Adele's 21 sold more copies in the first quarter than the next five best-selling albums combined. 21 sold 2,667,000 copies in the first quarter. The next five albums combined sold 2,400,000. That's tremendous for Adele, but a shaky sign for the rest of the music business.
It's not overstating the case to say that 21 saved the first quarter. Without it, overall album sales would have declined by 3.4%, compared to the first quarter of 2011. With it, album sales were flat.
21 sold more copies in the first quarter than any album had since 2005, when 50 Cent's The Massacre sold 2,815,000 copies in the first quarter. The key difference is that The Massacre was released in that quarter, whereas 21 was released in the first quarter of 2011. 21 is the oldest album to wind up as the top-seller for the first quarter since No Doubt's Tragic Kingdom was the best-seller for the first quarter of 1997. The album was released in October 1995.
21 sold more copies in the first quarter than it had in any previous quarter. The album sold 847K copies in the first quarter of 2011, 1,670,000 copies in the second quarter, 1,256,000 copies in the third quarter, and 2,051,000 copies in the fourth quarter. (These figures and all others in this report are from Nielsen SoundScan, which has tracked sales for Billboard since 1991.)
The Grammy Awards telecast on Feb. 12 was the main factor that boosted Adele's sales in the quarter. She performed and won six awards, including Album, Record and Song of the Year. The show received its strongest ratings since 1984 largely because viewers wanted to see how the show would handle the shocking death the day before of Whitney Houston. Houston's 2000 compilation Whitney: The Greatest Hits was the second best-selling album of the first quarter. It sold 694,000 copies in the period.
The rest of the top five albums in the first quarter were Now 41 (573K), Drake's Take Care (405K) and Adele's 19 (369K). Now 41 is the only one of these five albums that was released in 2012. Drake's album was released in November. 19 was released in 2008.
Overall digital track sales jumped by 6.5% compared to the first quarter of 2011. Without the tracks from 21 (which sold nearly 5 million copies in the quarter) the jump would have been a more modest 5.1%.
"We Are Young" by fun. featuring Janelle Monae was the best-selling song of the first quarter. It sold 2,753,000 copies in the quarter (more than any other song had sold in the first quarter in digital history). It was followed by Kelly Clarkson's "Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)" (2,383,000), Adele's "Set Fire To The Rain" (2,033,000), "Somebody That I Used To Know" by Gotye featuring Kimbra (1,560,000) and LMFAO's "Sexy And I Know It" (1,544,000).
Here are the songs that ranked #6 through #10 in the first quarter: "Young, Wild & Free" by Snoop Dogg & Wiz Khalifa featuring Bruno Mars (1,542,000), The Wanted's "Glad You Came" (1,486,000), Tyga's "Rack City" (1,481,000), "Turn Me On" by David Guetta featuring Nicki Minaj (1,473,000) and Flo Rida's "Good Feeling" (1,273,000).
Flo Rida's "Right Round" was the previous holder of the record for greatest digital sales in the first quarter. It sold 2,436,000 copies in the first quarter of 2009. Flo Rida also had the best-selling song of the first quarter of 2008: "Low" (featuring T-Pain). It sold 1,927,000 copies in that quarter. Ke$ha's "TiK ToK" was the top-seller of the first quarter of 2010 (1,857,000). Cee Lo Green's "F**K You (Forget You)" was on top for the first quarter of 2011 (2,153,000).
Adele was the only artist to sell 1 million or more copies of three different songs in the first quarter. In addition to the aforementioned "Set Fire To The Rain," she crossed the 1 million mark in the quarter with her 2011 smashes "Someone Like You" (1,023,000) and "Rolling In The Deep" (1,009,000).
LMFAO, Flo Rida and Nicki Minaj each sold 1 million or more copies of two songs in the quarter.
Trailing Now 41 on the list of the best-selling albums that were released in 2012 are Madonna's MDNA (359K), Van Halen's A Different Kind Of Truth (339K), Bruce Springsteen's Wrecking Ball (320K), 2012 Grammy Nominees (301K), One Direction's Up All Night (278K) and The Hunger Games soundtrack (239K).
Thanks largely to 21, the #1 album on The Billboard 200 sold 100K or more copies in all but one week in the first quarter. (The exception came the week ending Jan. 22, when 21 sold 95K.) This marks a big improvement over last year. The #1 album sold fewer than 100K copies six times in the first quarter of 2011.
Just four albums since 1994 (the furthest back that this information is readily available on the Nielsen SoundScan site) have sold more copies in the first quarter than 21 did this year. The biggest of all is the Titanic soundtrack, which sold a staggering 6,372,000 copies in the first quarter of 1998. 50 Cent's Get Rich Or Die Tryin' sold 3,703,000 copies in the first quarter of 2003. Santana's Supernatural sold 3,538,000 copies in the first quarter of 2000, a period in which it, like 21, swept the Grammys. As previously noted, 50 Cent's The Massacre sold 2,815,000 copies in the first quarter of 2005.
21 sold nearly as many copies in the first quarter as Lil Wayne's Tha Carter III, the best-selling album of 2008, sold in that entire year (2,874,000).
It seems increasingly likely that 21 will wind up as the best-selling album of 2012. It would mark the first time in the Nielsen SoundScan era that an album has been the best-selling album of the year twice.
It would mark the first time that an album has ranked #1 on Billboard's "year-end" charts twice since Michael Jackson's Thriller was on top for both 1983 and 1984. Three other albums achieved this feat in the late '50s and early '60s: the My Fair Lady original cast album (1957 and 1958), The Sound Of Music original cast album (1960 and 1961) and the West Side Story soundtrack (1962 and 1963).