On Emeli Sande, Lianne La Havas, Lisa Stansfield and why SOME UK divas have yet to succeed in the U.S.
The incredible two-plus year run of Adele’s album 21 on top of the pop charts proves something yet again that artists from Dusty Springfield to Lily Allen know altogether too well. America loves female British pop vocalists to a ridiculous degree. However, in expecting that trickle down to affect female Britons on the R & B side of the coin, it’s a far different story. 2013 has two vocalists – current UK soul/pop superstar Emeli Sande and rising UK vocalist Lianne La Havas positioned on the lips of hipsters everywhere as the next UK stars-to-blow. Intriguingly enough, even given their UK superstardom, mainstream American R & B recognition has been a tough crossover for both artists. However, if we turn back the clock 25 years an examine the rise of their fellow countrywoman Lisa Stansfield to the top of the American R & B consciousness, the answer to what plagues the twin hipster favorites becomes amazingly clear.
In a 1990 interview, Stansfield, then at the height of her American success with single “All Around the World,” attributed her success to a simple formula. “I’m an R & B singer because I listened to a lot of soul music, a lot of R & B music, a lot of disco music.” In that answer lies everything. If both Sande and La Havas – as gifted as they are – are to succeed as expected in American’s urban soul consciousness, there may be a need for both artists to extend themselves in a direction neither has embraced to date – dance. Yes, there are British artists like Katy B and Jessie Ware currently in that lane in the American indie mindset-of-the-moment. However, if you examine the organics of the situation and American urban pop longevity, soul-to-dance (where Sande and La Havas would be crossing over) has always worked better for Britons than pop-to-dance. Need proof? Play Soul II Soul’s “Back to Life” and Kylie Minogue’s “Can’t Get You Out of My Head,” for a 30+ year old R & B fanatic. Both songs were giant UK dance tracks that translated well to American ears, Soul II Soul’s legendary 1989 classic, though, in being an organically of a more soulful derivation, is the cut that excels to the urban soul/pop ear.
The continued push of Emeli Sande’s album Our Version of Events, and singles like Lianne La Havas’ “Lost and Found in the US market without remixes tacked onto the records to make them more traditionally palatable to US soul ears is unfortunate. More damning than anything is the obvious template that was laid out in 2012 by their fellow countryman Alex Clare, whose dubstep-meets-soul single “Too Close” dominated the American charts with an organically soulful vibe gone to dance with incredible success. While certainly not suggesting that a poppy, Diplo-produced number is the answer, there’s a plethora of more intrinsically soulful sounds – from disco to grime to moombahsoul, even – that could spell crossover for the talented pair.
It’s rather easy to argue that, like Milli Vanilli were in 1989 by comparison to Lisa Stansfield, Adele is an artist adored by pop-soul listeners, but not a pop-soul artist. In the American R & B industry attempting to push Emeli Sande and Lianne la Havas as an Adele for urban soul fanatics, there’s something obvious – dance – that’s missing from the equation. Thankfully, while time is short, all is not necessarily lost. In adopting a similar strategy to Stansfield’s 1990s success, stardom and sustainability – not often twin bedfellows – can be attained for the talented and deserving of success UK pair. As always, its important to note that, when studied in hindsight, history always has the perfect answer.