With excitement around Adele’s first new album in six years driving its debut single, “Easy On Me,” to the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart, fans have also been flocking to her catalog at an unprecedented volume. That’s particularly good news for XL, the independent label that first signed the U.K. star 15 years ago and has now reclaimed rights to her old albums in the U.S. after licensing them to Sony early on.
This week, Adele joined the exclusive club of superstars including Taylor Swift, Drake, BTS and Ariana Grande to launch a new album cycle in the past year with a No. 1 single. With its release on Oct. 15, her piano ballad, “Easy On Me,” scored lofty streaming numbers to top the Hot 100, becoming her fifth No. 1 single ahead of her fourth studio album, 30.
Yet Adele’s blockbuster return has been different than her peers’ major debuts in one significant way: her one new song is causing all her older songs — yes, all of them — to dramatically surge on streaming platforms as well.
As “Easy On Me” crowns the Hot 100 in its first full week of release (the single debuted at No. 68 on last week’s chart based solely on its first five hours of availability), listeners have also flocked to her old albums. For the week ending Oct. 21, the total U.S. on-demand streams for Adele’s 2008 album 19, 2011’s 21 and 2015’s 25 increased a whopping 93% to 11.34 million streams, 79% to 25.86 million and 93% to 33.39 million, respectively, compared to the prior week, according to MRC Data.
Multiple songs earned even greater streaming increases: 25 single “When We Were Young” increased 96% in week-over-week streams to 6.69 million, while deep cuts “Water Under The Bridge” and “All I Ask” jumped 123% to 2.94 million and 122% to 4.35 million, respectively. All four of Adele’s previous Hot 100 No. 1s — “Rolling In The Deep,” “Someone Like You,” “Set Fire to the Rain” and “Hello” — were streamed at least 70% more.
The new-single-lifts-all-boats effect isn’t limited to the U.S. As “Easy On Me” tops the Billboard Global 200 and Billboard Global Excl. U.S. charts, 10 additional Adele songs reach both charts, led by “Someone Like You” — a hit that’s over a decade old — at No. 33 on the Global 200 and No. 38 on the Global Excl. U.S. tally. (Interestingly, this effect hasn’t crossed over to U.S. radio: in the first five days of “Easy On Me,” all of Adele’s older hits were slightly down in spins on Billboard’s all-format, audience-based Radio Songs chart, potentially because programmers had to make room for her new song in their rotations.)
Major artists often blanket charts, particularly those that incorporate streaming data, with songs upon new album releases; last month, for instance, all 21 songs from Drake’s Certified Lover Boy debuted on the Hot 100 in its first week of release. Yet a new single has never before caused this type of bounce to an artist’s multi-album back catalog in the streaming era — a testament to the continued commercial power of Adele, who set the standing single-week album sales record in 2015 with 25.
“The effect we’ve seen on her catalog is unprecedented for a single release,” says Spotify head of global hits Ned Monahan, who points out that Adele had four catalog songs in their Global Top 50 chart one week after she released “Easy On Me.” “As Spotify is a platform for discovery, new releases do tend to always lead to a general uptick in catalog consumption because they serve as a reminder to the fan of how much they love the rest of that artist’s music. That said, Adele’s astronomical catalog lift perhaps speaks to the way her music caters to such a wide audience, spanning generations and genres.”
It also speaks to how long Adele fans have had to wait for 30, due out Nov. 19 on Columbia, compared to the average gap between albums from her fellow A-listers. While artists like Swift, Drake, BTS and Grande rarely go more than three years without a new album, Adele has gone six since releasing 25, without any new music at all and few performances in between.
That relative silence has compelled listeners to revisit Adele’s back catalog in anticipation of what’s to come — with some assistance from the major streaming services. Prominently placed playlists like Apple Music’s ‘Adele Essentials’ and Spotify’s ‘This Is Adele’ helped promote “Easy On Me” as well as songs from Adele’s first three albums, which have earned a combined 33.04 million equivalent album units to date.
That boost in Adele’s catalog in the U.S. is a boon to XL Recordings. For Adele’s first three albums, XL licensed the releases through Sony Music’s Columbia Records in the U.S. and South America, which worked and promoted the records. But those releases have now reverted back to XL/Beggars Group for the U.S., which has always handled the catalog globally, XL tells Billboard. 19 reverted to XL in December 2019, while the other two licenses ended in December 2020.
In the week ending Oct. 21 — the first full week since “Easy On Me” was released — Adele’s back catalog earned more than 66,000,000 U.S. on-demand audio streams. That was worth about $350,000 to XL, based on Billboard estimates. (Adele would receive some portion of that based on her recording contract with the company.)
Now Adele is signed directly to Columbia, and with 30 the label will roll out the U.K. superstar’s first album that’s squarely in the streaming era. In 2015, when 25 was released, U.S. on-demand audio streams totaled 145 billion for the year; through the week ending Oct. 21, that total is 789 billion for 2021. Meanwhile, traditional album sales have plummeted, with 241 million albums sold in the U.S. in 2015, compared to 81 million thus far in 2021.
Based on how “Easy On Me” has started on streaming platforms, 30 could score the type of debut that both dominate streaming charts and helps Adele’s catalog sustain its newfound pace. “I think it’s fair to say that the anticipation for new music from Adele was always going to be huge,” says Monahan, “but the performance of ‘Easy On Me’ has blown expectations out of the water.”
Additional reporting by Dan Rys.