Not unlike Paul McCartney’s charming pronunciation of “customer” in the Beatles’ “Penny Lane,” there’s a distinct British accent on Billboard‘s charts of late.
Most notably, Adele, born in London, tops the Billboard Hot 100 (dated Nov. 13) for a third week with “Easy on Me,” while Ed Sheeran, born in Halifax, West Yorkshire, launches atop the Billboard 200 with =.
The last time that British acts (in lead roles) ruled the lists simultaneously? For two weeks in March-April 2017, Sheeran doubled up with “Shape of You” and ÷ (Divide). Before that, Adele earned the honor, for six weeks in December 2015-January 2016, thanks to “Hello” and 25.
As for different English artists (again, in lead roles) topping the Hot 100 and Billboard 200 together, Adele and Sheeran this week are the first such tandem in … over 32 years, since Simply Red’s “If You Don’t Know Me by Now” paced the Hot 100 and Fine Young Cannibals’ The Raw & The Cooked crowned the Billboard 200.
Among lead soloists, Adele and Sheeran are the first British acts to lead both lists simultaneously since June 18, 1988, when Rick Astley’s “Together Forever” topped the Hot 100 and George Michael’s Faith ruled the Billboard 200. (Adele was just over a month old at the time, having been born May 5, 1988. Sheeran was born Feb. 17, 1991.)
Adele and Sheeran aren’t the only British stars scoring chart achievements. Glass Animals complete a record 42-week run to the Hot 100’s top 10 with “Heat Waves,” while Elton John and Dua Lipa lead Hot Dance/Electronic Songs for a fourth week with “Cold Heart (Pnau Remix).”
Five weeks earlier, Coldplay soared in atop the Hot 100 with its BTS team-up “My Universe.” Plus, The Beatles recently returned to the Billboard 200’s top five with their 1970 album Let It Be and the Rolling Stones revisited the top 25 with 1981’s Tattoo You, both thanks to reissues.
Historically, of course, British acts have long conquered Billboard charts, with The Beatles holding the records for the most Hot 100 and Billboard 200 No. 1s (20 and 19, respectively) and the Rolling Stones boasting the most Billboard 200 top 10s (37).
After the start of both bands’ transformational runs in the ’60s, a “‘second British invasion’ during the first half of the 1980s took Culture Club, Eurythmics and the Human League deep into the U.S. consciousness,” Paul Sexton wrote in Billboard in 2008 (upon the Hot 100’s 50th anniversary). He added that “a fallow period then ensued” and that, “In the 21st century, a Hot 100 being published without a single British artist has become a reality on more than one occasion, reflecting American radio’s shift toward R&B and hip-hop.”
Over the past decade, British artists have reestablished a notable U.S. presence, as One Direction, Mumford & Sons, Adele, Sheeran and others broke through.
Now, Adele, Sheeran and other artists represent the latest chapter in British chart success in the U.S.
Billboard reached out to Martin Talbot, Official Charts Company CEO, for his thoughts on the country’s history of crossing to American charts, how current consumption is affecting both new and catalog acts and why the current crop of British stars has risen to such highs.
Do you see any common threads among hit British music in the U.S. historically? Or do you think there has been more of a diverse mix, from pop and rock to dance and (to a lesser extent) hip-hop and other styles?
The beauty of British music over the years is that is has spanned so many genres. The multicultural nature of our society, with immigration from so many parts of the world, including the Caribbean, the Far East, northern, eastern and southern Europe, the Africas and even Ireland has always helped feed into the great richness of our culture and our music.
As a result, we haven’t exported music in a narrow field of genres, but of many, many different flavors.
Is it still considered a coveted move for a British act to break in the U.S.? Perhaps it’s a bit different in an online world where so many acts cut through from numerous territories and via various platforms available globally?
Breaking in the U.S. is as important and coveted as ever, partly for the traditional reasons, of course: because the U.S. is where blues and, then, rock n’ roll were born, and many of the heroes of music fans and creators hail from America’s rich music culture.
In addition, the international nature of music consumption now, driven by international music platforms such as Amazon, Apple, Spotify, YouTube and promotional social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok, etc., means it is a much more competitive international market for musicians. In that environment, impacting the global market is harder than ever, and especially in the U.S., where so many of these platforms emerged.
Do you think that British music is diversifying more? Coldplay joining with BTS on “My Universe” is obviously a notable example, among others.
I’m sure British artists are, just like many other artists from other markets. The increasingly international nature of the music market and the heightened availability of music to music lovers and makers, with tens of millions of tracks available instantly, to music fans across the world, means the opportunity for cross-pollination of musical influences and ideas is greater than ever.
The development of new technologies which bring creators together across borders, thousands of miles apart, means artists don’t even have to be in the same country, let alone the same room, to share ideas and collaborate. I dare say the COVID crisis and the lockdowns that have occurred internally can only have fed into and sped up that process.
Catalog music does so well in the streaming era, as a young fan discovering music is a click away from digging into The Beatles and other legendary acts. Does that seem to ensure that some of the most popular British music ever is essentially assured of enticing future generations?
Potentially, yes. When I was growing up, I came across David Bowie well after his ’70s creative heyday … and only discovered Ziggy Stardust because it was the only album available in the only record shop in the small town I was growing up in. Today, young music fans have his entire catalog at their fingertips.
The challenge here is in protecting the opportunities for new music. The recorded music output of a new rock act today is competing with every great rock act in history: Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, AC/DC, the lot. That is a huge challenge for new artists of all kinds.
Adele and Ed Sheeran are similar in many ways. Both are very, very rare artists, whose appeal spans the generations, who are as comfortable creating upbeat tunes as ballads and who have retained their credibility and likeability despite huge success. They are both extremely grounded, and come across that way, and seem to remain continually grateful for their success. There is little, if any, sense of arrogance from either of them. And this resonates with fans of all ages.
Ed, for instance, continues to be deeply rooted in the small Suffolk village where he grew up. He gives his castaway clothes to the local charity shops, supports the local live community and he even sponsors his local football club, Ipswich Town. None of this seems to be forced or for any reason other than because he wants to.