So cracked a member of Justin Bieber‘s team after “Hello,” the 27-year-old British singer’s first new song since 2012, premiered Oct. 23, siphoning all attention in its wake and pushing aside highly touted same-day releases — like Bieber’s own “Sorry,” the second single from his forthcoming album.
There’s reason for competitors to worry. With “Hello” poised to vault over The Weeknd‘s “The Hills” and Drake‘s “Hotline Bling” for the No. 1 spot on the Nov. 14 Billboard Hot 100, Adele has silenced any doubts about her relevance after a long absence. But one significant question remains: Can she score a million-selling first week with her new studio album, 25?
Arriving Nov. 20, Adele’s third release on XL Recordings/Columbia is on track to reach that goal, a threshold last crossed by Taylor Swift a year ago, when 1989 moved 1.29 million units, according to Nielsen Music, to debut atop the Billboard 200 on Nov. 15, 2014. But where Swift broke records — among them, May’s “Bad Blood” video notching a then-astounding 20.1 million views in its first 24 hours on Vevo — Adele has shattered them. In the two days after the power ballad’s debut, the accompanying clip to “Hello” was streamed, on average, more than 1 million times per hour. By the end of its first week on the platform, it had passed 100 million global views.
On the digital sales side, the track is also on course for a record performance, surpassing the 636,000-download bow of Flo Rida‘s 2009 hit “Right Round,” as sources indicate “Hello” will sell some 900,000 its first week.
With all that in mind, industry projections for 25‘s first-week sales range between 1.3 and 1.8 million, which means it could claim another title: the biggest debut week for a female in the Nielsen era (1991 to the present), beating previous record-holder Britney Spears, whose Oops!… I Did It Again bowed with 1.32 million in May 2000.
In the case of Adele, Alliance Entertainment senior vp Laura Provenzano credits a seamless transition from 2011’s 21 (11.2 million sold) to “Hello.” “She picks up right where she left off,” says Provenzano, noting that a key factor in Adele’s sales potency is her strength in physical: Digital downloads comprised just 28 percent of 21‘s U.S. sales. Adds another music merchandiser: “Will Adele hit 1 million? A more realistic question is will it hit 2 million?” (The biggest week of the Nielsen era remains ‘N Sync‘s 2000 LP No Strings Attached with 2.4 million.)
Still, there are potential hurdles. Some merchandisers believe the label is three weeks behind in the marketing cycle for a proper album setup. “It’s going to be tight to get everything in place,” says one source.
But on the marketing front, Adele’s team has deployed a shrewd mix of old-school and current-cool initiatives. On Oct. 18, a 30-second ad featuring “Hello” aired during The X Factor U.K. (estimated cost: $115,000). Four days later, the singer launched a radio blitz. Still to come: Saturday Night Live on Nov. 21, a BBC 1 special the night before and a full-court press of U.S. TV.
And what of exclusivity? Again, 25‘s stewards, including manager Jonathan Dickins, XL owner Richard Russell and Columbia Records chairman Rob Stringer, seems focused on the tried and true: Big-box retailer Target has a three-song exclusive, reassuring physical merchants who feared iTunes would get an exclusive sales window similar to the one they enjoyed on Beyoncé‘s last project, also for Columbia. Notes a label sales executive: “Target wouldn’t even carry the Adele record initially if Sony gave Apple an exclusive.” (Representatives for Sony and Adele declined comment.)
As for Spotify, a Sony insider says a decision hasn’t yet been made on streaming services, which prompts another question: Will the label try to restrict 25 from streaming on the ad-supported tiers of Spotify and other digital services to boost sales? And if so, will Spotify capitulate this time, after refusing to stream Swift’s 1989 if it wasn’t available on both the subscription and “freemium” tiers? According to Spotify, “Hello” is likely to notch a record number of worldwide first-week streams, beating Bieber’s 30 million-plus for “What Do You Mean?” Some might say this is a battle that’s just beginning, while others would insist Adele has already won.
Additional reporting by Glenn Peoples.
This article was originally published in the Nov. 7 issue of Billboard.