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Chart Watch Extra: Adele’s Past, Present And Future

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Even a casual observer of the pop music scene knows that this has been Adele's year. The British singer has the year's top-selling album, 21, and the year's most popular song, "Rolling In The Deep."

I'm going to give you a quick recap of Adele's achievements so far this year, and then I'm going to do something far more risky. I'm going to give you news from the future about Adele's feats. (In this case, it's not quite as risky as it sounds. It will be almost impossible for anyone else to top the year-end charts or to break up Adele's expected Grammy sweep. Still, I don't make these projections casually. I expect you to hold me to it.)

A lot of people are asking "Why Adele?" The 23-year old singer, whose full name is Adele Adkins, has very broad appeal, encompassing fans of pop, adult contemporary and R&B. She's often been likened to the great Dusty Springfield. (The irony: Springfield never sold albums like this. She had four top 10 singles through the years, but never cracked the top 50 on the album chart.)

Another factor may be at work here.  At a certain point, these things take on a life of their own. Once an album (or a movie or a TV show) really takes off, you almost have to check it out if you want to be in the cultural conversation.

21 has sold 3,062,000 copies in the U.S. in its first 26 weeks. It topped the 3 million mark this week, which is the earliest in the year that any album has hit 3 million since 2005, when overall album sales were far healthier. (That year, 50 Cent's rap blockbuster The Massacre topped the 3 million mark in the week ending April 17.)

Adele's album has logged 12 weeks at #1 on The Billboard 200, the music trade magazine's all-genre album chart. It's the first album to spend that many weeks on top since Santana's comeback smash Supernatural in 1999-2000.

21 has never ranked lower than #4 and has never sold fewer than 72,000 copies in a week. In a year in which an album (Amos Lee's Mission Bell) debuted at #1 with sales of just 40,000, that's quite an accomplishment.

21 is the first album to spend its first 26 weeks in the top five since Whitney Houston's The Bodyguard soundtrack, which spent its first 30 weeks in the top five in 1992-1993. (Tellingly, both Supernatural and The Bodyguard went on to win Grammys as Album of the Year.)

Adele's album has sold 1,156,000 digital copies, which makes it the best-selling album in digital history.

"Rolling In The Deep," which was released near the end of 2010, has sold 4,933,000 copies. It has sold 4,825,000 copies in this calendar year. No other song in digital history has sold that many copies in a calendar year. To find the last song to sell as many copies in one year, you have to go back to the era of physical singles. Elton John's sentimental smash "Candle In The Wind 1997," which he unveiled at Princess Diana's funeral on Sept. 6 of that year, sold 8,111,000 copies in the U.S. in the closing weeks of 1997.

Adele's song topped Billboard's Hot 100 for seven weeks. It was the first song to hold the #1 spot for seven weeks since "Love The Way You Lie" by Eminem featuring Rihanna last summer.

No one could have predicted the runaway success of 21. Adele's previous album, 19 (both of her album titles reflect her age when she recorded them) had sold a solid but unspectacular 930,000 copies prior to the release of 21. (It has since sold 381,000 additional copies.)

But there were signs that Adele was poised for bigger things. She won two Grammys for 19: Best New Artist and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance for "Chasing Pavements," the album's modestly successful single. (It reached #21 on the Hot 100.)

Three of Adele's rivals for Best New Artist (Jonas Brothers, Duffy and Lady Antebellum) had sold more albums than Adele prior to Grammy night. (Adele had outsold the fifth finalist, Jazmine Sullivan). That was evidence that Adele's stature exceeded her sales to that point.

That covers the present and the past. Now, let's gaze into the future.

Within two months, "Rolling In The Deep" will pass Taio Cruz's 2010 hit "Dynamite" to become the best-selling song by a British artist in digital history. "Dynamite" has sold 5,328,000 copies.

Before the year is out, 21 will top the 4 million mark in U.S. sales. It will be the first album to sell 4 million copies in a calendar year since 2005, when both Mariah Carey's The Emancipation Of Mimi and 50 Cent's The Massacre reached that plateau.

