The Week In Pop: Meet The New Wave Of British Pop Stars
We at Stereogum have the UK on the brain this week. And while there’s a big difference between “Britpop” and “British pop,” this seems like an appropriate time to point out just how many singers from the motherland have been making waves on these shores. We haven’t quite reached British Invasion levels of saturation; many of these acts are only internet celebrities in the US despite rising-star status in their homeland. It’s actually quite a bit like Britpop in that way — a cultural phenomenon over there, a cult phenomenon over here. Yet more and more, figures like Ed Sheeran and Ellie Goulding are becoming legitimate stars in America, and the likes of Sam Smith and Rita Ora (pictured) have been taking initial steps in that direction. Whether they make it in the States or not, the UK is exporting notable pop stars en masse these days. Let’s have a look at them.
NOTE: I’m going to focus on individuals here, so let’s acknowledge the existence, the general ubiquity, and (especially) the US success of One Direction and the 1975 ahead of time. Onward!
In short: Fiery redhead who got her start singing hooks for DJs but had too much personality not to break out on her own
Notable affiliations: Jessie Ware, Diplo, Iggy Azalea, DJ NG, Mark Ronson, Jacques Green
Biggest US look: Probably “Anywhere In The World,” her 2012 Olympics collaboration with Mark Ronson for Coca-Cola
Start with: The propulsive “Katy On A Mission” if you want to start in the past and work forward; the dance ballad “Still” if you want to start in the present and work backward
In short: Teen goth-pop queen who’s been embracing her punk-rock side lately
Notable affiliations: Icona Pop, Iggy Azalea, Danny Brown
Biggest US look: Unfortunately, most listeners still don’t realize they’re hearing Charli’s handiwork when they rock out to Icona Pop’s “I Love It,” which she penned
Start with: “SuperLove,” an infectious slice of post-Spice Girls disco
In short: Versatile futuristic soul singer unafraid to venture into EDM, hip-hop, or goofy mash-up covers
Notable affiliations: Rudimental, Naughty Boy, Wiz Khalifa, Tinie Tempah, Bastille
Biggest US look: Eyre hasn’t had one yet; even her UK #1 with Rudimental, “Waiting All Night,” didn’t break over here
Start with: “Deeper,” an improvement on the Joss Stone formula that offers the best sense of serial collaborator Eyre’s identity
In short: Half Florence Welch, half disco diva, with occasional nerd glasses and Minnie Mouse ears
Notable affiliations: Zedd, Fall Out Boy, Rudimental
Biggest US look: Foxes sang the hook on Zedd’s “Clarity,” an inescapable mega-hit on US radio
Start with: “Youth,” a song that manages to make the reigning EDM-pop template feel fresh
In short: With George Reid, she forms AlunaGeorge, practitioners of slinky, R&B-infused state-of-the-art pop
Notable affiliations: Disclosure
Biggest US look: AlunaGeorge haven’t really gotten a proper US push yet, but Aluna’s guest spot to perform “White Noise” during Disclosure’s massive Coachella set probably qualifies; if not, perhaps getting Album Of The Week on Stereogum last summer?
