It’s not quite Beatlemania or the ’90s Britpop invasion by the likes of Oasis, Blur and the Spice Girls, but astute music followers will have noticed that British music, has been quietly staging yet another attack on American charts.
This time around, this assault is spearheaded by powerhouse diva, Adele, whose sophomore album, 21, is currently the bestselling one of the year and is pushing Britney Spears’ Femme Fatale off the #1 spot on next week’s Billboard 200 chart. Then there’s folk-rock band Mumford and Sons, whose album peaked at #2 a whole year after it was released and has impressively gone platinum.
In fact, Adele, Mumford and Sons and Marsha Ambrosius , yet another British act, combined for the top three spots on the Billboard sales charts for one week in March, the first time in over 20 years that British artists have done so.
Are we experiencing a third wave of British music invasion? Or is it mere coincidence that acts like Adele and Mumford and Sons are achieving chart success at the same time?
“I think the U.S. market is just generally receptive to a lot more things than it’s been for a while, with all the changes in sales,” Village Voice music editor Maura Johnston observed. “You also have other aspects of the industry that have changed, like the Arcade Fire, who are on an independent label, winning the Album of the Year Grammy.”
For Spin editor-in-chief Doug Brod, the success of these artists has got more to do with the quality of their music than their nation of origin.
“With Mumford and Sons, their success has been long in the making,” Brod said. “The record’s been out for a year, and they’ve sold over a million copies and are now headlining festivals, but it took them a long time.
“In Adele’s case, her previous record primed her for success,” Brod added. “It received Grammy nominations and won awards. And this record just took off because of the great songs.”
Johnston also thinks some British acts are doing well by marketing to underserved audiences. “It was the same with Adele, and with Sade and Susan Boyle,” she said. “There are certain audiences that don’t get marketed to a lot by popular music, and so when they do, even if it’s just an appearance on a TV show like ‘Letterman’ or ‘Oprah,’ people will respond to a really powerful, good song.”
The increasing popularity of digital music sources has also made it easier for Americans to seek out music from across the pond.
“The digital marketplace levels the playing field,” Hits Daily Double senior editor Roy Trakin said. “It doesn’t matter where something is from at this point, because it is a globalized universe. British acts go in and they go out. Sometimes they can’t buy a break, and then sometimes you see them all over the place. But when things break, they can break instantaneously. That’s probably a factor.”
At the moment there are two types of British acts that have achieved success in the U.S. recently: big-voiced divas like Adele, Leona Lewis and Susan Boyle; and rock bands like Coldplay and Mumford and Sons. Pop stars like Robbie Williams and girl group Sugababes have tried and failed. Is it possible for a British pop act to join the British invasion? All eyes are on Jessie J, whose Who You Are made its U.S. debut this week.
Brod had a positive prognosis for Jessie. “She has a lot of momentum,” he said. “She’s been aligned with big American stars like B.o.B, Bruno Mars, Miley, so she has visibility. Her ‘Saturday Night Live’ performance also really put her on people’s minds, so it’s a matter of radio getting behind her at this point. I think if radio responds well to her, she could ride that to a big career here.”
But Johnston opined that Jessie J’s success is not a litmus test of whether British pop acts can break America, because Jessie’s music already sounds very American.
“Jessie J is so in the American mold of pop stars,” Johnston argued. “I would love to see what would happen right now if a [British pop group] Girls Aloud song got properly promoted and got a proper push. That to me is more of a litmus test, than something that sounds a lot like American music.”
A potential game changer for Britpop artists could be the upcoming fall launch of Simon Cowell’s U.S. “X Factor.” If the show proves to be a hit, British acts will have a great high-profile platform on which to introduce themselves to the U.S.
“You can’t discount Simon Cowell’s influence. He brought Leona to Clive Davis, who was onboard immediately. So whatever you may think of him as a judge or as a celebrity, he does wield big influence on what makes a pop star in the U.S. As long as he’s part of the conversation and the culture, he will have an effect on which British artists might make it here.”
One thing is certain: The music industry is all about trends, so if Jessie J makes it here, that could open the door for other similar British acts.
“It’s the Amy Winehouse-Duffy-Adele scenario,” Brod explained. “Amy Winehouse opened the door, and Duffy and Adele stepped in. Adele stuck, and Duffy sort of fell off, so there might be casualties involved. But a lot of it just depends on the quality of the music.”