Have you ever wondered why some British singers sound American when they sing?
You might be surprised to learn that there are actually several distinct reasons why a British singer would choose to sing in an American accent.
But here’s the thing:
Although some British singers deliberately Americanize their accents for the betterment of their career…
Others are completely unaware that they even sing in an American accent.
So, what gives?
Some British singers sound American as the American accent offers easier pronunciation, greater scope for rhyming and the ability to market to an American audience. Some British singers will also adopt an American accent due to their musical influences.
In this article, we’re taking a deep dive into each of the reasons listed above, as well as throwing in some helpful examples to illustrate:
1. To Make Themselves More Marketable
Time for some music industry talk:
The UK simply isn’t big enough for a lot of artists to make decent money from touring.
This is especially relevant for bands and artists in smaller genres, such as pop punk and post-hardcore.
The United States is 40 times bigger than the United Kingdom.
In fact, you could fit the entirety of the UK into Texas alone 2.8 times.
With huge opportunity to scale their brand, breaking into the American market can seriously make or break a British artist’s career, launching them to true superstar status.
But why would they need to change their accent to do this?
Well, the UK is home to many different accents. Some of them, such as the Birmingham or Newcastle accents, can be difficult to understand (even for some British listeners!)
A well-known example is Ozzy Osbourne, who sports a notoriously-incomprehensible version of the Birmingham accent:
To help sound more ‘universal’, many British artists will adopt the marketing strategy of singing in a neutral American accent.
This is done to give their material a better chance of achieving transatlantic success.
Modern pop bands such as One Direction have seen massive crossover success in the USA, and a part of that is due to their American-sounding voices.
Although the boys in One Direction certainly weren’t the pioneers of this marketing tactic….
Even pre-Beatles rock artists such as Billy Fury and Cliff Richard sang in American accents to help them integrate into the pantheon of contemporary artists.
Quite simply, the American music market has always been (and always will be) bigger than the British one.
For British artists, ‘fitting in’ with their transatlantic neighbors is a vital aspect of scaling their careers the the levels of fame and fortune they’re aspiring to.
2. They’re Influenced By American Music
While an American accent can help a British artist catch on with the American market…
Many British singers will naturally start out singing in an American accent any because of the music they enjoy.
The Beatles were massively influenced by American rock n’ roll acts, such as Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, and Chuck Berry.
In fact, many of their early gigs saw the setlist packed with covers of rock n’ roll classics from across the pond.
To ensure they were doing the music justice, the young Liverpudlians performed these covers just as the original artists would have sung them (read: in an American accent).
But that begs the question:
Why are so many British singers influenced by American music?
Well, the United States’ status as a media and entertainment powerhouse over the last century or so has led to the nation having tremendous influence around the globe.
Many of the most well-known and influential artists of all time are American, with up-and-coming artists from around the world drawing influence from them.
Pretty much every singer in the western world can trace their influences back to artists such as Elvis, Frank Sinatra, Michael Jackson, or Madonna.
Imitating their speech patterns is largely inevitable.
3. To Aid Pronunciation
There are certain words that rhyme well in American accents, but don’t rhyme so well in British ones.
Here’s an example:
“Half” and “man” works as a great near-rhyme when sung with an American accent…
…but sounds a little weird in a British one.
Although they’re the same language, different dialects have formed their own family trees, leading to a number of linguistic differences between the two nations.
American vowel sounds and cadences are generally more elongated than their British counterparts, making them much easier to sing.
A tangential point is that the American accent actually lends itself to melodies better:
According to linguist and author David Crystal, a musical melody ‘neutralizes’ the speaking voice of a singer by nullifying both the rhythm and cadence of speech.
Add those three factors together (linguistic rhythmic differences, melody influence, and the altered cadence), and the end result is a British singer singing in an accent that is distinctly American-sounding.
4. To Navigate Fast Passages
Ever noticed that the British accent can sometimes sound a little slower than the American one?
That’s because talking fast with a British accent is hard!
The American accent is a lot more ‘loose’ sounding. For example:
Saying the word ‘butter’ in a typical British accent requires a lot more effort than saying ‘budder’, as an American would.
Genres such as hip hop and pop can require the singer to vocalize rather quickly, and it’s a lot easier (and quicker) to say certain words in an American accent than a British one.
Take this famous example from Sir Mix-A-Lot:
Words such as ‘better’, ‘letter’, and ‘little’ place their emphasis on the middle syllables in British English.
The time and effort required to pronounce these syllables can cause the singer to lose time with the backing track and stumble over their words.
Therefore, singing in an American accent will make it a lot easier to ‘glide’ across certain words and ensure the singer keeps time with the instrumental.
Going Against The Grain
We get it:
We’ve given a pretty strong case for why British singers might choose to sing in an American accent.
But it’s certainly not the ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ thing to do.
There are plenty of artists and musical genres who do not follow the tradition of singing in an Americanized accent.
Here’s an example:
Chris Martin from Coldplay incorporates his Devon-native accent into his singing voice. He’s widely-regarded as one of the most-recognizable voices in British pop and rock music:
Also, we couldn’t get away without mentioning the Sex Pistols, who championed the British working class through their anti-establishment brand of punk rock music:
Needless to say, the Sex Pistols certainly didn’t need to leverage a faux American accent to achieve global recognition.
It’s worth emphasizing that there’s no singular reason a British singer would choose to sing in an American accent. Nor is it an essential thing to do.
The choice (whether conscious or subconscious) for a British artist to Americanize their singing voice is unique in every case.
- An aspiring teenage rapper might struggle to keep up when rapping along to music from the West Coast.
- A newly-signed British country singer (who’s deadset on breaking America) might receive a gentle nudge from their manager to adopt their accent for the American audience.
If you enjoyed this article and would like to learn more about the stylistic choices that singers make, why not check out our article on why singers use autotune next?