mulligan said. “Music fans browse music faster… that’s what she’s up against.”

As for Adele’s musical career, her older fan base could also affect demand for an expected Las Vegas residency; some fans might be reluctant to purchase tickets due to concerns about Covid-19, says Dave Brooks, senior director of live music and tours for Billboard.

Yet Adele has already overcome obstacles. And superfans of artists like Taylor Swift and BTS are used to gobbling up physical and digital albums as a form of commodity.

Adele “sort of transcends the changes in the industry,” says Brooks. When the voice powerhouse posted a snippet of “Easy on Me” on Instagram, there was a huge impact, including a spike in Facebook chats and retweets on Twitter, according to music analysis firm Chartmetric. Wikipedia searches jumped nearly 550% from the previous week. “People are excited,” says Sung Cho, founder and CEO of Chartmetric. “The interest is there.

Adele’s long hiatus could turn her album into an even bigger cultural event. His team, which includes manager Jonathan Dickins and the Columbia Records label, is expected to launch a massive marketing campaign involving traditional media such as magazines and television.

The difficulty that even the most popular artists face in standing out in today’s landscape underlines how special it can be when a few do. And for Adele, one of the last sales heavyweights in a world where streaming is the world’s first, keeping audiences’ attention over time might be the better barometer of success than Week 1 numbers. , according to analysts and executives.

“Her Billboard sales may not compare to her last album, but that says more about the industry than it does about Adele,” Runcie said.

Write to Neil Shah at [email protected]

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