When Billboard's "The Year In Music" issue hits newsstands on December 10, Adele will have the year's #1 album and the #1 song. (Billboard's chart year is bumped up one month from the calendar year: This year, it begins with the issue dated Dec. 4, 2010 and extends through the issue dated Nov. 27, 2011.) Adele will be the first artist to top both of those key year-end charts since Usher scored in 2004 with his album Confessions and its smash single "Yeah!" (which featured Lil Jon & Ludacris).

She will be only the second female artist to top both year-end charts, following Whitney Houston, who scored in 1993 with The Bodyguard soundtrack and the smash ballad "I Will Always Love You." (The Bodyguard soundtrack also featured other artists, but since Houston has slightly more than half of the album's playing time, it is generally regarded as a Houston album.)

Adele will be only the second British artist to top both year-end charts, following George Michael. The former Wham! singer scored in 1988 with his first solo album, Faith, and its rollicking title track.

Three other artists have topped both year-end charts since 1956, when Billboard first published a year-end album chart: 50 Cent (2003), Ace of Base (1994) and Simon & Garfunkel (1970).

This will be the fourth year in a row that a female artist has had Billboard's #1 album of the year. Adele will follow Alicia Keys, who was #1 for 2007 with As I Am; Taylor Swift, who was #1 for 2009 with Fearless and Susan Boyle, who was #1 last year with I Dreamed A Dream.

On Jan. 5, Nielsen SoundScan will post the final weekly sales chart of 2011 and also its year-end charts, which reflect the calendar year rather than Billboard's pushed-up year. Adele will become the first British act (and, in fact, the first act from any country outside the U.S.) in more than a decade to have the year's best-selling album. Spice Girls achieved the feat  in 1997 with its debut album Spice.

"Rolling In The Deep" will also be the year's best-selling digital song. It will be the second time in the past four years that a British female solo artist has had Nielsen SoundScan's best-selling song of the year. Leona Lewis' "Bleeding Love" was on top for 2008.

On Feb. 12, 2012, Adele will dominate the 54th annual Grammy Awards, which will be presented at Staples Center in Los Angeles. I expect her to win at least five awards, including the "Big Three"--Album, Record and Song of the Year. (Record of the Year is for a specific recording of a song. Song of the Year is for the song itself. Adele co-wrote "Rolling In The Deep" with Paul Epworth.)

Adele will be just the second female solo artist to win the "Big Three." Carole King swept the boards in 1972 with Tapestry (Album), "It's Too Late" (Record) and "You've  Got A Friend" (Song).

One female group has also won all three awards. Dixie Chicks scored in 2007 with Taking The Long Way (Album) and "Not Ready To Make Nice" (Record and Song).

Three male solo artists also swept the "Big Three" awards in one night: Paul Simon in 1971, Christopher Cross in 1981 and Eric Clapton in 1993.

Four other acts have won the "Big Three" over the course of their careers, but not all in one night: Henry Mancini, Billy Joel, Michael Jackson and U2.

Adele is also a lock to win for Best Pop Vocal Album and Best Pop Solo Performance (for "Rolling In The Deep"), giving her a total of at least five awards. She also could win for Best Short Form Music Video for "Rolling In The Deep," which would bring her total to six. And a track from the album could be nominated for Best R&B Performance, which could give her seven awards. (To be clear, five Grammys seem certain. Beyond that, it's just conjecture.)

Only one female artist, Beyonce, has six Grammys in one night. She set that record in 2010, the year she was honored for "Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)." Six years earlier, Beyonce won five Grammys in one night.

Five other female artists have won five Grammys in one night: Lauryn Hill (1999), Alicia Keys (2002), Norah Jones (2003), Amy Winehouse (2008) and Alison Krauss (2009). Winehouse, whose success helped pave the way for Adele, is currently the only British female artist to win five Grammys in one night, a record that Adele is certain to tie and may even surpass.

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