’Ello! I’m Sam Lansky, music nerd and self-professed Anglophile. This is “Pop Think,” my music column where I misuse British slang and embarrass myself in the process. This week’s topic: the ripple effects of globalization! (Sort of, but not really.)
In all seriousness, it’s hard not to see that the last year or two have brought an influx of talent from the other side of the pond to U.S. shores: First and foremost with mega-voiced chanteuse Adele, who dominated 2011 with a string of monster hits and a bazillion-times-platinum-selling album. Other heavy hitters include British folk-rock band Mumford & Sons, who sold 2.2 million copies of their album in the United States last year, and Florence + the Machine, who generated a deafening buzz with her LP in 2011. This year is all about the boy bands, with both One Direction and The Wanted making a huge impact over here — in fact, One Direction is expected to debut at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 Albums Chart this week.
But what’s this new Britvasion all about? Will it be as enormous as Beatlemania? Could we be entering another Spiceworld? This week, I’m looking at the surge of stars making waves from the other side of the pond and highlighting the lesser-known acts likeliest to break out in the States in the next year. Hop aboard the pop lorry, guv’nah, and let’s go for a ride!
Emeli Sande, Charli XCX and Conor Maynard are some of Sam Lansky’s favorite Brits.
Fun fact: On the other side of the pond, there’s a pop universe richer and more vibrant than many American listeners realize. Most artists who make it big in the United States also see massive success in the United Kingdom (Rihanna, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga and so on), but an enormous crop of supremely talented artists never crack the Stateside market, even after they’ve topped charts and gone platinum in much of the rest of the world. Few U.S. listeners are familiar with Girls Aloud and Sugababes, the two enormously popular and stunningly brilliant girl groups that dominated U.K. radio for much of the last decade (both groups are currently on hiatus); for every Adele, there are a dozen dazzlingly talented artists who remain unknown in the United States. Surely, Adele is one of a kind, but how many casual American listeners have heard of Diana Vickers, Pixie Lott or Emeli Sandé? All three have had No. 1 hits in the U.K. in the last year or two, yet none were given a proper launch here.
Read more about the British artists you need to watch in 2012 after the jump.
Of course, there’s a tremendous amount of homegrown talent here in the States, and platforms both established and emerging such as “American Idol,” “The Voice” and “The X Factor” are helping to bring new artists to the mainstream. But when we import artists who already have a track record for making brilliant pop music in their native country, less opportunity exists for them to fumble on their way to the top; they’ve been in the game for long enough to know how to play it, even if that game is a little different on this side of the pond. And while the U.S. market is notoriously difficult to crack, with no rubric that truly guarantees success, there seems to be more space than ever on U.S. radio for international acts to break in. Call it globalization or an erosion of nationalist xenophobia, but whatever it is, it’s happening, and it could open up the floodgates for a deluge of amazing new artists from overseas.
So now that we’ve confirmed that the Britvasion is indeed upon us (and it’s a really good thing!), who are the key players I’m hoping to see break out in the United States in the coming year? First up, I’ve had a little ditty by the name of “Can’t Say No” by Conor Maynard on repeat for the last month or so — and while it’s premature to start throwing around claims like “He’s the second coming of Justin Timberlake!” or “Bieber better watch his wig!” it is safe to say that this kid’s got serious sound and swagger. An effortlessly cool urban-pop confection built around a likable hook (“Girls girls girls, I just can’t say no”), “Can’t Say No” has major crossover potential, and given that Conor Maynard was recently crowned MTV U.K.’s Brand-New For 2012 artist, the hype surrounding him is growing fast.
In the female pop wunderkind department, there are few artists more promising than 2012 mtvU Woodie Awards nominee Charli XCX, whose alt-pop evokes the offbeat wit of Sky Ferreira with a dark, gritty edge. Her singles “Stay Away” and “Nuclear Seasons” have a fuzzy, lo-fi quality that sets them apart from the most of the pristine Dr. Luke pop on the charts, but with a hook-driven sensibility and sophisticated songcraft that belies her young age. She’s been championed by indie blogs like Pitchfork and Stereogum, but a recent stellar review from The New York Times should only bolster her credibility, and make Stateside success (albeit of the alt-ier variety) even more seamless.
For an equally mature and sonically nuanced sound with a sultry soul edge, there are few talents as bright as the incredible Emeli Sandé, whose phenomenal debut has launched a string of successful UK singles (such as “Daddy” and “Next to Me”), dubby soul-inflected R&B with devastatingly gorgeous lyrics and a chill-inducing set of pipes. Fans of Adele would be foolish to ignore Emeli’s extraordinary talent.
Whether or not the new crop of British talent blowing up in the U.S. portends more things to come or not, it’s refreshing to see so many bright stars from across the pond finding new fans here. My only request? When Conor Maynard is playing to sold-out stadiums full of screaming tween fans across the United States, just remember where you heard it first.
Photo credit: Getty Images/Charli XCX/Conor Maynard