The ears of England are different from ours with listening preferences almost contrary to ours (how else do you explain their impassioned love to Kings of Leon?). Aside from our shared appreciation for Michael Jackson, whatever is popular there will most likely remain “underrated” here.
Little Boots, who seemed destined for Williamsburg heroism but is being met with apathy, is a UK mainstream staple and the cover story of a major newspaper’s weekly magazine circular. Ads for La Roux’s self-titled debut are plastered everywhere, in the underground, on train platforms, and all across the walls of the outdoor markets (her song “Bulletproof” is #2 on the UK’s Top 40 chart). Skinny-jeaned pop maestros are releasing thoroughly enjoyable and calorie-free synth records that, in the event that they do get a domestic release here, will most likely be ignored. Why is this? Why is it that there’s such an inherent disparity between our tastes?
Firstly, the Brits get a bad rap for taking themselves seriously. But it’s actually the opposite. Right now, you can find critically acclaimed theater/musical versions of the movies Sister Act, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, and Dirty Dancing (among others). This is preposterous but also very true. They love ridiculousness as sweet as their superior chocolate. And the reason for this lack of self-seriousness, I think, is that the act of “keeping it real” is rather unimportant to the Brits. Authenticity or posturing is an American fixation, the Guinea pig treadmill of authenticity, whether it is found in hip-hop (street cred) or in indie rock (selling out) and in rock (Creed as a punchline, anyone?). The British pop charts are completely uninterested in authenticity, and the sincere championing of Lady GaGa, the Black Eyed Peas, and Katy Perry actually proves this. In fact, those three aforementioned artists aren’t categorized as guilty pleasures. In the UK, they are simply pleasures. This is not to say that their music should be encouraged, and that there are not exceptions to this (there are plenty of British snobs), but for the most part, the Brits have no problem with Kasabian and the Arctic Monkeys playing on the radio alongside Keri Hilson and Jordan Sparks. This isn’t even perceived as strange.
And I think this is why Little Boots, La Roux, Dan Black, FrankMusik, et al., are so popular over there, but not over here, because they sit at the confusing intersection of substance and shallow. They look like rockers, they dress like rockers, they hang out with rockers, yet they’re not rockers. Their photo shoots and interview quotes would convince you that they take themselves very seriously, but when they perform it's obvious that they don't. They compose mainstream pop music that our mothers and dentists and d.j.’s can still enjoy. Paradoxically, American mainstream pop artists have to remain pure in their chosen direction of popness and any deviation from that normally confuses us to the point of shunning them. See Mandy Moore’s half-decade quest to transition from pop tween to a legitimate singer/songwriter—PS, it’s not working. Or note the resentment for Chris Cornell, a quintessential rocker, when he recorded with Timbaland. Or how about the fact that we could tolerate Oasis’s Beatles fixation for an album or two, at most, yet in England, they are still heroes.
And this, ultimately, is why I enjoy British radio, because whenever I hear it, I am always surprised by what I am able to like. These are just some of the choice cuts from my two weeks in the U.K. Chances are you'll never hear them here.
DAN BLACK - "Symphonies"
FRANKMUSIK - "Confusion Girl"
MAGISTRATES - "Heartbreak"
V.V. BROWN - "Shark In The Water"
LA ROUX - "Bulletproof"
CHEW LIPS - "Salt Air"