Why doesn't everyone hate him?
January 25, 2007 11:44 PM   Subscribe

Why do Americans hate Robbie Wiliams? (Or) Why don't Europeans?

Robbie Wiliams sucks, and I know it, but I'm Amercan. Almost every one of my European friends, however, seem to find him tolerable. Soem even like him, own albums, and/or have gone to his live concerts!

I might understand why he isn't popular stateside if I knew something about him, but I don't want to. And when I'm in the US, I am afforded the blissfully ignorant lifestyle of almost not having to encounter The Robbie anywhere--on the radio, TV, the sides of busses, or anywhere else.

But I don't understand why that's so. Is there some secret code to make it across the pond that Robbie didn't get? Obviously there are bands that make it across the Atlantic, some who don't, and some who cross, but don't get recognized at home. I just don't understand why there is such a division with this fellow.

Does anyone feel the same confusion? Does anyone know why?
posted by conch soup to Society & Culture (28 answers total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: please don't ask "XYZ sucks, amirite?" questions here.

I was in Hungary this summer for a few months and everyone loved him (a large group of people from across Europe, not just Hungary.) Not that anyone thought that he was really that great as such, but people recognized his songs for the good pop garbage they are . . . and everyone raved about his videos, which were (to be honest) funny and clever. The Americans I was with ended up "getting" it too, after reasonable exposure. I think there's a subtle inside jokiness to him, a sort of self-conscious irony, that points to an intelligence much greater than that of many disposable American stars, and it's tough to get that across here - the divide between the "pop" of Britney and the intelligence of (say) the Magnetic Fields being too vast here.

Quite a lot of intelligent people I know reckon that Robbie would be good to have a few drinks with, when his guard would presumably be down. But those same people would probably run if they saw Justin or Britney or Jessica enter their favorite bar.
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 11:56 PM on January 25, 2007

Pure conjecture here but it seems that in the US: UK bands = Eurocool, UK single artists = Eurotrash.
posted by PenDevil at 11:56 PM on January 25, 2007

Best answer: I lived in Italy when his first album (I think) came out. His videos were on MTV all the time, he was played on all the radio stations, and I really liked him (in the way that one likes pop stars). I was a bit confused when I moved back to the States and no one had ever heard of him.

If he were being played in the US, I probably would never have heard him. But in Italy, all the radio stations play the same five songs over and over, which are also the songs on MTV, which are also the songs you're going to hear in cafes and supermarkets and blaring from the radios on touristy vendor stalls. You can't escape those five songs. Eventually, they just grow on you. (I'm still nostalgic for Ginger Spice solo.)

I can't say what the situation in the UK is, but at least with English-language songs in Italy (and I'm guessing, the rest of non-English-speaking Europe), you just hear them so much that you either start to like them or you go insane. There's enough diversity in American radio to avoid this problem, and I don't think I've ever heard cafes or markets or other places here play broadcast radio, so again, you're not just hearing the same songs over and over. For me, my interest in straight-up pop music just dissolved when I moved back home, because I didn't hear it nearly as much.
posted by occhiblu at 11:57 PM on January 25, 2007

I'm an American, but I'm slightly won over by his media image. Robbie Williams has a charming, self-effacing sense of humor. Personally, I think just about every major American pop star is a little too squarely managed and serious to ever really engage me. After all, this is the man who had the video where he tore the flesh from his bones. Good luck seeing The Pussycat Dolls doing that - they're too busy being Sexy(tm).

Also, he's dating Michelle Trachtenberg, and I'm weirdly pleased with that.
posted by Sticherbeast at 12:01 AM on January 26, 2007

Best answer: I don't think the vast majority of Americans have a strong opinion either way on Robbie Williams, actually. He's basically "the guy who did that Rock DJ song a while back," just like Kylie is "that woman who did that song that sounds kinda like Blue Monday" and Girls Aloud are "that band from Britain with lots of hot chicks in it." (Yes, I know Kylie Minogue is Australian, but at this point she's essentially an adopted Brit.)

It's not that Americans hate Robbie Williams or Kylie Minogue or Girls Aloud. It's that by and large, the British music scene doesn't translate very well Stateside. I think part of the reason is simply media coverage—reading NME, Melody Maker and the like is an entirely different experience from Spin and Rolling Stone (it all feels quite a bit more tabloid-y to me, though since I'm not a Brit I may be way off base), and most of the radio and television coverage is restricted to Europe. When was the last time you were able to watch any footage of Glastonbury in the US? Meanwhile, the BBC devotes an entire channel to Glastonbury whenever it's on. Also, there's a lot of money to be made in the UK without having to branch out to North America, and often you need a lot of marketing and promotion dollars to do so, plus the distribution deals only really big labels can manage.

