Conquering the US music industry; what does it take for British artists to be successful in America?

Coming to America I was aware that things would be different from England, on arrival I realized just how different. In terms of music I was always asked the same question ‘so do you like One Direction?’ of course I would always answer ‘no, no one likes them in England’. This got me thinking why has America become so taken with One Direction and why have they succeeded where so many others before them have failed? The idea of conquering America is on the agenda of all British musicians; they have truly made it when America knows who they are. I use One Direction as a modern day example of a British band who has conquered the US however there have been several “British invasions” in the latter half of the twentieth century that come to mind. These include bands such as the Beatles during the 1960’s, British Punk in the 1970’s and 80’s, Oasis during the 1990’s and then moving into the twenty first century indie- rock bands such as the Kaiser Chiefs around 2003. This essay attempts to answer the questions why these bands, is success for British artists in America easy for bands than solo artists? It is also apparent that besides the Spice Girls in the late 1990’s and early 2000 British female artists struggle more than men when trying to conquer the US.

In an attempt to discover what it takes for a British artist to “conquer” the US, I conducted a questionnaire that asked fifteen American and ten British students their opinion of British artists. The questionnaire contained ten opened ended questions and I have analysed the answers in order to address my questions proposed in the introduction. I decided to ask a variety of questions that would help me to determine if there was perhaps a distinct pattern in the American music industry. In conducting the questionnaire combined with talking with my classmates I found four key areas of interested which include, the Beatles versus One Direction, British failures, what’s wrong with Female Artists and what does it really take to be successful in America?

The Beatles Vs. One Direction

‘We’re more popular than Jesus now” John Lennon

   In February 1964 the Beatles arrived in America and achieved what no British artist had done before; topped the US charts. The Beatles went to America to tour and were met by ‘Five thousand fans, mostly young girls, who were crowded onto the upper balcony of the airport’s arrivals building, waving placards and banners to welcome the group’ ( This could arguably be seen as the first “British invasion” of America in terms of the music industry. Described as Beatlemania, young women would scream and faint at the sight of the group. The picture below shows the typical reaction displayed whenever the Beatles came to town. Almost fifty years later young girls scream and faint for a new British Group; One direction (pictured below). Encouraging similar reactions to that of Beatlemainia,some view One Direction as a modern day comparison of the Beatles.

Beatlemania  1D

According to the statics One Direction has recently made history when they ‘outsold the Beatles here in the US’ (Rebecca Maccette). It does therefore appear that in terms of success in the American music industry One Direction has reached higher than any British artist that has come before, including the Beatles. The statics say one thing however peoples opinion give an entirely different impression. When reviewing some of the answers to the question ‘some have compared One Direction to The Beatles in terms of success would you agree with this’ many suggested that One Direction could never be compared to the Beatles as they are ‘overrated’, lacked originality and talent.  The contrast between the statics and peoples opinion is interesting because in theory the Beatles and One Direction are similar; they are both boy bands who attract young women however the authenticity of One Direction is questioned. I am in no way trying to defend One Direction however it is clear they are doing something right. It is apparent in today’s society people are obsessed with authenticity’ the Beatles set the bar high for British artists, yet whether they are a young girls favorite or a ‘guilty pleasure’ as one individual answered in the questionnaire One Direction have exceeded that bar.

British Failures

Having discussed the Beatles and One Direction two groups who achieved extraordinary successes in the US,  one must look at the failures to establish what influenced there achievement.When discussing my paper topic with my classmates the discussion quickly turned to British artists who had failed to become established in the US; Busted, Cheryl Cole and Robbie Williams were among artists mentioned. The reason I included the question ‘Have you ever heard of or listened to music by the artist Cheryl Cole’ is because Cole is an excellent example of an artist who attempted to conquer the US and failed to do so. In England, Cheryl Cole is a popular artist who had a regular seat on the judging panel on the Television show the X Factor. I feel she is an interesting artists to discuss as in 2011 she famously failed to conquer the US when she was fired from the American version of the X factor before the show began. Cole was fired amid rumors that Television bosses and the American audience could not understand ‘her thick Geordie accent’ which ‘remained and issue’ (Alison Boshoff).

From the questionnaire it is evident that no American student I questioned had heard of Cheryl Cole in comparison to all the British students who knew her and her music. The example of Cheryl Cole poses the question  – could something as inconsequential as ones accents really prevent their career for succeeding in the US?  The video below shows an interview with Cheryl Cole, it gives the audience an example of her accent as well as several clips of her music. One may therefore decide for themselves whether her failure in the US was down to her accent or her talent as an artist.  It is also curious that the members of One Direction all have different accents from a variety of places in the UK and it does not appear to be having been an obstacle for them when coming to the US.  One Direction have however admitted to being ‘forced to sound American in their songs’ (Clemmie Moodie), this is perhaps part of the secret to their success; by singing with an American accent perhaps  allows the American audience to relate to the music and intern support the artists.

