MUSIC! UK Versus The U.S.A – Who Wins?

January 8, 2014

UK singer/songwriter Ellie Goulding recently stated in an interview with ‘Marie Claire UK’ that “In America, they don’t care if you’re cool, whereas in this country it’s a real preoccupation. Over there, if they like your songs they just want to turn you into a bigger version of yourself”.


This got me thinking. Do we really come across as music snobs here in the UK? The preconception goes a little something like this: In the UK we quite like it when a musician has suffered for his art, we don’t want to hear that it came easy. We want a self-effacing musician with absolutely NO concept of the reverence in which he is held. We want back stories of difficult upbringings, troubled relationships and tales of dark and dingy bars where we first encountered them until that momentous day, when they were ‘spotted’ subsequently played on radio and unwittingly, became too mainstream for us after all.

And, what is the common UK misconception of the US? Well that goes a little something like this: Are you really going to make Ellie Goulding get a boob job and some extra teeth now that she’s big there and make her play at your Super Bowl? And why must you be so culturally one-track minded as to eschew our beloved ‘folksters’ such as Ben Howard and Ed Sheeran? Is it just because they’re a bit too ‘Hipster’ for y’all?

I could go on and on for hours about this, but in the interest of our dear readers, I’ll try to keep it to a minimum.

It is, of course, all absolute nonsense. It’s a myth that the UK and the US have such a vast difference in music taste, we’ve been sharing each others’ artists for decades now. You gave us Elvis, we gave you The Beatles. That was a fair swap.

One of my first articles for weknowthedj centered on the new folk wave of music emerging in the UK but also how the same artists were heading over the pond to the states to perform at festivals. Artists such as Ed Sheeran and Ben Howard safely embedded themselves in the US charts and will continue to do so in 2014. By return, American singer/songwriter Pharrell Williams is absolutely DOMINATING the UK singles charts. To be honest, I’m not sure we’re going to give him back, I’ve grown very fond of Pharrell now, he’s basically an honourary UK citizen. You can keep Ed.

So regardless of how ‘left-field’ Americans consider Ellie Goulding to be, it doesn’t seem to make a difference when it comes to their appreciation of her music, just as we in the UK don’t seem to mind how naked Rihanna gets on any given occasion since we buy her music in barrow loads too. Sure, we might shake our heads a little bit and mutter something about her “catching a chill, it’s raining for God’s sake” but apart from that, we don’t mind.

The UK pop charts are generally well matched with the US but there is a huge difference in the way our charts are compiled in the UK and that CAN make it very difficult for some artists to chart well here.

In the UK, streaming and airplay do not count towards record sales. Our charts rely solely upon downloads and physical sales. In the US, if a large fanbase wishes to promote their favourite artists a little further up the charts, they can request songs on radio and stream away to their heart’s content. I’m not suggesting that it creates a false impression of an artist’s popularity, on the contrary, it’s actually a very positive way of giving the masses a true voice.

In the UK, the leading non-commercial radio stations will make up a playlist and stick to it. They do allow for listener opinion, but usually via an evening request show – many of which are censored (and by censored I mean only ‘requests’ for songs already on their playlist will make the cut). Commercial radio on the other hand will occasionally play a requested song, but the downside is that they have fewer listeners. ┬áIt should be mentioned, however, that both the UK and the US have an incredible ability to find and showcase up and coming artists.

I’m always in touch with people in the US who have the same music tastes as me, it’s a natural draw for humans to associate with those who are like-minded, it’s never occurred to me that we should differ all that much. After all, we no longer have to wait for the music released in the US to make it over here, with the digital age the whole WORLD has it at their fingertips as soon as it’s released.

With all this said, I must choose a winner and since I consider both to be equal I’m going to highlight one very big musical difference between the UK and the US: Summer festivals. The US have Coachella (where it’s hot and sunny) the UK has Glastonbury (where it’s usually so wet you need a boat) and therefore, the US wins.

I feel like a traitor.

-Lucy Jenkins.


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