The Atlantic Paradox: American Artists Who Are Bigger In The UK Than At Home

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By Sterling Wong

America and Britain have historically enjoyed a special relationship that was forged by Churchill and Roosevelt during World War II, and this even extends to the realm of music. George Bernard Shaw once famously remarked, “England and America are two countries separated by a common language,” and the language he was referring to could actually be music.

For decades, British acts have found massive success here, including the Beatles, the Spice Girls and Coldplay. In the spring, I wrote about the success of Adele and Mumford and Sons here kicking off a new British invasion. But this special relationship works both ways. Hop across the Atlantic and you’ll notice that there are American artists who’ve managed to find great success that eclipses their achievements here at home. It’s as if the British public was somehow more receptive to their music or has adopted them as de facto countrymen (think Madonna during her Guy Ritchie days). MTV News looks at three American artists who’ve hit in big in the UK.

Kelly Rowland
Ms. Kelly is the best example of a domestic artist who’s struggled a little here, but has found her feet in the UK. Since she’s embarked on her solo career, Kelly has enjoyed some success in the U.S. Her duet with Nelly, “Dilemma,” for example, was a Hot 100 No. 1 hit. However, Kelly’s enjoyed far greater success in the UK, with no less than six top 10 hits there, including Euro-friendly dance tracks like “When Love Takes Over” and “Commander.” Kelly also managed to snag a prestigious spot on the judging panel of this season’s “X Factor” in the UK. With the show averaging 10 million viewers each week, Kelly is sure to see her profile rise further over there.

Meanwhile, her career here is also finally taking off, with “Motivation” becoming a radio hit and the parent album, Here I Am, becoming Kelly’s highest charting album ever. Looks like Kelly’s found a successful bi-continental musical strategy: Go dance-heavy in the UK, and focus on urban, hip-hop grooves over here.

Nicole Scherzinger
Perhaps it’s a case where the UK simply takes to former-girlband-member-turned-solo-stars better than America does. Like Kelly, ex-Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger is basking in adulation across the pond. Since going solo in 2010, Nicole has struggled to garner airplay for her singles here, even after her turn on “Dancing With The Stars.” But she’s quickly racked up three top 3 hits in the UK, such as “Poison” and “Don’t Hold Your Breath.” Nicole has shrewdly decided to focus on the UK market for now, which is why her debut solo album, Killer Love, which debuted in the Top 10 in the UK, has not been released here.

Just like Kelly, Nicole has an “X Factor” connection. Besides guest judging on the British version, Nicole is due to appear as the co-host of Simon Cowell’s “X Factor” USA. The show, we’re guessing, will be a big hit, and Nicole will surely capitalize on the exposure given by the competition to re-launch her solo career here.

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Kings Of Leon
Kings Of Leon is one of those bands, like the Scissors Sisters, that you could easily mistake for being British if you’re only a casual music listener (I call this the “Oh they must be the new Coldplay syndrome”). Sure, they’re absolutely massive here now, but many people overlook the fact that the band existed before “Sex On Fire” and “Use Somebody.” In fact, 2008’s Only By the Night was their fourth studio album. But while the first three floundered here, they were received warmly by British fans, with all three certified at least gold there. Frontman Caleb Followill acknowledged this paradox in an interview with MTV’s John Norris back in 2008, saying, “We can go to the U.K. and play all of England, literally the entire country, and it’ll sell out. And then we come back home, and people are like, ‘You guys are nothing.’”

That was before “Sex On Fire,” well, caught fire here and the rest is history – Kings Of Leon is now one of the biggest bands here too. In the same ’08 MTV interview, bassist Jared Followill admitted the band was concerned about breaking America. “We have to think about it, because we’re from America,” Jared noted. “It’s not for superficial reasons that we want to be big here, it’s just for respect reasons, you know?” I’m sure Jared is feeling plenty of respect ‘round these parts nowadays!

Are we missing out any artists who are bigger in the UK? Let us know in the comments!