But those are just some of the differences between the two scenes, and neither seem particularly enlightening regarding the main issue: why don't British artists get more attention Stateside? And they really don't, not even the super cool bands—how many really successful British imports can you think of in recent years? Coldplay for sure; Radiohead and Oasis, though the former's cooled off a bit and the latter's way behind the times now. None of the big pop bands in Britain have any major presence in North America as far as I know.

Arguably there's just a certain sensibility that doesn't translate well over here—maybe a certain cheekiness, or a more dance-oriented style at odds with the hip-hop influences over here (note that the trance, house, etc. scenes are a lot bigger in Europe than they are here). Or maybe them funny accents don't play well in Peoria. Who knows? Certainly a lot of ink has been spilled about the strange trans-Atlantic cultural divide.
posted by chrominance at 12:20 AM on January 26, 2007

The big reason is that Take That was never able to break through in the US, and by the time they finally got a hit here (Back For Good) the group was already broken up.

So when Robbie Williams releases Life Through A Lens in 1997, he has this audience in the UK and Europe waiting for him, but no one in the States knows who he is. And this was at a time when there were basically no UK bands (save Oasis) making dents in the US album chart. The general taste was toward the mainstreaming sound of hip-hop. Interest in British music centered around the post-Britpop sounds of Blur and Radiohead on "alternative" radio, a genre whose stations wouldn't play a Robbie Williams record. So, not a rapper, not Radiohead, not Mariah Carey... he fell right through the cracks.

And I think Robbie Williams represents a strongly British and European idiom, one that fails to translate well to American tastes. He's similar to another huge-in-Britain not-as-much-in-America singer in that regard -- Cliff Richard.
posted by dw at 12:35 AM on January 26, 2007

I'm an American and I like Robbie Williams, because he's a smart-ass and self-effacing about his former boy-band status. His music is mediocre but I'd take him over any of the rubbish those dern kids listen to nowadays.
posted by Brittanie at 12:35 AM on January 26, 2007

And Americans have stopped listening to British music. When Snow Patrol's "Chasing Cars" reached #5 last summer it was the first time in 13 years a British act of any kind had a single in the US Top 5.
posted by dw at 12:43 AM on January 26, 2007

I'm european and I can't stand the smug, grinning, chimp-faced twat.

I'm probably an exception though.
posted by bifter at 12:51 AM on January 26, 2007

No, bifter, I came in here to post exactly that sentiment.
posted by chrismear at 1:25 AM on January 26, 2007

I must admit I loved Take That (so much so I went to see there reunion tour - which really rocked).

When Robbie was in Take That he was very young. Just check out this picture and he was a bit of a cocky twat (for want of a better phrase) but he was in his late teens ....... so he kind of got away with it.

The problem is that he is still the same. Personally I do not like him. A couple of his solo things are good - and completely over played on UK radio.

In the UK we do some great pop music ........ it always worries me that Mr Williams is our ambassador for pop around the world.
posted by informity at 1:27 AM on January 26, 2007

bifter: totally agree. I think Chrominance has it -- it's the cheekiness (smug gitishness depending on your view) that doesn't translate well to the US. US pop is either totally po-faced or has a manufactured "zaniness" to it. Robbie (and most other UK boy/girl groups) are a bit more human and do indeed have a knowing irony about what they do. Steps, S Club, Take That and that all those sorts of groups know they've been put together by some music mogul and they let it inform the way they act -- US bands (and to a certain extent the horrror that is Westlife) never look behind the curtain and more efficient/less fun because of it.
posted by patricio at 1:37 AM on January 26, 2007

Maybe it's because he has never seemed to get beyond playing Mork in every role even after he came off the drugs... oh, wait, Robbie Williams.
posted by Pollomacho at 2:10 AM on January 26, 2007

What bifter and chrismear said. Also what Robert Plant allegedly said: "Talentless prat".
posted by No Mutant Enemy at 2:29 AM on January 26, 2007

I fifth bifter.
posted by Phanx at 2:50 AM on January 26, 2007

I'm American and I think that I speak for many of my countrymen and women when I say, "who the hell is Robbie Williams?"

yes, I know I could look him up in wikipedia but I think that most americans have never heard of him
posted by octothorpe at 3:51 AM on January 26, 2007

We were desensitised during Take That's annoyingly long career and 50 bazillion top 10 singles.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 4:18 AM on January 26, 2007

He completely grossed me out with the video where he peeled his skin off. He's dead to me now.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 4:18 AM on January 26, 2007

I saw Robbie at Croke Park here in Dublin last year. It wasn't one of his better shows (the first one on his tour, actually), but I still enjoyed it. I don't particularly love or hate his music, but my girlfriend LOVES him so I went (she also saw Take That twice on their reunion tour, I opted out of those gigs). The man is a hell of a showman, though.

