On July 16 2015, an article titled “Why Didn’t Take That Take Over America” was published on Billboard.com – the premium (albeit somewhat geocentric) news source for the US as well as the providers of the US’ official album and singles charts. While the article provides a fairly detailed summary of the key events in the Take That history, it does not provide any substantial reasons for why the band did not “take over” America.
If there is one single leading indicator of popularity in the US (at least in the 90s), it is terrestrial radio play. Despite music aficionados having easy access to a plethora of online music discovery sources at their fingertips, terrestrial radio continues to be king in its ability to drive and create mass appeal for an artist or band. A lot of this is owed to the fact that 50% of music listening in the US happens in a car – the one avenue where people do not have much access to online music. Satellite radio, which while tailored to cars, has a relatively low level of penetration in comparison with terrestrial radio. The Billboard article accurately addresses the issue that pop was being marketed very differently overseas. That is partially true but the article fails to address one key aspect – and that is the issue of radio play of Take That and several other British pop acts in the US. Furthermore, the article also fails to address how deregulation (and the consequent lack of a true democracy in playlist programming) in the radio industry essentially left the ears of most of the US in the hands of a few playlist programmers – since DJs had their “playlist programming” responsibilities snatched away by conglomerates such as Clearchannel (one of 4 players that controlled 80% of the US radio airwaves). It is a no-brainer that obscurity is the biggest hurdle to the mass appeal of an artist or a band in a specific geographic region. The fact that the songs did not “click with radio playlist programmers” is a rather flimsy explanation for why Take That’s music was not featured in the US. It appeared that “pop” in general did not click with the drastically reduced number of playlist programmers (i.e. not the DJs) in the US. Furthermore, by the mid-90s, listeners calling in and requesting for songs on terrestrial radio that were not originally playlisted by the station was pointless. Sadly, most listeners in the US continue to try, even today, in vain, to get songs by their favorite artists from overseas on their local stations. What they do not realize is that the local DJ has no decision-making power anymore – since the playlist is handed down to him or her from a centralized authority that controls the playlists of ALL stations owned by a single conglomerate. That might explain why people hear the same songs on every station that they tune into (Those stations are owned by the same conglomerate with a single centralized programming committee). This unfortunate trend dates back to the time that Take That was truly starting to become a potent force to be reckoned with – especially with their second album “Everything Changes” – a quantum leap in quality and maturity from their debut album “Take That & Party”.
The article then delves into the failures of both Gary Barlow‘s and Robbie Williams‘s solo careers in the US. Once again, neither of the two got radio play on the levels of other highly overexposed bands in the late 90s (e.g. Creed, Limp Bizkit, Kid Rock). That being said, Robbie Williams was being pushed quite actively on non-radio avenues such as the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, and “MTV Cribs” (which featured Williams’ house in the US). While this was sufficient to give Williams a small but die-hard fanbase in the US, it did nothing for mass appeal. Very soon, he came to be known in the US as “one of the biggest and most popular stars outside the US that no one in the US really knows about”. Williams became the posterchild for stateside obscurity while being a highly celebrated figure overseas. This only goes to show how little of an effect non-radio avenues have in helping propel the popularity of an artist in the US.
The article finally talks about the band’s reunion in 2006 and their continued track record of success. It also mentions how “a proposed tour with diva deluxe Kylie Minogue, a former collaborator of Williams’s, fell through, and the band went on hiatus in 2011”. A tour with Kylie Minogue would have been fantastic and would have made a lot of commercial sense – but there was one key difference between the two acts in the US. Kylie Minogue’s music was actually receiving a domestic release in the US – despite her chart heyday (i.e. her hit single “Can’t get you out of my head”) in the US being a distant memory. Take That’s post-reunion music, on the other hand, did not see the light of day on digital stores such as iTunes USA and Amazon USA until 2014. How people could consider a tour for a band whose last three albums had not been released in the US is mind-boggling to us. It should not be a major surprise that the tour fell through. Once again, we are surprised that Billboard did not pick up on this.
While we have to commend Billboard for covering Take That in the US, we are a bit disappointed by their inability to get to the heart of the issue surrounding the band’s relative obscurity in the US. They probably have enough data to correlate a band’s terrestrial radio footprint to chart success and overall mass appeal in the US. They are also well aware of the issues that surround corrupt radio practices in the 90s such as “Payola”. It would have been nice to see Billboard relating these issues to Take That’s inability to gain traction in the US – since those issues became key hurdles for British acts such as Take That in the US. The rather popular idea that after the 80s, “tastes in the US were different or particularly avant-garde” (in comparison to the rest of the world) is quite naive.
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