Bad teeth, worse food and abysmal weather. Doctor Who, James Bond and Sherlock. These are just a few of the associations casually tossed at the English like so many cups of hot earl grey tea. Studying abroad in Oxford is a useful way to dispel some of the more farfetched ideas that we tend to hold about the United Kingdom, but there are already many positive parts of British culture available for us in America in the form of a dynamic, musical legacy that began half a century ago.
We’ve all heard of Beatlemania and the so-called “British Invasion” that swept America in the 1960s. This movement of addictively popular British music brought bands like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who and The Kinks to our shores. In fact, The Rolling Stones’ hit song “Satisfaction” was the most commonly requested song on the radio by American GIs during the Vietnam War. The Beatles, of course, were the most popular of these bands. Commonly considered to be the first boy-band, the Beatles’ popularity would foreshadow the future successes of boy-bands like The Backstreet Boys and The Jonas Brothers.
In the ’70s, the edgy sounds of punk rock broke out across America, led by British groups such as The Clash and The Sex Pistols. Much like they had in the ’60s, the UK’s musicians grew famous in America because of a cultural overlap. Dissatisfied youths who were tired of wars and the failures of society were able to unite behind these artists, and England had never seemed closer to America’s culture.
Since that time, the most acclaimed British groups have continued to infiltrate the American music scene, and today British artists dominate radios and musical trends. Adele’s rich voice brought back the popularity of the natural electronic voices. Mumford & Sons made folk music mainstream. Artists like Coldplay, Oasis and even boy band One Direction play an important role in determining what the music industry looks like.
Britain has always played an important role in the music industry and their musical influence has been growing, especially since the 2012 Olympics in London. Some up-and-coming British musicians to watch include Birdy, King Charles and London Grammar.
When we think of the British, it may be natural for most of us to be drawn to generalized and overplayed concepts of their way of life. But England is more than fish and chips, and its culture has advanced beyond afternoon tea and pub evenings. Embracing the music from England is the first step to realizing that we are a part of a rich Western synthesis that spans across the Atlantic.