Wednesday, Sep. 08, 2010

A New British Invasion?

It's been more than 40 years since the British Invasion first brought bands like the Rolling Stones and the Beatles to U.S. shores, and despite what Mick Jagger said, time has not been on the Brits' side. Since 2000, only five singles by British artists have reached No. 1 on the Billboard 100 charts — and two of them, "Down" by Jay Sean and "Break Your Heart" by Taio Cruz, featured American artists who helped boost their profile. So why is it so hard for Brits to succeed across the pond? Certainly, the voltage runs the other way: as with everything from reality TV to Dan Brown thrillers, American pop culture has proved highly contagious overseas. The top-selling British single of 2009 was New York City–bred Lady Gaga's "Poker Face."

Summer 2010 might augur the beginning of a turning point, however: when nominations for the MTV Video Music Awards were announced on Aug. 3, British indie-rock band Florence and the Machine, whose style runs the gamut from electronica to folk, found itself nominated in four categories, including the prestigious Video of the Year category. If the band wins, lead singer Florence Welsh could become the first female artist to make a name for herself in the U.S. since reality-TV star Susan Boyle. Welsh is already at the vanguard of what could be termed a new British Invasion — this time, of indie artists. Just as music by indie-rock North American bands like Arcade Fire and Band of Horses is making inroads on the U.S. charts, a similar scene has been gestating in the U.K., including groups like the xx, winners of the 2010 Barclaycard Mercury Prize. While these British bands are so far little known overseas, many of them are starting to break through — and some, like the five presented here, have already established beachheads on U.S. shores.