The end of the British Invasion.

Arts, entertainment, and more.
May 3 2002 11:12 AM

The End of the British Invasion

Why can't Britpop crack the Billboard Hot 100 anymore?

Apparently we no longer want to hold their hands.


For the first time since the Beatles yeah-yeah-yeahed their way into the American Top 40 in January 1964, there are no U.K. acts on the Billboard Hot 100. (Old-timers will remember the Hot 100 as the "singles chart," although these days most radio hits are not actually released as singles.) The Brit-free chart, published in the music-biz trade journal's April 27 issue, may be a one-week fluke. But it ruffled London's music-industry establishment, causing British news service Reuters to report that "Britpop is a flop in the United States."

It can be argued that the Hot 100's Brit drought is not terribly significant. The chart is less central than it was in 1964, when the 45 RPM record was rock 'n' roll's essential currency. These days, hit-radio airplay (the primary basis of the Hot 100) reflects only a narrow slice of the music market—mostly teen pop, R&B, hip-hop, nu-metal, and country.

Yet Britons have also dwindled on the Billboard album chart, which more accurately conveys the breadth of music that Americans are currently consuming. Among the April 27 issue's top 100 albums are only five by acts that might be considered British—and only one of those, neo-soul singer Craig David, fully qualifies. The other four are Enya and U2 (both Irish), Ozzy Osbourne (U.K.-bred but a longtime U.S. resident), and Kylie Minogue (musically a product of Britain's dance-pop factory, but legally an Australian).

This is not an overnight development. British acts have been spotted infrequently on the Billboard charts in the last few years. The U.K. still produces bands that develop stateside cult followings, and those cults occasionally swell to commercially significant size. (One notable contemporary example: Radiohead.) But America has ignored some of Britain's biggest recent bands or reduced them—as it did with Oasis and Blur—to the status of one-hit wonders.

The musical split between the United States and the U.K. sunders one of pop culture's most venerable alliances. Great Britain has been a reliable source of pop and rock since 1964's British Invasion, continuing through psychedelia, heavy metal, art-rock, punk, new wave, and beyond. Most of the groups that inspired breathless superlatives—"world's greatest rock 'n' roll band," the Rolling Stones; "only band that matters," the Clash—were British.

To some extent, the breach represents a disparity in musical taste. The many styles of arty post-disco grouped under the heading "electronica," for example, are more popular in Britain than in the United States. The Brit drought also reveals limited U.K. expertise in some of today's best-selling genres, notably hip-hop, country, and nu-metal, and a general flagging of invention among British rockers.

Just as significant, however, is an American music industry that's become a formidable oligarchy since the days when it was upended by "She Loves You." The Beatles themselves were initially rejected by Capitol, the U.S. arm of their British label, for being too alien to American tastes. Then Vee Jay, a small independent label, picked up the band, and U.S. Top 40 DJs embraced the fresh new sound. That wouldn't happen today. Five multinationals control the CD business, and one company—Clear Channel Communications, which owns 1,200 radio stations—dominates American Top 40 and rock radio. Local DJs and program directors rarely decide what songs to play.

Some recent U.K. chart-toppers actually embody the sort of traditional rock values that supposedly appeal to stateside audiences: aggressive guitars, catchy melodies, and distinctive singers. Yet such bands as Manic Street Preachers, Catatonia, Stereophonics, and Super Furry Animals—all of them from Wales—have had limited success even getting their music released in the United States. Not all these groups have worked hard for American acceptance, but even the ones who have toured the country repeatedly have been overlooked—in part, apparently, because their accents and origins are considered peculiar.

"A lot of British talent is seen as quirky," an anonymous "industry expert" told Reuters. A generation ago, however, British popsters were appreciated precisely for their idiosyncrasies and regional identities; bands like the Kinks and the Who, although not consistent hit-makers, had distinctive sensibilities that American admirers couldn't hope to copy. Quirkiness can actually lead to long-term appeal, but oddball performers require time and exposure to grow on potential fans. In this age of manufactured pop and short-term marketing, singularity is considered a design flaw.



Smash and Grab

Will competitive Senate contests in Kansas and South Dakota lead to more late-breaking races in future elections?

Stop Panicking. America Is Now in Very Good Shape to Respond to the Ebola Crisis.

The 2014 Kansas City Royals Show the Value of Building a Mediocre Baseball Team

The GOP Won’t Win Any Black Votes With Its New “Willie Horton” Ad

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?


Forget Oculus Rift

This $25 cardboard box turns your phone into an incredibly fun virtual reality experience.

One of Putin’s Favorite Oligarchs Wants to Start an Orthodox Christian Fox News

These Companies in Japan Are More Than 1,000 Years Old

Trending News Channel
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM Watch Flashes of Lightning Created in a Lab  
  News & Politics
Oct. 20 2014 8:14 PM You Should Be Optimistic About Ebola Don’t panic. Here are all the signs that the U.S. is containing the disease.
Oct. 20 2014 7:23 PM Chipotle’s Magical Burrito Empire Keeps Growing, Might Be Slowing
Dear Prudence
Oct. 21 2014 9:18 AM Oh, Boy Prudie counsels a letter writer whose sister dresses her 4-year-old son in pink tutus.
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 20 2014 6:17 PM I Am 25. I Don't Work at Facebook. My Doctors Want Me to Freeze My Eggs.
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 20 2014 7:15 AM The Slate Doctor Who Podcast: Episode 9 A spoiler-filled discussion of "Flatline."
Brow Beat
Oct. 21 2014 9:25 AM The Brilliant Fake Novels of Listen Up Philip
Future Tense
Oct. 21 2014 9:39 AM The International-Student Revolving Door Foreign students shouldn’t have to prove they’ll go home after graduating to get a visa.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 21 2014 7:00 AM Watch the Moon Eat the Sun: The Partial Solar Eclipse on Thursday, Oct. 23
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.