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Why Do So Many British Artists Make A “Breaking America” Video?

Why don't you love us America? What can we do to make you love us?

Emma Garland

Emma Garland

If Britain were to lie back on the proverbial psychologist's couch and work out where all its issues stemmed from, I think, after months of deep, probing questions about dreams and self-esteem, it would all be traced back to the influence of one man: Robbie Williams.

Robbie Williams has sold more albums in the UK than any other artist this century. Adele, Amy, they don't even come close. In the UK, he is the best-selling British solo artist of all time - a modern day Elvis still making music that will continue to be popular as long as our communal passion for weekday binge drinking and football perseveres.

Yet the overpowering indifference to him in the US - where his highest charting single is still "Angels", in with a bullet at number 53 - has given us a complex. How can the biggest deal in British music, a man whose last tour saw him sell out five Wembley Stadiums, be of such little concern to America? It doesn't help that the two biggest band of the 90s, Oasis and Blur, are also considered niche interests or even one-hit wonders across the Atlantic. Why don't you love us America? What can we do to make you love us?

Our abandonment issues have created an unspoken endgame for the career of every popstar, to the point that implicit in the decision to make pop music is the goal of “breaking America”, which is how the “US Version” video became a thing. Like Fergie circa "London Bridge" but in reverse, we have come to believe that by trying to stuff every single American cultural stereotype into a single music video, we just might grab their attention.

You would think that crassly trying to spoonfeed every single piece of cultural iconography back into the mouth of the culture that produced it all in the first place would be the absolute worst way to try and fit in, kind of like being that person at a party who enters a group conversation by joining in laughing without having heard the joke. But even flat-out disgust would be a step-up from decades of relentless indifference, and so most of our exports have pulled a variation of the “I Am America (And So Can You!)” trick to mixed results.

Leona Lewis released the kind of conceptual "New-York-City-as-a-visual-metaphor" video that most American R'n'B artists got out of their systems in the early 90s. Ellie Goulding got teenagers driving on the wrong side of the road in the quietly Americanised "Burn" and Marina and the Diamonds went all out and released a video for "Hollywood" in which she sings "American Dream" a lot whilst dressed like a Thanksgiving parade threw up on Katy Perry. Meanwhile, The Wanted did away with any hint of symbolism or metaphor on "Show Me Love (America)" and opted instead to film four minutes of them crying into the rain in the unforgiving monochrome streets of Manhattan. Hell, even Craig David, arguably the most aggressively British R’n’B artist of all time, donned a conflicting diamante necklace in an effort to make his slimline facial hair happen across the Atlantic.

Some of these videos might actually make brilliant parodies if they weren’t trying so hard to be serious. But the ultimate and most recent example of patriotic posturing arrived this week in the form of Charli XCX and Rita Ora, whose new video for “Doing It” feels like looking into an alternate reality in which Harmony Korine was asked to direct Lady Gaga’s “Telephone” video.

Dressed up like Sky Ferreira doing her worst Rihanna impression, Rita Ora looks pretty out of place throughout. But Charli XCX’s entire career exists as as a result of presenting herself as a Britney-style all-American sweetheart, so it’s no surprise that she would put out a video complete with ratchet motel pools, hot pink pick-up trucks, and line-dancing in the Californian desert. At face value, it has all the makings of a decent millennial remake of Thelma and Louise where they go on Spring Break. But does the aesthetic feel authentic to people who live this shit every day?

We asked some Americans if they were convinced by Charlie XCX and Rita Ora. Here’s what they had to say:

“Nothing will sell me on Rita Ora. Not even Charli XCX, who I love. It’s nothing personal between Rita and I, it’s just like, stop trying to make her and Jessie J happen. We don’t need either. We need Rihanna back.” - Sam Ray aka Ricky Eat Acid

“I love Charli XCX so much, but stop trying to make Rita Ora happen. She’s a knock-off Rihanna and “Black Widow” is a garbage song. Besides that, IDK what else she’s done except date Rob Kardashian? Anyway, I'm not sure if this was intentional but I felt like there were a lot of subtle Spice World references in this video - when they change in the phone booth, when all the hot buff dudes come out, the cheesy outfits and platforms etc. Now that I'm thinking about it, "Doing It" kind of sounds like a Spice Girls song…” Emily Thompson, Music Editor of The Le Sigh

“As someone who lives in the West, I actually think it translates pretty well. We have tiki bars, bull rides and old fat retired dudes, all of which are usually pretty ridiculous. The only thing I’ve never seen before is the police officers with nipple tassles. If I didn’t know who they were before, I’d think they were American. I could see Katy Perry or Miley doing something like this. Still, WE DID IT FIRST.” - Melanie Trecha, KAMP Radio

"Rita Ora has been “the next big thing” for like 5 years, but she has never made a good song and her personality is like a rich person who is somehow around all the time. I think in particular, in the US, people feel like she’s being forced upon us. Same thing, to a lesser extent, with Jessie J. Rita Ora is a shitter version of Rihanna that England is trying to make cool." - Kyle Kramer, Editor at Noisey

“Rita Ora is too thirsty to be famous. Like, there has never been anybody who wants to make it more than Rita.” - Eric Sundermann, Managing Editor of Noisey

This could go on, but I think we can all see some very obvious patterns emerging here. Interestingly, nobody in the UK seems to actually know that Rita Ora is British.

So there it is. Everyone in the UK thinks Rita Ora is American and everyone in America wants you to stop trying to make Rita Ora happen and none of this would even be happening at all if Rihanna would just HURRY UP AND DROP R8 ALREADY.

Follow Emma Garland on Twitter.