Based on the results from my questionnaire it is neither talent nor accent that is the key to cracking the US but the amount of exposure and endorsements an artist gets. One Direction for example have a big endorsement campaign for Claire’s Accessories selling merchandise items from bracelets to cushions that appeal to teenage girls who are their target audience and the majority of their fan base. Failed artists such as Cheryl Cole and Busted- a British boy band popular in England in the mid 2000’s- both appeared on American television during their bid to promote themselves and become established in the US.  As previously mentioned Cheryl Cole appeared on the US X factor and Busted stared in their own reality show ‘America or Busted’ that failed to take off. Similarly two recent British music groups The Saturdays and The Wanted chose to take part in their own realty television shows which documented their attempt at conquering the US.  The Saturdays show ‘Chasing the Saturdays’ was unfortunately a fail, on the other hand ‘The Wanted Life’ proved a success. Interestingly both The Saturday’s and The Wanted’s reality shows were aired on the television channel E and yet the American audiences favoured The Wanted. This may therefore disprove the idea that endorsements are key to success in America and that gender plays a part; The Saturdays is a girl band and The Wanted is a boy band.  The issue of how gender influences success in the American music industry is discussed in the following section.







The two videos above are the trailers for ‘Chasing the Saturdays’ and ‘The Wanted Life’ and for those who don’t know the picture to the left is that of British boy band Busted. As with the Cheryl Cole video one must decide for themselves if they like what they see, however it is becoming apparent that certain characteristics do prove to have advantages.

What’s wrong with British female artists?

As I move through this discussion a pattern seems to be emerging; success in the America music industry is more likely if one is male, in a group or band with the target audience being young women. It was therefore no surprise when looking at US chart history there is a distinct lack of British female artists. In an attempt to explore this issue I asked students ‘Do you have a favorite British female artist/group, if so who would that be and why’. The answers were predictable, The Spice Girls, Adele and Florence and the Machine. These artists are arguably the only memorable British females to enter the US charts in recent years.  It is therefore apparent that for British female artists, being successful in the states is harder than it is for men.


Unlike male artists British female artist are often unsuccessful in Americas music industry,however it does appear that once they are ‘”in”,American audiences appear to be extremely supportive and in some cases protective. For instance in March of this year comedian Joan Rivers told ‘cruel jokes about Adele’s weight’ and for this she was ‘ being booed by the studio audience’ (NME).  This is interesting as Americans chose to side with  British artist Adele, albeit Joan Rivers was simply being rude however it is clear to see the respect American fans invest in music artists.  This respect and admiration is perhaps a reason why many strive to achieve popularity in America; once successful the support from fans is immense

So what does it really take to conquer the US?

   In conclusion, it appears that for a British artist attempting to conquer the US is in most cases a make or break career move. The general consensus from the questionnaire suggests there is a distinct pattern when it comes to being successful in the US for a British artist. In order to be successful one has to fit into an extremely specific mold which includes being in a group or band which is clear from the success of the Beatles and One Direction.  The band should consist of male members and with the target audience being young women or teenage girls. The group should have some kind of endorsement in order to promote their music in the US however this alone does not always prove fruitful as we have witness with bands such as, Busted or The Saturdays who both failed to be successful in the US.  The Beatles were the first to be massively popular and they set a high standard in terms of their fan base and chart success. A standard that has only recently been topped that has only recently been topped by One Direction. This is debatable however as although statics say One Direction are more successful than the Beatles it is clear from my questionnaire that this is not accepted in many minds of Americans. It is therefore clear that to have an advantageous career in the US, the artist must be loved, respected and accepted by their American audience; which is perhaps why for some British artists America is a tough music industry to crack.

 Work cited

Boshoff Alison, “They could hardly make out a word she said – and when they could, they STILL didn’t like her.” Daily Mail. 27 May 2011. Web. 27 Nov. 2013.<>.

The Beatles Bible. 2008. Web. 3 Dec. 2013.<>.

Macatte, Rebecca. “One Direction: Bigger Than the Beatles, but Still Obsessing Over Demi Lovato.” EOnline. 10 Oct. 2012. Web. 27 Nov. 2013.<>.

Moodie, Clemmie  “One Direction sensationally admit that they’re forced to sound American in their songs.” Mirror. 26 Aug. 2013. Web. 10 Oct. 2013. <>.

NME. March 1 2013. Web.11 Dec.2013

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