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Radio Hits One: Adele Achieves the Crossover Hat Trick

Radio Hits One: Adele Achieves the Crossover Hat Trick

It wasn't all that surprising when Billboard crowned Adele's 21 as the top-selling album of the first six months of the year—the next-highest seller, Lady Gaga's Born This Way, is still trailing it by nearly a million copies. The British diva missed out on having the biggest-selling digital single of the year so far by a much smaller margin, with "Rolling In The Deep" taking second to Katy Perry's "E.T." by only 30,000 units. Both songs are quadruple platinum.

Of course, odds are Adele will end up with the top single and album by year's end, and she's racked up plenty of other impressive achievements during her hugely successful 2011 run. But perhaps the most rare and difficult to quantify measure of Adele's ubiquity is the sheer volume and diversity of all the singles charts "Rolling In The Deep" has appeared on; it may be the only hit in recent history, and perhaps ever, to appear on Billboard's adult contemporary, dance, pop, rock, R&B and (get this) Latin charts.

Back when "Rolling In The Deep" was released at the tail end of 2010, its iTunes sales helped it make an instant splash on the Hot 100. Over the next few months, though, it picked up airplay on virtually every radio format possible. Adult Contemporary radio, the only place her previous U.S. hit "Chasing Pavements" got any traction, was the first place "Rolling" triumphed; it hit No. 1 on Adult Album Alternative in March, and on Hot Adult Top 40 Tracks later that month. That same month, it debuted on the Alternative Songs and Hot Dance Club Songs charts, where it has since peaked at No. 21 and No. 15, respectively. By the end of May, Adele had decisively broken out of the adult-contempo ghetto and topped the Hot 100, Digital Sales, and Mainstream Top 40 charts.

With most hits, the story ends there. The term "crossover" generally refers to an artist who does well on one particular radio format releasing the song that reaches beyond that niche, hitting the pop charts and maybe one or two genre charts that were previously out of that artist's reach. But "Rolling In The Deep" is the rare blockbuster that just keeps leaping to new charts after several months in the marketplace. In the last few weeks it's made its unlikely debut on the Latin Pop Songs chart, peaking at No. 28, and the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, where it currently sits at No. 73 after peaking at No. 61 last week.

Adele's sound is heavily rooted in soul music, but it's obviously a different strain of R&B from the kind that dominates American urban radio. Her race and nationality might have held her back a bit, but those aren't dealbreakers in and of themselves: Brits like Marsha Ambrosius and white singers like Robin Thicke have scored major R&B hits in recent years. Even Amy Winehouse had a blip on the R&B charts in 2007, although it was with "You Know I'm No Good," not "Rehab," the megahit that, like "Rolling In The Deep," was all over pop, adult contemporary and even rock radio.

 

When I finally began hearing "Rolling" on local R&B stations in June, it was with a remix, albeit a subtle one that could almost pass for the original if not for a more prominent bassline and a drum loop that's only slightly crisper than the live drums heard on the album track. Six stations that play new music are preprogrammed on my car radio dial, and I've now heard "Rolling In The Deep" on five of them. The only thing left for Adele to do is throw a steel guitar and maybe a Reba McEntire verse on the song and see if she can make a run at the country charts.

"Rolling" isn't the only recent hit that's crept onto urban radio after dominating the pop charts; Adele's rival for Digital Sales supremacy, Katy Perry, also recently made her R&B chart debut, thanks to "E.T."'s guest verse from Kanye West. Pitbull's "Give Me Everything" has dipped into the lower reaches of the R&B chart just as it topped the Hot 100, which is a little funny given that Pitbull is, y'know, a rapper. His highest peaks on the R&B chart are from the era when he was making guest appearances on DJ Khaled's "Holla At Me" (No. 24) and the Ying Yang Twins' "Shake" (No. 37); his own debut solo single "Culo" peaked at No. 45, far higher than the modest peak of No. 88 notched by "Give Me Everything."

Cee Lo Green has had an even longer roundabout journey from southern rapper to pop chart, from his beginnings as a member of the Goodie Mob in the '90s to his recent success with two megahits that both approach "Rolling In The Deep" for diversity of chart crossover accomplishments. Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" charted on pop, R&B and alternative radio in 2006, and his solo smash "Fuck You" has done the same over the past year.

Only two songs of the past decade really rival "Rolling In The Deep" for reaching across several increasingly divided radio formats, though. M.I.A.'s 2007 suprise hit "Paper Planes" reached No. 12 on the Modern Rock chart, No. 36 on the R&B chart, and No. 10 on the Pop Songs chart, in addition to its Hot 100 peak of No. 4. And then there's Outkast's 2003 smash "Hey Ya!" Andre 3000's guitar-driven anthem topped the pop charts, was a top-ten R&B hit, and a top 20 Modern Rock hit—and, mirroring Adele's most improbable crossover, it also reached No. 34 on the Latin Pop Airplay chart.

One of the other unifying traits of the last few songs I've mentioned is that those four songs all topped the Village Voice's own Pazz & Jop singles poll, an achievement that "Rolling In The Deep" also seems destined for. That helps underline the fact that these songs don't have much in common besides that lots of people really, really love them, and they became hugely ubiquitous seemingly more through the will of the public than music-industry machinery. So many songs on the chart these days combine rapping and dance beats and pop hooks and guitar riffs in attempts to be everything to everyone; it's refreshing to see Adele reach so many different audiences without trying very hard to cater to them.


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