Adele Says 'Hello' to Yet Another Format: R&B Radio

Courtesy Photo
Adele in the 2015 music video for "Hello."

"Great music still has the ability to bring people together," says one R&B programmer.

As Adele continues to dominate the Billboard Hot 100 with "Hello," which rules the chart for a seventh straight week, the lead single from her record-shattering album 25 also rises the ranks at a somewhat surprising format for the singer: R&B.

While Adele has placed a total of 12 tracks on the Hot 100 (including five from 25), "Hello" becomes her first to cross over to Billboard's Adult R&B Songs radio airplay chart. The ballad debuted on the latter list dated Nov. 21 (at No. 22) and this week treks to the top 10, hopping 13-9 (on the Dec. 26 chart), up 16 percent in plays, according to Nielsen Music).

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On the R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay chart, "Hello" hikes 24-18, up by 29 percent to 11 million in audience at format reporters. (That's out of the song's all-genre 168 million in audience for the week.)

"Hello" has already branched out beyond its original radio home genres (pop, adult pop, adult contemporary and adult alternative) by becoming a No. 1 hit, Adele's first, on both Dance Club Songs and Dance/Mix Show Airplay, but it's fairly common for ballads to scale those charts thanks to remixes.

For "Hello" to receive a warm welcome at R&B radio speaks more to the song's universal appeal, as well as its soulful sound.

New York's WBLS championed "Hello" with 27 spins during the tracking week ending Dec. 13. Operations manager Skip Dillard tells Billboard, "You're looking at one of those songs that touches the masses from the first listen. Adele has a sound coupled with songwriting skills that fits a variety of formats."

Citing its timeless allure, Dillard adds, " 'Hello' is similar to the Hall & Oates, George Michael and Madonna hits that R&B radio supported in the '70s and '80s in its mix."

More recently, in addition to Adele, only a small pool of core pop acts have blurred genre lines enough to win significant support at R&B radio. Sam Smith, who has claimed four career top 10s on Pop Songs, finishes as the No. 1 Adult R&B Songs artist on Billboard's 2015 year-end recap, thanks to four of his blue-eyed soul singles that reached the chart this year, including his 13-week leader "Stay With Me" (between October 2014 and January).

In 2014, Lorde's "Royals" offered enough beats to cross to a No. 3 peak on R&B/Hip-Hop Airplay (and dent Adult R&B Songs with a No. 27 peak), while newcomer Alessia Cara spent a week on the Nov. 14 Adult R&B Songs list (at No. 29) with her sonically similar debut R&B/pop hybrid "Here."

"It's easy to try to categorize music into boxes, but sometimes there are those songs that you have to play because they're so strong," KBFB Dallas OM/program director Mark McCray told Billboard in 2013 of "Royals." "The texture of it easily fits with all the hits from Drake and the R&B we play."

KMJQ Houston OM Terri Thomas concurs that Adele's "Hello" transcends format boundaries. "She tells a story through song that so many people can relate to. The fact that she delivers it like a classic R&B power ballad made it an easy decision for us to add it to our playlist."

Looking ahead to Adele's just announced 2016 North American tour, Thomas says, "It will sell out and you will see people from all backgrounds singing along in the audience. Great music still has the ability to bring people together."