Radio Hits One: Adele Achieves the Crossover Hat Trick
It wasn't all that surprising when Billboard crowned Adele's 21 as the top-selling album of the first six months of the yearthe next-highest seller, Lady Gaga's Born This Way, is still trailing it by nearly a million copies. The British diva missed out on having the biggest-selling digital single of the year so far by a much smaller margin, with "Rolling In The Deep" taking second to Katy Perry's "E.T." by only 30,000 units. Both songs are quadruple platinum.
Of course, odds are Adele will end up with the top single and album by year's end, and she's racked up plenty of other impressive achievements during her hugely successful 2011 run. But perhaps the most rare and difficult to quantify measure of Adele's ubiquity is the sheer volume and diversity of all the singles charts "Rolling In The Deep" has appeared on; it may be the only hit in recent history, and perhaps ever, to appear on Billboard's adult contemporary, dance, pop, rock, R&B and (get this) Latin charts.
Back when "Rolling In The Deep" was released at the tail end of 2010, its iTunes sales helped it make an instant splash on the Hot 100. Over the next few months, though, it picked up airplay on virtually every radio format possible. Adult Contemporary radio, the only place her previous U.S. hit "Chasing Pavements" got any traction, was the first place "Rolling" triumphed; it hit No. 1 on Adult Album Alternative in March, and on Hot Adult Top 40 Tracks later that month. That same month, it debuted on the Alternative Songs and Hot Dance Club Songs charts, where it has since peaked at No. 21 and No. 15, respectively. By the end of May, Adele had decisively broken out of the adult-contempo ghetto and topped the Hot 100, Digital Sales, and Mainstream Top 40 charts.
With most hits, the story ends there. The term "crossover" generally refers to an artist who does well on one particular radio format releasing the song that reaches beyond that niche, hitting the pop charts and maybe one or two genre charts that were previously out of that artist's reach. But "Rolling In The Deep" is the rare blockbuster that just keeps leaping to new charts after several months in the marketplace. In the last few weeks it's made its unlikely debut on the Latin Pop Songs chart, peaking at No. 28, and the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, where it currently sits at No. 73 after peaking at No. 61 last week.
Adele's sound is heavily rooted in soul music, but it's obviously a different strain of R&B from the kind that dominates American urban radio. Her race and nationality might have held her back a bit, but those aren't dealbreakers in and of themselves: Brits like Marsha Ambrosius and white singers like Robin Thicke have scored major R&B hits in recent years. Even Amy Winehouse had a blip on the R&B charts in 2007, although it was with "You Know I'm No Good," not "Rehab," the megahit that, like "Rolling In The Deep," was all over pop, adult contemporary and even rock radio.