Start with: “Attracting Flies,” one of the more musically and lyrically clever singles in recent years
In short: The most believable android you ever did hear, imbuing EDM stadium-rockers with breathy plasticine soul
Notable affiliations: Calvin Harris, Skrillex
Biggest US look: Goulding scored a slow-burning success in the US with “Lights” and an instant hit with “Burn,” but her Calvin Harris collab “I Need Your Love” is probably her most prominent stateside moment — if only because her triumphant Coachella performance didn’t have quite the reach of top 40 radio
Start with: “Burn,” still the best distillation of her digital soul and physical swagger
In short: Flat-topped English-Nigerian teenager singing and producing retro R&B tracks that conjure a time before he was born
Notable affiliations: Far East Movement, Rudimental, Gorgon City
Biggest US look: None so far, but the slow jam “Don’t Call This” deserves that kind of attention
Start with: “Every Little Word” is the best, most explicit Montell Jordan song you’ve never heard (with a dash of Paula Abdul for good measure)
In short: Sam Smith/Rick Astley type with actual moves and a shocking amount of charisma
Notable affiliations: Rudimental
Biggest US look: Newman performed his UK #1 “Love Me Again” on one of Jimmy Fallon’s last Late Night shows earlier this year, and he commanded an impressive crowd against formidable competition such as Beck and Disclosure at Coachella
Start with: “Love Me Again,” a fiery soul-pop gem with orchestral swells, rampant percussion, and C+C Music Factory-issued piano chords
In short: A singer and actress who gets around musically almost as much as geographically (her life has carried her from Kosovo to England to Hollywood)
Notable affiliations: Jay Z, Dev Hynes, Craig David, Tinie Tempah, K Koke, DJ Fresh
Biggest US look: Ora just performed on Fallon this week; she wore a white dress and ended up splattered with paint
Start with: “I Will Never Let You Down,” the new single Ora performed on Fallon, which rides the electro-organic fault line as well as any song this year and which seems set to become her first proper US hit
In short: Former busker who seems most likely to keep the acoustic singer-songwriter dude trope alive now that Ed Sheeran is going full-on dance pop
Notable affiliations: Ed Sheeran
Biggest US look: His 2012 global #1 smash “Let Her Go” finally hit big in the US last year, both on the radio and in YouTube ads
Start with: You might as well get used to his new single “Hearts On Fire” right now; here he is performing it with Sheeran
In short: The world’s leading acoustic singer-songwriter dude, now experimenting with dance-pop as described here
Notable affiliations: Taylor Swift, One Direction, Pharrell, Lupe Fiasco, Wretch 32
Biggest US look: If it wasn’t playing SNL earlier this month, it was opening for countless Taylor Swift concerts
Start with: Gooey prostitute ballad “The A-Team,” if only because I still refuse to acknowledge the existence of “Sing”
In short: Possessor of arguably the most powerful new voice in music, sometimes deployed for dance-pop but mostly for Adele-contempo
Notable affiliations: Disclosure, Naughty Boy,
Biggest US look: Smith managed to perform on SNL without a single US hit to his name
Start with: “Money On My Mind,” a smooth and breezy romp that’s actually anti-materialistic (Smith doesn’t have money on his mind, see)
In short: Shoulder-pad aficionado who always keeps her suave soul fire at a tantalizing simmer
Notable affiliations: Joker, SBTRKT, Sampha, Katy B, Mayer Hawthorne, Julio Bashmore
Biggest US look: Collaborating with the Roots on Fallon
Start with: “Wildest Moments” is the anthem, though “Running” is Ware’s greatest mystique-building move
OBLIGATORY AVRIL WTF BREAK
Oh boi. Just last week we were celebrating young Avril’s role in blurring the lines between punk and teen pop. Now your motherfucking princess has gone and made this monstrosity of a video, following in the wake of her spiritual forebear Gwen Stefani by turning the Japanese into accessories, in doing so bidding “See ya later, boy” to what remains of the goodwill she built up with her excellent run of early singles. Why’d she have to go and make things so complicated? So much for her happy ending, et al.
Like Sky Ferreira before her, Avril responded to accusations of racism with a hearty LOLOLOL:
RACIST??? LOLOLOL!!! I love Japanese culture and I spend half of my time in Japan. I flew to Tokyo to shoot this video…
— Avril Lavigne (@AvrilLavigne) April 24, 2014
…specifically for my Japanese fans, WITH my Japanese label, Japanese choreographers AND a Japanese director IN Japan.
— Avril Lavigne (@AvrilLavigne) April 24, 2014
I’m not sure if I think “Hello Kitty” is racist — the question of how to deal with cultural appropriation seems better left to those from the culture being appropriated — but I certainly find it offensive to see a 29-year-old Avril acting like a petulant preteen while putting the last nail in dubstep’s coffin. Even if you accept Avril’s position that “Hello Kitty” is a heartfelt tribute, it’s gross.
