'21' sees biggest post-Grammys sales rise ever

In an era when selling even a million copies of an album has become a rarity, Adele continues to make commercial history and topple existing records.

The British singer’s “21″ title topped the 7 million sales plateau this week, setting a SoundScan-era longevity record at No. 1 and notching the biggest post-Grammys unit sales increase in history.

The last album by a female vocalist to sell in greater quantities was Norah Jones’ 2002 debut “Come Away With Me,” which has moved more than 10.5 million copies to date. However, Jones accomplished the feat before widespread piracy sent the music biz into a tailspin.

Adele’s phenomenal post-Grammys take of nearly a million copies vaulted “21″ past country-pop star Taylor Swift’s 2009 smash “Fearless.” The most recent sales benchmark by a female performer, Swift’s album has topped the 6.5 million mark.

The Brit singer’s Columbia album celebrated one year on the U.S. charts with its biggest sales week ever, moving 730,000 copies (up 207%), according to Nielsen SoundScan data for the week ending Feb. 19.

In its 21st non-consecutive week at No. 1, “21″ breaks the previous mark of 20 weeks at the pinnacle set by Whitney Houston’s soundtrack for “The Bodyguard” in 1992-93. It matches a pre-SoundScan run of 21 chart-topping weeks by M.C. Hammer’s “Please Hammer Don’t Hurt ‘Em” in 1990.

Only seven albums – none of them by a female soloist – have spent more time at the top of the chart since Billboard began publishing a comprehensive list in 1956. (SoundScan began tracking sales in 1991.)

The next albums in Adele’s sights are the 1978 “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack and the 1984 “Purple Rain” soundtrack, both of which logged 24 weeks at No. 1.

The record for a solo performer is Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” (1982), which put in 37 weeks at the top. With 54 weeks at the pinnacle, the “West Side Story” soundtrack holds the probably insuperable all-time record.

The massive one-week surge by Adele’s collection exceeded the record 621,000-unit bump received by Jones’ “Come Away With Me” after her five-Grammy win in 2003.

Album established another milestone: It surpassed 2 million downloads on the iTunes store, becoming the first album to exceed that sales mark at Apple’s digital retailer.

In two chart weeks since the Feb. 12 Grammys ceremony – at which Adele took home six awards, including album, record and song of the year – “21″ has sold 968,000 copies. It has tallied 7.35 million copies in the U.S to date.

The album was the best-selling title of 2011, shifting 5.82 million copies. It has added 1.53 million more units since, and is by far the bestselling set to date this year .

Adele’s 2008 debut “19″ gained five slots on the week’s chart, rising to No. 4 with 87,000 sold. That set, which scored the vocalist a new artist Grammy in 2009, has sold 1.94 million to date; her career domestic sales total comes to 9.29 million.

In a curious turn of fate, Houston’s “Greatest Hits” was the only other title to sell more than 100,000 copies this week.

Grieving fans pushed the late vocalist’s Arista/Sony Music compilation up four slots to No. 2. The late vocalist’s collection gained 174% last week, selling 175,000. It has sold 239,000 copies since the singer’s death Feb. 11 on the eve of the Grammys ceremony.

Compilations filled out the top five on the week’s chart: the Capitol-distributed “Now 41″ collection held steady at No. 3 with 94,000 sold (down 33%), while Universal’s “2012 Grammy Nominees” package gained three rungs, taking No. 5 with 85,000 sold (up 66%).

Both those titles include hit singles by Adele, so the singer was represented on four of the top five albums on this week’s chart.

Previous frame’s major entry, Van Halen’s “A Different Kind of Truth” (Interscope), slid four positions to No. 6, losing 69% and selling 58,000.

Rest of the top 10 was filled out by performers benefiting from Grammy telecast exposure: Paul McCartney’s “Kisses on the Bottom” (No. 7, 58,000 sold, down 22%), Bruno Mars’ “Doo Wops & Hooligans” (No. 8, 37,000, up 133%), Lady Antebellum’s “Own the Night” (No. 9, 37,000, up 47%).

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more