Straight in at No 1...America embraces Adele, the 'Anti-Gaga'

  • @guyadams

There are two approaches to the business of being noticed by today's record-buying public. The first, showcased by Lady Gaga at the recent Grammys, revolves around oodles of hype and ever-more preposterous wardrobe selections.

The second, adopted by Adele at this year's Brits, is more understated: it requires a simple black dress and the confidence to let your music do the talking.

Amazingly, given preconceived notions about America's supposed preference for style over substance, it is the second of these two sales techniques which appears to be working better. The British singer, whose second album, 21, was released in the US this week, has rocketed straight to the top of the Billboard album charts, eclipsing even the commercial juggernaut that is Justin Bieber.

By selling 352,000 copies, 21 achieved the biggest opening-week sales for any record of any sort in the past three months. And the raft of television, radio and newspaper interviews which have made Adele seem ubiquitous on these shores in recent days has also led to renewed success for 19, the debut record she released in 2008: it climbed back up the US album charts to number 16.

On the digital front, stock in Adele is also booming. Even before 21 was released in the US by iTunes, the long-awaited record, which took three years to produce, was in the top 10 thanks to pre-sales. After it was launched on Tuesday last week, to universally fabulous reviews, it immediately shot to number one.

The Wall Street Journal devoted an admiring profile to Adele this week, concluding that her "full figure" and "deliberately unflashy" demeanour have given her a highly lucrative niche in the market: she is, the newspaper concluded, "the anti-Lady Gaga".

A trained pianist and guitarist, she has made a name for herself as a singer of booming "soul" music. In other words, this 22-year-old white girl from Tottenham has taken a specifically American genre (which is historically rooted in black culture) and made it her own.

There are, of course, precedents. In recent years, a smattering of young female singers with what A&R men call "big" voices – including Amy Winehouse, Joss Stone and Duffy – have attempted to conquer the US as white "soul singers", with mixed success.

Adele, a product of Croydon's famous Brit school, is also following in some large historical footsteps. The Rolling Stones were the first British band to see the potential in re-imagining a genre of black US music – in their case the blues.

She stands above many of her peers, though, in the technical maturity of her work. 21 is a break-up album she wrote in a rush of emotion following a failed relationship. Its rootsy sound is also the real deal: she says it was inspired by her last US tour, when she criss-crossed the South listening to country records chosen by her bus driver.

All of which has so far been enough to persuade a growing number of Americans that this bonhomous Brit is very much the real deal. She recently broke a long-standing UK record when she managed to have two albums and two singles in the top five at the same time. The last band to achieve that certainly managed to make waves in the US. They were The Beatles.