We hate to say we told you so, but we totally told you so. Back in January, we picked English rock group Florence + the Machine as one of the potential breakout artists of 2010, and, well, we can’t lie, we were totally right.
Not only did the band’s debut album, Lungs, top the charts in England, but thanks to flame-haired singer Florence Welch and a penchant for high-energy performances, the Machine became a staple on festival bills across the world this year and the go-to soundtrack for TV shows like “Grey’s Anatomy” and “So You Think You Can Dance.”
With a sound that mixes the art-rock attack of Yeah Yeah Yeahs with Lily Allen’s cheeky soul croon and a bit of the White Stripes’ garage ooze, the band has gained attention for Welch’s penchant for injuring herself onstage while scrambling up lighting rigs and leaping off speaker stacks. “I’m quite unrestrained, and it does lead to some accidents,” Welch told us in January. “Onstage, I seem to have this force field of protection, so I rarely injure myself onstage, even as I’m climbing up rafters or jumping off of things.”
After giving up the drums to take the lead-singer role, Welch was shocked, to say the least, by her band’s four nominations at Sunday’s MTV Video Music Awards. The nods for Best Rock Video, Best Art Direction, Best Cinematography and, yes, Video of the Year for the trippy “Dog Days Are Over” clip were described as an “iconic event” by the singer, who said she’s watched the VMAs on TV since she was a kid.
“It’s one of those things: It’s not real life, it’s a dream scenario,” said Welch, who is essentially a one-woman band augmented by session players on live dates. “So for me to be actually a part of it feels like I’m in some sort of parallel universe. It’s kind of strange and wonderful and terrifying all at the same time.”
It’s quite a journey from the recoding of “Dog Days,” which Welch said originated in a closet where she and a friend banged their hands against the walls and used pans as instruments to lay down the beat.
The visually striking, stark video casts an ashen-faced Welch as a kind of future-shaman leader of an eclectic band. Wearing a white dress and white makeup, she does a freaky hippie dance as the members of her troupe appear on the spotless white set: first two blue-skinned, bouffant-wearing dancers, a pair of red-hooded harp players, masked percussionists, a 10-person gospel choir and a kabuki cymbal player. She spends most of the video emoting the dynamic song’s lyrics, wearing a geisha outfit with red eye makeup and a furry dress. That is, until she starts waving a blue flag and making her bandmembers disappear one by one in a puff of dust.
The clip is notable for its lack of a traditional narrative, but also for the way it puts the full attention on the charismatic singer as she sells the song with just some simple dance moves and colorful outfits.
It took a while for Lungs, which was released in July 2009 in England, to catch on in America. By the time U.S. audiences began taking notice, the CD had already reached #1 in the U.K., and audiences there became well-acquainted with the story of how it was inspired by a temporary breakup between Welch and longtime love Stuart Hammond.
The first single, the rollicking “Kiss With a Fist,” was included on the soundtracks of “Wild Child” and the Megan Fox flop “Jennifer’s Body.” But it was the use of “Dog Days” in ads for the Julia Roberts summer hit “Eat Pray Love” that helped the album start its march up the Billboard charts in America this summer, as did the placement of another single, “Cosmic Love,” in shows ranging from “The Vampire Diaries” to “So You Think You Can Dance” and “Grey’s Anatomy.”
It also didn’t hurt that in May, it was announced during the slow reveal of the “Twilight Saga: Eclipse” soundtrack track list that her song “Heavy in Your Arms” would be included on the hit release.
After lighting up such British festivals as Glastonbury, Reading and Leeds in 2009, the group was confirmed for October’s Voodoo Fest in New Orleans, as well as Sunday night’s VMAs.
Will Welch upset the heavily favored, 13-time-nominated Lady Gaga at the big show? Tune in to find out.
The 27th annual MTV Video Music Awards will be broadcast live from the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles on Sunday. The party starts with MTV News’ VMA Pre-Show at 8 p.m., followed by the main event at 9 p.m. ET.