100 & Single: You Can Keep Your EGOT; Adele's Going For A 2011 PB&G

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The lady sitting atop both of Billboard's major lists this week has made enough news in 2011 that I'm tempted to rename this column "This Week in Adele." The British thrush is certainly making enough sad news these days, canceling her tour and preparing to undergo much-needed throat surgery. But in happier news, her inventory of rarified chart achievements just keeps getting longer—so much that stat geeks like yours truly have begun to imagine the truly exceptional, hall-of-fame-level feats she could yet pull off.

First, this week's stats. Adele holds at No. 1 on the Hot 100 for a fifth week with her wistful ballad "Someone Like You." Added to the seven weeks "Rolling in the Deep" commanded the list in the spring, Adele's 12 chart-topping weeks in 2011 represent the longest cumulative run at No. 1 since the Black Eyed Peas held the penthouse for fully half of 2009's weeks. Among women or solo acts, it's the longest run in a year since Mariah Carey's 15 weeks ruling the Hot 100 in 2005 with two singles ("We Belong Together" and "Don't Forget About Us").

The bigger news is on the album chart. By sliding back into the top spot on the Billboard 200 for a 13th week (out of 35 weeks on the chart, all but one of them spent in the Top Three), Adele's 21 becomes the first album to surpass a dozen weeks on top in more than a dozen years. Back in 1998, the Titanic soundtrack ruled for 16 weeks; among albums released since then, 21 just overtook Santana's Supernatural, a 12-week leader in 1999-2000.

Switching from chart position to Soundscan, 21 has now crossed four million in sales (another 106,000 sold just this week). Adele is the first artist to sell that much of a single disc in a single year since, again, Carey in 2005, with The Emancipation of Mimi.

So, this much is certain: With only about a month left in Billboard's "chart year," which ends on November 30, and two-plus months left in the calendar year as tallied by Soundscan, Adele is going to have the top-selling album of 2011, by any measure. It's not even gonna be close: the year's second-best seller thus far, Lady Gaga's largely petered-out Born This Way, is at 1.9 million, less than half of Adele's still-piling sales.

It's also the safest of bets to assume that 21 is going to clean up at the Grammys next February. In particular, the prestigious, show-closing Album of the Year trophy is all but in the bag.

Sure, sometimes the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences decides to be ornery. Sometimes they fail to give the AotY prize to a richly deserved best seller—they'll miss the boat on, say, Amy Winehouse's Back to Black, and instead reward a culturally irrelevant lark of an album recorded by an aging legend. But, c'mon: an album that saved the industry's bacon this year, and is adored by middle-aged Starbucks patrons? Adele is a Grammy slam-dunk. NARAS already gave her Best New Artist in 2009; they're probably pre-engraving her other statuettes as I type.

The orneriest group of all is the rock-critic community, who go out of their way not to agree with either NARAS or record-buyers when doing their year-end list-tallying. These are folks who will top their lists with an Animal Collective album that will probably never come close to gold.

Ah, but if you aggregate hundreds of critics' lists—exactly what this fine publication does each year in its Pazz & Jop poll— you see the nation's scribes don't veer from popular consensus quite as drastically as one might suspect. A look back at nearly 40 years' worth of P&J winners shows the critics overlapping with Billboard or the Grammys roughly once or twice a decade.

That said, the critics rarely line up with both the buyers and the business. To be exact, it's happened only once. You may have heard of the album that did it: it came out at the end of 1982, and its name was Thriller.


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