When Adele spoke with USA TODAY shortly before unveiling 25 — the album for which the entire pop music community had been holding its breath — she said, “I don’t think I’ll ever have more success with an album than I did with 21.” The singer/songwriter referred, of course, to her 2011 blockbuster, which had been the best-selling album of that year and 2012.
In fact, 25, released Nov. 20, broke a record for single-week album sales in just over three days, according to a chart launched by Nielsen SoundScan in 1991. By that time, it also had surpassed Taylor Swift’s 1989 (released last year) to become, according to Nielsen Music, the best-selling album of 2015. By Dec. 21, 25 had sold more copies than any album since, well, 21.
Adele, who will kick off a North American tour next July, has sustained and, by all evidence, expanded her audience by refusing to cater to pop clichés. If anything, the sobering, haunting songs on 25 — inspired by an “early-life crisis,” she quipped — are more challenging than her previous work. They’re fueled by a voice that has become one of the most unmistakable in popular music, distinctive not only for its power and texture but also for its emotional directness.
As a public personality, too, Adele stands apart from other contemporary divas. At once warmly accessible and fiercely private about her life out of the spotlight, which includes a 3-year-old son, she has juggled an earthy sense of humor with razor-sharp marketing savvy, evidenced by 25‘s enticing and expertly controlled rollout.
If the maturity of her music has appealed to many fans who wouldn’t usually be tuning into a twentysomething singer, Adele has also been a source of inspiration for younger women in particular, on issues ranging from body image to self-responsibility. We can’t wait to hear what her midlife crisis will sound like.