Why U.K. pop stars don’t hit it big in Canada,
Big in London, but relatively unknown here, can Jess Glynne, this year’s big import from the U.K., break into North America?
Jess Glynne, the 25-year-old North London dance/soul vocalist, was in Toronto at the wild, Wild West-themed Rock ’N Horse Saloon in September when she found out her debut album had made it in America. I Cry When I Laugh cracked the Top 25 on the U.S. Billboard charts.
“It literally charted at 25,” she says, awestruck. “I mean how overwhelming is that? It’s only just starting in America and the fact that it’s starting there is insane. That for me is a massive dream.” But the next week it plummeted to 95. In her native U.K., Glynne has had five No.1hits, beginning with belting the hook out of Clean Bandit’s piano-driven dance jam “Rather Be,” a chart-topper in 17 countries.
Her team is working it: Hip corners in downtown Toronto feature her on billboards for skate-influenced clothing line Bench, and Coke commercials on YouTube are scored with the pounding beat of her single “Hold My Hand.”
But North American success is no sure thing. For every Ed Sheeran or Adele, there is an Olly Murs or an Ella Henderson who are embraced as warmly here as bangers and mash.
Glynne believes her soul-fuelled delivery puts her more in the company of Adele, Sam Smith and her idol, Amy Winehouse, than reality show winners and tabloid targets.
“Everything I create is inspired by soul, and America is full of it,” she says. “Hip hop, soul and R&B is what has inspired this whole album. Coming over here I feel like people relate to it so well because it’s got that depth.”
She calls the response to her shows “insane” with rabid fans who know her music backward and forward. But her Toronto show on Sept. 21was at Adelaide Hall, a venue with a capacity of 680. Compare that to her shows in London, where she added a second date at the 5,000-person-capacity O2 Brixton Academy after the first sold out.
DJ Heidi, a Windsor-raised MC who has hosted a monthly house and trance radio show on the BBC for seven years, says there is a culture clash between the kind of music that is celebrated in Canada versus the U.K.
“For Canadians, at least growing up for me, it was very band based,” she says, citing Arcade Fire as a personal favourite. “They like rock music or they like quite experimental stuff.”
In contrast, the Brits have an appetite for pop that North Americans have traditionally found treacly sweet. “The majority are into mega mega mega mainstream things that are on repeat on the radio 24/7,” she says. “It’s like subliminal advertising. You don’t even realize you’re listening to it but you are.”
For Glynne, her own mission statement is woven into the name of her North American tour, Ain’t Got Far to Go, named for a song on I Cry When I Laugh.
“That whole song for me is about achieving something that isn’t too far from my grasp,” she says. And if she doesn’t take America like Sam Smith with copper curls? She’ll always have those sold-out 5,000-person-capacity U.K. shows to fall back on.
Not only is Jess Glynne’s sound heard in YouTube commercials for Coke, she’s featured prominently on downtown Toronto billboards for the skate-influenced clothing line Bench.