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How Adele Represents a Renaissance for the British Accent

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This week, former Culture Club singer and gay icon, Boy George performed his new single King of Everything on the BBC's flagship music show, Later... with Jools Holland.

What struck me about the performance was just how dated his affected American singing style sounded; it undermined the song's authenticity.

Now, there's a strong heritage of British singers adopting faux-Yankee accents to drive sales in the biggest Anglophone market - the perceived wisdom is that American listeners will generally believe the singer is also American, and be more inclined to buy.

Indeed, of the all-time top 10 selling British recording artists, it's 6-4 (to my ear) in favour of those using faux-Yankee accents for their most commercially successful music.

The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Elton John, Rod Stewart, Phil Collins/Genesis and the Bee Gees all use affected American accents in the vast majority of their music.

In comparison we have The Beatles, Queen, Pink Floyd and Dire Straits, who (broadly) maintain a British accent when singing.

Additionally, the British-sounding singers consistently fare less well in America than the other group; receiving an average 25% of their global sales from the USA, as opposed to an average of 33% for the faux-Yankees.

So if American accents historically sell better, why does Boy George's singing style sound so passé?

One word: Adele.

Oasis, Coldplay and the Arctic Monkeys may have paved the way, but in terms of commercial and critical success, Adele is a genuine game changer when it comes to British-sounding vocals. Her second album; 21 is the best-selling album of the past 10 years, shifting over 10 million units in the US alone - roughly four times that of Coldplay's Viva la Vida.

Furthermore, Adele's target audience is what I crassly term the 'Gays and Mums' demographic: This group favour ballad-led music sung by someone who is not a traditional pin-up; someone like Elton John, Amy Winehouse... or Boy George.

So Adele's earthy brand is the evolution of these artists - and because of its commercial success, her vocal style is now the de facto trend, which is why Boy George's style sounds so dated.

When I was a kid, it would wind me up to hear a British singer adopt an American accent. It felt like they were selling out, so it pleases me that the British accent is going through a bit of a renaissance.

And yet, sometimes I feel short-changed that British and American accents dominate our pop charts. We rarely hear Australian or South African accents in the top 10, and outside of Rihanna, Caribbean accents remain an exotic diversion.

The lack of minority accents reveals a superficiality to the cultural diversity that the likes of Boy George worked so hard to promote.

After all, Adele's voice is still firmly in the soul and blues tradition, and the proliferation of the term 'world music' to basically describe any (non-Latin) music that isn't sung with a North Atlantic accent suggests there's still a long way to go for more meaningful equality of cultures in pop music.