Letters

Readers respond to "Why Doesn't America Love Robbie Williams?"


Salon Staff
May 6, 2003 11:00PM (UTC)

[Read the story.]

How ironic that Mark Simpson's article itself represents everything that is wrong with Brit culture these days. He becomes a wanker himself by further tearing down his fellow countryman.

That sucking sound I heard must have been one more piece of the Brit psyche folding in on itself. What a shame that whether it's music or politics, all Brits seem to have for anything these days is contempt.

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Brit bands don't make it in the U.S. anymore because there's no hope in their music, no aspiration, nothing to strive for (and I don't mean religion). Someone please get that message back to them because we dearly need their cleverness.

Just not the cruelty.

-- Michele Harris

I'm not sure why Mark Simpson felt the need to call Robbie Williams a wanker with a frequency in double figures in his article, nor do I understand why he felt the need to blithely write off British youth as a group collectively shallow enough to aspire to be the "wanker" and despise him at the same time. His lack of popularity in America has nothing to do with the pseudo-philosophical reasons the author puts forward -- maybe America just hasn't got room for another pop act in a market saturated by Britney, Christina and their clones.

-- Elizabeth Batty

Mark Simpson's article gives Americans the wrong impression about Robbie Williams' fame here in the U.K. Or lack of it. Robbie hasn't managed to sell any records here for five years. He is not British pop today. He's British pop circa 1997.

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EMI is promising Robbie a phenomenal amount of cash if he "does a Python." By that I don't mean pulling off another one of his appalling scandal-sheet stunts, I mean peddling a once-brilliant but now outdated, unfashionable form of British entertainment to the U.S., as exemplified by the unexpected and unaccountable popularity of Monty Python over there.

And if it all goes pear-shaped? It won't be the first time EMI threw good money after bad. This is the same record company which invoked that famous get-out clause and paid Mariah Carey not quite $50 million to, er, get out.

-- L Sergent

What on earth is Mark Simpson talking about in his Robbie Williams review? Why does he feel the need to pigeonhole Williams to fit every stereotype Americans could possibly hold about the English? And what have the monasteries got to do with it?

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I suppose we should be grateful that we avoided the usual crap about how America can't deal with irony in the post-Sept. 11 world. Simpson is at least original with his religion and masturbation obsession. The truth, of course, is more prosaic. Since Williams isn't a beautiful 18-year-old woman singing about youthful sex, or a beautiful 28-year-old woman mourning her inability to form relationships, he isn't going to sell records. No fat(ish) 30-something Brit is going to shift discs, no matter how refined his music.

So please, Mark, stop beating up on the British. I've got reasonable teeth, no dandruff and I don't even like Robbie Williams. But I'm still happy about who I am. Perhaps you should be, too.

-- James Davey

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Mark Simpson makes a little too much of Robbie Williams. The simple fact of the matter is that in late 1997 the British public had a completely unexpected moment when they bonded with Robbie over a little ballad called "Angels." That this was just 10 weeks after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, and contained lyrics like, "and through it all, she offers me protection/ A lot of love and affection," as if the lady herself were still hovering above us. That probably had a lot to do with the slow-burning popularity of the ballad. That Robbie had spent a few years leading up to that moment making a complete prat of himself in the tabloids and looked to be on the verge of fading into complete obscurity and alcoholism made people feel like they were propping up a friend in need -- it was practically a charity single albeit with a good tune. Robbie has never equaled the perceived sincerity of that tune, though apparently a little bit goes a long way since the British public have projected that sincerity onto him in just about everything he's done since ("He's fooling around again, making an ass of himself but he's really just our li'l Robbie").

"Angels" is the most played song at funerals in Britain (trading the top two spots for that dubious honor year in and year out with Celine Dion's "My Fart Will Go On") -- which to this American in London is a rather peculiar British custom (playing pop songs at funerals?) that we never see depicted on "Six Feet Under" (though we've not had the third series here yet). "Angels" is so popular that when performed in concert, Robbie doesn't even have to sing it; this first happened at Glastonbury in 1998, in the heat of his pop stardom, when tens of thousands of people rather miraculously sang the entire song for Robbie (one supposes so that he wouldn't have to). It has also regularly charted in the top spot in various annual bank holiday countdowns of "most requested," "biggest anthem," "best tune ever" anorak-type listings about which the British obsess endlessly.

The song was always bigger than the singer and as Robbie returned to his regular programming of jokey, gimmicky pop-spastic records, Queen covers and a very ill-advised "Frank Sinatra" phase (Americans should be really thankful EMI didn't release that in the U.S. -- like so much toxic waste), the sincerity of that one big pop moment has faded to the point where people now separate the singer from the song. This was never so evident as when Robbie released the first single off of "Escapology," the power ballad "Feel." Nobody felt anything; the more likely response was, "What the fuck are you on about, mate?" Even his most loyal fan base of bored British housewives couldn't do the work for him anymore (and were probably more than a little pissed off to see him cavorting with the lovely and completely plausible Daryl Hannah in the video -- note to Robbie: Never insult your core audience). One always got the feeling that Robbie's self-loathing was an act he could put on as long as the British public didn't believe it and thought better of him than he did himself. But he's revealed himself to be nothing more than the shallow poseur he always was -- the British press is turning on him (large recording contracts will do that) and I doubt that those who once thought he was an entertainer for the ages still think so. Worse yet -- he's now too old to present children's tellie!

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But if EMI had had the brains to rush release the single "Angels" in the States, say, in January 1998, when it was a genuine pop moment, it might all have been different. Instead they waited until the moment had gone cold and their star, sated on his pop god status at home, was no longer interested in starting at the bottom in the U.S. It was that one big zeitgeisty pop moment, the release of "Angels," that made Robbie in the U.K. and it's certainly a prerequisite to any of his other output -- without that, the act itself is a rather shallow curiosity.

It's as simple as that. The man himself doesn't bear much thinking about.

-- Sean O'Neil


Salon Staff

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