Crossing over country borders has always been important in the musical world, and at the moment there seems to be a lot of interest in East Asian culture from within the English-speaking world. The Korean star “Rain” made the Time list of top 100 influential people (which then prompted this hilarious response from Stephen Colbert). Apparently Avril Lavigne is attempting to record in Mandarin amongst other languages. I myself have become somewhat obsessed with this Chinese-American pop star (but also incredibly talented musician) Wang Leehom. The Leehom story is particularly fascinating to me because he was born in America and has gone on to become a huge success in Asia without attempting to capitalize on his American roots in the US, while the usual cultural translation is for non-Americans to try to break into the US.
The UK-to-US route has been interesting since the days of the Beatles, with the recent success story of Amy Winehouse contrasting the failure of Robbie Williams to crack the American market. Try as I might, off the top of my head no good example comes to mind of a US-to-UK musical transplant, although I’m sure there are some. And no, in my book Madonna as a recent transplant with an established career simply does not count. I was a rare Robbie Williams fan in the US, although I discovered him through the Cole Porter biopic De-Lovely and his own swing album.
Again I’m reminded of how my Anglophilia has not translated into an easy mechanism for breaking through the English reserve. Perhaps I’m just too old for pop music to be the universal language it was in my youth. I continue to find that my friends here are other expats and mostly American expats. I had a “lightbulb moment” the other day when the American roots of someone here were revealed. I had been completely fooled, but now I can add another category to my list of ways that friendly English people in England turn out to be anomalies.
A side note, I’ve just been starting to discover the size and voice of the American expat community in the UK. It’s quite nice to know that there are plenty of us around here, and that my move here was perhaps not as mad or unusual as it might have seemed to my friends and family in the midwest.