No one will be surprised to hear that Adele and Ed Sheeran have nabbed spots one and two respectively for the top albums listened to in the UK in 2021. However, according to the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) report, albums by Queen, Elton John and Abba have also joined newer artists in the top 10 spots. Official figures also show that recorded music consumption rose by 2.5% in the UK in 2021 with 159 million albums or their equivalent either streamed or purchased across all formats by music fans.
These results remind us of the comforting power of listening to music in tumultuous times such as the ongoing challenges presented by the pandemic.
Adele and Sheeran hit the right notes again
Adele’s latest album, ‘30’ has taken the world by storm, landing her in the top spot in the UK’s 2021 charts. Within six days of its release, it became this year’s top selling album, a massive success for Adele who had not released an album for 6 years prior to this.
On the back of this success, in a statement of artistic agency, Adele sent out a tweet that became viral requesting that Spotify remove the option for listener’s to shuffle individual songs on her albums. The responses to this were largely positive, with spotify removing its shuffle button on albums, and listeners complying with the artist’s request that albums should be listened to from start to finish in order.
A month before Adele released “30”, in October Ed Sheeran saw similar success with his latest album “=”. Despite the colouristic differences between Adele’s dulcet tones and Sheeran percussive toe tapping rhythms, both of these artists have had the hearts of the country’s (and world’s) listeners for many years, also occupying top spots on the US charts this year.
But listeners also found comfort in artists whose albums have been around for even longer. ABBA’s 2021 “reunion” album “Voyage” took the no.3 spot, and decades old albums from Queen and Elton John hit no.5 and no.8 respectively.
ABBA’s big reunion album
ABBA’s first new songs in 40 years were released in November and long-time fans and listeners were ready to pounce on the album which sold more than one million copies within its first week. The band’s music never really left public consciousness even after they split in 1982. Ten years after ABBA’s final concerts, the hit compilation album ABBA Gold was released, which instantly became a worldwide best seller. In 1999, the group’s music was turned into a musical which circulated the hit songs further.
More recently, ABBA’s musical was adapted into the film “Mama Mia” which saw cinema and music lovers alike flocking to watch the spectacle of dancing, singing, and crazy storylines on screen.
Against this backdrop of success upon success, it is absolutely no surprise that when the band announced a 2021 reunion album of new catchy chord sequences and the soft, sharp vocals of the Swedish singers, people were desperate to get their hands (or ears) on the tracks. “Voyage” will be accompanied by a “digital avatar” concert residency in a London arena from May.
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‘Another one bites the charts’
However, Queen didn’t have to release anything new for their “Greatest Hits” album to secure no.5 on the album charts. And neither did Elton John’s greatest hits compilation album released in 2017, “Diamonds”, sitting at no.8.
“As our lives continue to be disrupted, the past 12 months have reminded us again of the important role that recorded music plays in our lives”, says Geoff Taylor, Chief Executive BPI. Significantly, the presence of these ‘heritage’ acts speaks to the impact of nostalgia on providing relief in times of hardship.
Indeed, a number of recent psychological studies have shown that familiarity in music has been reported as an important factor modulating emotional and hedonic responses in the brain. This means that there is a correlation between already knowing a song and positive bodily responses to music. People are turning towards artists they have long standing affinities with to help them manage the emotions associated with the rather negative “global atmosphere”.
Live music hasn’t always been possible throughout the pandemic and perhaps this is another explanation for the 2.5% increase in recorded music consumption. Whilst streaming accounted for 83% of overall listening in the UK in 2021, the increase in vinyl sales represents another form of musical nostalgia: the physical listening experience.
In 2021, 5.3 million copies of vinyls were sold in the UK alone in the 14th year of consecutive growth of sales. ABBA’s “Voyage” has been described as the “fastest selling vinyl of the century.” This “vinyl renaissance” is showing no signs of stopping anytime soon and is another clue to the music industry that people’s enthusiasm for nostalgic listening will continue into 2022.
The film industry has made millions on the back of the current success of ‘Heritage Acts’ over the last few years. Aside from the Mama Mia movies, in 2019 the quasi-fantasy biographical musical of Elton John’s life “Rocketman” and “Yesterday”, the musical-comedy that re-signifies the Beatles greatest hits, took the listening world by storm. As well as riding the success wave of these artists, both films contributed to the resurgence of streaming their music.
I am presently in Australia where ABBA’s “Voyage” immediately rose to the top spot upon its release in November. Right in the middle of what was the world’s longest lockdown in Melbourne, the dulcet tones of Agnetha Fältskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad provided the comforting nostalgia people needed.
This major trend that the BPI have noticed in 2021 listening data, is part of a much bigger and growing movement that doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon. Whilst many newer artists might be struggling to stay afloat in the sea of 70s and 80s hit albums, it is wonderful to see people all over the world turning to the music they know and love best to help them through these incredibly difficult times.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by Impakter.com columnists are their own, not those of Impakter.com. — In the Featured Photo: Vinyl. Featured Photo Credit: Anders Printz