After 37 weeks, Ed Sheeran's = moves ahead of Adele's 30 to top 2020s sales rankings

After 37 weeks, Ed Sheeran's = moves ahead of Adele's 30 to top 2020s sales rankings

Adele won the contest for biggest album of 2021 with her comeback 30 (Columbia).

But, as we know, Ed Sheeran is an unstoppable force when it comes to streaming. As a result, Music Week can reveal that Sheeran’s = album (Asylum/Atlantic) has now overtaken Adele’s album in terms of UK sales, based on the latest data from the Official Charts Company.

Now ahead of Adele’s 30 at the top of the 2020s albums sales rankings, Ed Sheeran’s = is on 732,425 sales to date (including 338,401 physical copies, 45,047 downloads and 348,997 from streams). It is No.3 for the sixth week in a row on the weekly chart.

Adele’s 30 is on 731,414 sales to date (including 492,486 physical copies, 60,778 downloads and 178,150 from streams).

Both albums were released in Q4 of 2021 and ended the year as the two biggest sellers. Adele was on top last year based on just six weeks’ sales; Sheeran made No.2 overall based on nine weeks’ consumption in 2021.

Just to recap, Ed Sheeran’s = was released on October 29, 2021 and charted at No.1 the following week with sales of 139,107 (including 94,527 from physical and 25,286 from streams). 

Adele’s 30 was released on November 19, 2021 and landed at No.1 the following week with a massive 261,856 sales (including 176,421 physical copies and 44,190 from streams). It outperformed ABBA’s week one sales from the same month and immediately moved ahead of Sheeran’s = (then on 253,736 sales after three weeks).

Following its chart debut, Adele’s 30 became the year’s biggest album within a fortnight (moving ahead of Olivia Rodrigo’s Sour) and never lost its lead for the rest of 2021. However, both the Sheeran and Adele albums suffered in comparison to the massive sales of their predecessors (= was the direct sequel to 2017’s blockbuster ÷), perhaps in large part because of the switch from a sales to consumption model.

The performance of the Sheeran album in 2022 - including a return to No.1 in both January and February - has been key to its overall success. Of its four weeks at the summit, two were this year; Adele’s five weeks at No.1 were all in 2021. 

With 21 weeks in the Top 3 during 2022, Sheeran’s = has added 299,930 sales this year (77.2% from streaming), compared to Adele’s 131,357 (60.9% from streaming). At the halfway point of the year, Sheeran’s = was No.1 (it has since been overtaken by Harry Styles), while Adele’s 30 was at No.4 overall.

Of course, Sheeran is a productive artist in terms of single releases and collaborations, which has helped maintain momentum for the = album in 2022. Ed Sheeran has 81.6 million monthly Spotify listeners, compared to 42.2 million for Adele.

Unusually, Sheeran doesn’t currently have a Top 20 hit, but there are still seven entries for him in the Top 75 (three as a primary artist under chart rules, plus four as a featured artist). With the Russ collaboration Are You Entertained, Sheeran and his team at Atlantic registered his 66th hit last week. After 31 weeks of the year gone, Sheeran has already spent 152 weeks in the Top 75, boosting his career tally to 1,344 - the most of any artist in chart history.

But who’s on top for combined album sales between Ed Sheeran and Adele? Across studio album releases, Music Week can reveal that Adele is in the lead with 12,493,940 sales across four LPs, compared to 12,053,318 for Ed Sheeran across five.

The breakdown is below:

Adele - 19 (2,550,476)
Adele - 21 (5,381,393)
Adele - 25 (3,830,657)
Adele - 30 (731,414)

Ed Sheeran - + (2,671,045)
Ed Sheeran - x (3,768,100)
Ed Sheeran - ÷ (3,948,680)
Ed Sheeran - No 6 Collaborations Project (933,131)
Ed Sheean - = (732,425)

The Adele campaign will likely be reignited with a greater physical push later this year. She also has the rescheduled Las Vegas dates (November 2022 to March 2023) to help re-promote 30.

Aside from the chart rivalry between the two major artists, it’s also an impressive result for British music with almost 1.5 million UK sales across both albums over just nine months.

Harry Styles completes the trinity of British talent with Harry’s House as the current No.1 album of 2022. Styles’s third LP is now platinum with sales of 304,214 since its release in April.

With physical sales in the gifting season and potential deluxe editions still to come, it sets up a fascinating three-way battle between the three UK superstars during the rest of the year.


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