Some are calling it “blue-eyed soul.” Others are calling it “pop soul.” No matter how you brand it, recent U.S. album sales for artists like British singer-songwriter Adele are astounding and leading a British soul music invasion.
Last week, Adele debuted her highly anticipated sophomore album 21. Today it’s sitting at the top of the Billboard album charts, selling 352,000 copies in her first week, according to Nielsen Soundscan.
On Adele’s MySpace page, her genre is classified as acoustic pop soul. Though born and bred in London, the singer cites American soul songstresses like Etta James and Jill Scott among her many musical influences. Listening to the tracks of her latest album these African-American influences are noticeably blended into her vocal style.
The invasion of the British female soul singer in the U.S. pop charts is not a new phenomenon. Prior to Adele’s current chart dominance there were many other white female singers from across the pond who found success through creating a similar soul style. In 2003, British vocalist Joss Stone had her U.S. debut with her multi-platinum album The Soul Sessions which she followed up with two additional critically acclaimed albums. Joss Stone jump-started a wave of triumph for the British white female soul singer and opened the door for British pop soul singers Amy Winehouse, Adele and Duffy. In 2009 Adele took home the coveted Grammy Award for Best New Artist, the same award which Winehouse took home the 2008.
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Comparatively, these British soul singers share in generating a vintage Motown sound with a pop appeal. According to “A Brief History of Motown” by Gilbert Cruise (which appeared in Time magazine), the Motown sound “Consisted of great melodies, lots of tambourines, hand clapping, blaring horns, interplay between the lead singer and his or her backup vocalist, driving bass lines and foot-slapping drum parts.”
Classifying the recent successes of the white female British soul singers as soul music has not come without backlash. In a March 2008 interview with The Guardian, Estelle, an African-American soul singer, made controversial comments about her white contemporaries saying, “I’m not mad at them, but I’m wondering — how the hell is there not a single black person in the press singing soul? Adele ain’t soul. She sounds like she heard some Aretha records once, and she’s got a deeper voice — that don’t mean she’s soul. That don’t mean nothing to me in the grand scheme of my life as a black person. As a songwriter, I get what they do. As a black person, I’m like: you’re telling me this is my music? Fu** that!”
Later in the same article Estelle was asked, “What is soul music?” She replied, “Music that you feel in your heart and your experience. You can’t explain it, it just gets you. It’s in the lyrics, the melody, the beat — you can’t pull it apart.”
Eddie Blackmon, Manager with Homeschool Entertainment, who manages Estelle and John Legend, weighed in on the subject of the British Soul Invasion.
Asked how he categorizes the musical genre of Adele and other white female British vocalists dominating U.S. music charts, Blackmon said, “I would put them all in a pop soul category, or pop soul genre. I would also add Estelle to this category, as she is black, from London and sings pop soul music.”
“These ladies all teeter in different directions but they are all comparable in having definite soul elements and soul foundations to their music. They find success on the music charts by having a pop appeal.”
When asked are the British female soul singers emulating the sounds of American black soul and R&B singers? Blackmon replied, “Their music is and extension of existing soul music and in many ways a tribute to the American soul music artists that came before them; for example the many Motown artists that influenced the UK music scene.”
“This is not the first time British singers have had R&B soul influences in their music for example George Michael, Lisa Stanfield and Soul 2 Soul all found success in the states by singing music with a soul influence.”
When asked if the success of Adele and other female British soul influenced artists take away from the success of black American R&B and soul artists Blackmon responded “The British soul singers do not take away from the success of black American female R&B and soul artists. If there is a great genuine soul music, the public will buy it.”
“These British female singers have very diverse audiences. For example Estelle’s primary buying audience is white, while she also retains a steady black audience which is growing. With the white British female singers, their primary consumers are white as well, but because of the soul elements in their music they also get black American consumers. But ultimately it comes down to the quality of music being presented.”
Vice President of Marketing for Light Records and One Music Damon Williams responded to the question of whether black American soul music fans are embracing the white British female soul invasion saying, “In 2011 listenership is not defined by race. Fans of passionate heartfelt soul music will receive it from wherever it comes.”
“No sound is completely new; these British singers are undoubtedly inspired by soul singers of previous years. Fans of black music have to celebrate that the musicianship of Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick, Roberta Flack, Gladys Knight and many others is reaching around the world to influence audiences bigger and greater than just ourselves.”
Music critic for US Weekly magazine Ian Drew responded to the question “Is Adele’s musical style mimicking a black American soul sound?” saying, “Yes, but a soul sound mixed with blues, gospel, and spirituals. I would classify Adele’s current album as pop blues gospel soul.”
When asked if the American public is colorblind when it comes to musical talent Drew responded; “The world over, the American music consumer audience is different. Americans tend to evaluate their feelings of music based on the artist’s personal lives, instead of the art form itself.
“When it comes to music, just close your eyes and listen, if it sounds good and feels good, it’s good. Adele’s recent album success proves that point.”