British Folk Artists Rising to the Top

by Sheldon Rocha Leal

From approximately 1997 until 2007 Hip-hop music emanating from the USA dominated the world charts. British artists played a minor role on the world charts, at this time, but this trend started reversing in the late 2000's going into the 10's. Today we are surrounded by a large number of British artists, but in the Folk idiom. For the last few years the Brits have been dictating the sound of our era, with artists like Coldplay, Amy Winehouse, Adele, Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith dominating charts and award ceremonies around the world.

The British Invasion

The Brits have always had a strong legacy of world famous superstars. The world charts were dominated by British acts in the 1960's and 1970's. Acts like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Bee Gees, Led Zeppelin, The Who, Paul McCartney, Rod Stewart, Elton John, Cliff Richard, Tom Jones, Joe Cocker, David Bowie, Genesis, Queen and Pink Floyd accounted for over 2billion albums sold around the world in those two decades and a slew of mega hit singles. But it all seemed to go awry in the early 2000's.

The 1980's

The 1980's was also a good decade for British artists. Artists like Depeche Mode, George Michael, Simply Red, The Eurythmics, Def Leppard, The Police, Wham!, Sting, Sade and Dire Straits, these acts alone accounted for over 600million albums sold in the 1980's. But one could already sense that the music was starting to lose its stronghold on world music markets.

The 1990's

The 1990's was an era of rock bands, emulating the style and sound of the original British Invasion artists, bands like: Oasis (60million), Suede, Blur (5million), Radiohead (10million), Pulp, Skunk Anansie and Placebo. Although very popular in the UK, they never managed to attain real crossover success in countries outside the UK. The other major trend in pop music in the UK in the 1990's was a slew of boy and girl bands: Boyzone, Take That, Westlife, Five and once again, whilst they were really popular in the UK and Europe, the bands’ appeal did not really crossover to the mass pop market. The one stand out act to manage major crossover success, however, were the Spice Girls who sold over 75million albums in the late 1990's and managed to have major success on both sides of the Atlantic. Although Robbie Williams had major success in Europe, selling over 77million albums in the continent, he never managed to crack the US nut.

The new generation

The new millennium started off very slowly for British acts. Coldplay made an initial splash and today are one of Britain’s biggest exports, having sold over 60million albums internationally. Keane (10million), Kaiser Chiefs (3million) and Muse (15million) to a lesser extent made waves in the early 2000's but for a while there was nothing major coming out of this country, with a very long legacy in music.

The female contingent

The woman were the first ones to put Britain back on the map. Amy Winehouse started the ball rolling and her Back In Black album went on to sell over 20million units internationally and has become a landmark album in music history. But Dido, the lead singer of Faithless, had previously had, had major international success with her various albums selling over 40million albums internationally and establishing her No Angel album as a landmark album. A bevy of successful British divas, with a penchant for world music domination followed: Florence and The Machine (5million); Duffy (10million); Birdy; Paloma Faith; Pixie Lott; Jessie J; Lily Allen; Natasha Bedingfield; Joss Stone (10million); Leona Lewis (13million), Ellie Goulding; Corinne Bailey Rae (4million), Emeli Sande (2million), Estelle but the queen of these divas was, most certainly, Adele, who sold 40million units off two albums released.

Male Domination

The men tried to stage a comeback in the early 2000's with acts like James Blunt (16million), Will Young (3million) and Daniel Bedingfield (4million). This success aside it all went quiet, for the men for a while. James Morrison was one of the first artists to make a concerted attempt at world domination, in the late 2000's going into the 10's. His first album Undiscovered was a real break from the norm and ushered in a new sound in Pop music. Passenger brought folk music back in a big way. Mumford and Sons took folk to the next level and were rewarded with sales of over 10million over three albums. In recent years Hozier, James Bay, John Newman, Sam Smith (5million), Olly Murs (4million) and George Ezra have been dominating the airwaves with their brand of Folk Brit music and putting there stamp on our new Craft Culture. Ed Sheeran is clearly the king of these folk heroes having sold nearly 10million albums off two albums. Then there is One Direction, of course, who have sold 18million units off 4 albums. And in the corner Mark Ronson has been orchestrating some amazing music for himself and some of the biggest artists from around the world.


All in all, I am generally a lover of Soul and R&B music, but in recent years for some reason I have been consistently attracted to British artists with their organic, skiffle sounding music and I really think that the Brits have managed to stage another British Invasion, following the formula that Berry Gordy (Motown founder) established years ago, in the 1960's…KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid), whereas the Americans have started taking a back seat in the world of Pop because of there seeming lack of innovation.