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Morgan Wallen and Adele topped music sales in 2021, according to a year-end report.

Adele's album 30 was among 2021's chart-toppers, according to a new, year-end report by MRC Data.
Image credit: Tolga Akmen


News flash: we’ve had a lot more time to consume music during the pandemic. While many in-person concerts were canceled or postponed, our devices allowed us to stream our favorite tunes, dance in TikTok videos and, with a click, buy music we can hold in our hands.

According to MRC Data’s 2021 U.S. Year-End Report, the big winners of 2021 were Morgan Wallen, Adele, world music, old favorites and vinyl. The annual report is presented in collaboration with Billboard.

Wallen’s bad-boy behavior likely helped sales of his release, Dangerous: The Double Album. The album was the top seller across genres, with 3.2 million units sold. In February, 2021 Wallen was caught on video using a racial slur. About four months earlier, Saturday Night Live canceled his debut appearance when he was caught violating the show’s COVID protocols. But in 2021 they invited him back. As Stephen Thompson of NPR Music put it, “Wallen has long had a ‘repeatedly arrested outside Kid Rock’s bar’ vibe to him, although to be fair, he’s only been arrested outside Kid Rock’s bar once.”

UK pop star Adele charmed millions of fans around the world with 30. In its first week, the singer’s fourth studio album sold 839,000 copies, making it the highest album sales debut in four years. In separate record-breaking news, Adele made music history in 2021 when she became the first female artist to have an album spend 10 consecutive years on the Billboard Top 200. That album, 21, was released a decade ago.

Other noteworthy points from the MRC Data report:

– World music “saw a 17.4% rise* in total consumption year-over-year in 2021.” According to MRC Data, “global genres like K-pop and Afro-Pop reached larger than ever audiences in the U.S. courtesy of blockbuster hits like BTS’ ‘Butter’ and Wizkid’s ‘Essence,’ respectively.”

– Vinyl albums surpassed CDs for the first time since 1991, the year MRC Data started measuring music sales. But don’t get your hopes up for selling that old phonograph: Digital music sales dwarf LPs by a long shot.

This year’s MRC Data report also includes some predictions. P-MRC CEO Rob Jonas writes that, in addition to recapping the year’s most-consumed songs and albums, “we also zoomed out to showcase 10 big-picture trends that we think will continue to have a major impact on the ever-changing landscape of
music consumption in the coming year.” Among those trends:

– Streaming isn’t just for Gen Z: “…millennial music listeners outpace them in a few notable territories — including the U.K. and Latin America. Among boomers, Mexico has the highest concentration of weekly music streamers, with 75%. Japan, where physical CD sales are still popular, has the lowest with 34%.”

– A new love for old favorites from the catalog: “Audio on-demand streaming reached a new single-year high of 988.1 billion streams in 2021, which included a notable decline in yearly audio streams of Current music (which decreased 19.4%). For the first time since MRC Data began measuring streaming data, music fans spent more time with Catalog (which was up 29.4% this year).

– Music and video game synergies will continue: “After artists like Travis Scott, J Balvin and Lil Nas X kicked off a virtual concert craze in 2020 with platforms Fortnite and Roblox, music and gaming integrations continued to pick up steam in 2021 and helped drive consumption of the artists’ catalogs.”

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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