The chart champions remain unchallenged this week, but we got some fresh names near the tops of the Billboard 200 albums chart and the Hot 100 singles chart. Singles-wise, Pharrell’s “Happy” reigns supreme for a ninth straight week — as Billboard points out, this makes him one of six male artists to accumulate half a year’s worth of #1 singles along with Usher, Michael Jackson, Elton John, Paul McCartney, and T.I. — but there are some new top 10 songs in Skateboard P’s wake. Justin Timberlake’s “Not A Bad Thing” is up to #8 this week with Chris Brown’s “Loyal” following at #9. The rest of the top 10 is highly familiar — John Legend, Jason DeRulo/2 Chainz, Katy Perry/Juicy J, Idina Menzel, Bastille, and DJ Snake/Lil Jon at #2-7, with Lorde’s “Team” falling to #10 — but at least the order of the top 7 has changed slightly for the first time in four weeks.
The albums chart, too, remains dominated by the Frozen soundtrack, which finishes at #1 for the eleventh nonconsecutive week with an Easter-abetted 259,000 copies. In doing so, it continues to set all kinds of records Billboard can tell you all about; most notably, it has now surpassed The Lion King for most weeks at #1 by an animated soundtrack. Beneath Frozen, the figures are slightly less disappointing than last week, when Pharrell made it back to #2 with only 29,000 sold, but only slightly. R&B singer August Alsina debuts at #2 with 67,000 copies of Testimony, followed by three more debuts: NEEDTOBREATHE’s Rivers In The Wasteland (#3, 49,000), Jason Derulo’s Talk Dirty (#4, 44,000), and Ingrid Michaelson’s Lights Out (#5, 37,000). The top 10 is rounded out by enduring releases from Luke Bryan, Pharrell, Lorde, and 5 Seconds Of Summer plus the Now 49 compilation at #10.
Katy Perry – “Birthday”
Praise be to Katy Perry for keeping the event music video alive, even if I find this one’s hidden camera shtick more than a little obnoxious. Stick to impossibly lavish productions next time, KP!
Lorde – “Tennis Court (Flume Remix)”
Lorde and Flume make sense as collaborators. Besides their shared fondness for sleek, futuristic, greyscale electronic pop, both were two of the most popular acts at Coachella, and they both hail from Oceania. (Though if you believe Flight Of The Conchords, Lorde’s New Zealand has a bit of an inferiority complex in regard to Flume’s Australia.) Anyhow, they sound good together on Flume’s “Tennis Court” remix — almost as good as Lorde sounded on that Son Lux remix. Looking forward to seeing which other fine musicians she offers a share of her shine going forward.
Tiësto – “Wasted” (Feat. Matthew Koma)
With “Wasted,” Tiësto is openly vying for “song of the summer” status. Really puts a cheery spin on paralyzing emptiness, huh?
Kiesza – “What Is Love”
We last saw Kiesza evoking the ’90s with her street dancing in the “Hideaway” video. Now she’s giving the full Sinead treatment to Haddaway’s “What Is Love,” best known as the Night At The Roxbury song. Can’t really bob your head to Kiesza’s version, though.
NEWS IN BRIEF
- Beyoncé is on the cover of Time‘s 100 Most Infuential People issue. [Time]
- Her sister Solange expects to release a new album this fall. [Idolator]
- OK, one more from the Knowles family: Songwriter Sia revealed that Bey’s “Pretty Hurts” was originally offered to Rihanna and Katy Perry. [The New York Times]
- Somebody uploaded audio of Britney Spears’ entire Vegas production to SoundCloud. [Pink Is The New Blog]
- Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” is now the most-downloaded UK single of all time. [The Independent]
- Ryan Lewis’ mom, a 30-year HIV survivor, is starting a new pro-healthcare campaign. [Billboard]
- Don’t expect any pop songs on the new Nicki Minaj album. [MTV]
- The White House finally responded to that Justin Bieber deportation petition. [E!]