As for the actual question at hand: Americans don't hate Robbie Williams. 99% of them don't know who he is - or those who do, have *no* idea how FUCKING HUGE he is outside of North America. Europeans just have different tastes in music - pop music really remains poppy over here, with bands like Girls Aloud and the SugaBabes seeming to have endless careers. They have catchy tunes, I'll give them that, but it's a marked difference from home in North America, to be sure.
posted by antifuse at 4:40 AM on January 26, 2007

If you can figure out why Hasselhoff is so popular in Europe, I think you can reverse-engineer the answer. Um, or something.

Pesonal opinion: No, you don't see Robbie much here in the US. I don't know what it takes to break in the US, but he isn't doing it. When I have seen him (Live 8 for example), I don't care for him at all. For some reason he comes across as self-important and cocky, and not charming at all. And this is the opinion of someone who actually likes Bono!

That's all I have to say about that.
posted by The Deej at 4:46 AM on January 26, 2007

Best answer: I should also mention that Robbie isn't even bothering to *try* breaking into the US market any more. He's said in interviews on multiple occasions that he loves the fact that nobody knows him there. He lives in LA, and he can walk to the store without being hassled by tons of fans on the street, which would happen in quite a few other places round the world.
posted by antifuse at 4:51 AM on January 26, 2007

You know what, he's actually not a talentless prat. It's not my type of music but the guy has a good voice, writes or co-writes most of his stuff (which is light but good pop) and is a great live performer (watch his Live 8 performance and see how well he gets that crowd going) Yeah, he's cocky and arrogant but he's also pretty funny and plays the whole pop star role well.

As for his lack of US success, DW is right that a lot of it has to do with Take That. They were a huge UK band so he had that built in audience. But what was interesting (especially to the UK) was how he was able to get past the whole boy band thing and turn his image around. After Take That he was a fat drunk has-been hanging around with Oasis and the cynical UK public were just waiting and hoping for him go down for the final crash and burn. When he turned all that around and was able to win the UK back over it was a pretty big coup. Plus, there's a whole tabloid aspect of the UK market that strongly drives the pop music scene and Robbie has ridden that for years with all of this shit. That tabloid scene is not really the same in the US.
posted by gfrobe at 4:56 AM on January 26, 2007

… which would happen in quite a few other places round the world.

Yeah, the interesting thing is that ‘quite a few other places’ is, really, the rest of the industralised world. It’s not the US vs. Europe; it’s English-speaking North America vs. everyone else. There’s probably an opportunity for some decent insight into the exception in that.
posted by Aidan Kehoe at 5:53 AM on January 26, 2007

It's just one of those things. Why are the Dave Matthews Band complete unknowns in Europe?
posted by afx237vi at 5:55 AM on January 26, 2007

I don't really know the answer to this question, but I was wondering almost the same thing the other day - I have a friend who was on road crew for Robbie Williams last tour, and he isn't just popular, he's HUGE. The tour was supposedly the biggest ever, in history, and I know that places where the Rolling Stones played last year Robbie Williams would play in the same place, but 3 times more shows. Pretty crazy. My friend told me that he's a really good boss and that he treated his road crew amazingly well, which is cool.
posted by youthenrage at 6:11 AM on January 26, 2007

I just asked a coworker about Robbie Williams; the answer was:

"Oh, I loved him in 'Good Morning, Vietnam'."

just so you know.
posted by jaimystery at 6:12 AM on January 26, 2007

There was a song used in one of promos that repeats endlessly in the background while you're navigating HBO or Showtime On Demand. Because I watch On Demand a lot, I heard the song many times and grew to sort of like it, or at least know it really well. I looked up the lyrics, and it turned out to be "Feel" by Robbie Williams.

So either I'm a Robbie Williams fan in the making, or I just associate that song with watching quality television.

Anyway, my point is, familiarity does breed liking rather than contempt in some cases, so his ubiquitousness outside of North America is probably a factor.
posted by staggernation at 6:20 AM on January 26, 2007

You know what, he's actually not a talentless prat. It's not my type of music but the guy has a good voice, writes or co-writes most of his stuff (which is light but good pop) and is a great live performer (watch his Live 8 performance and see how well he gets that crowd going) Yeah, he's cocky and arrogant but he's also pretty funny and plays the whole pop star role well.

Totally disagree. I'm not enough of a snob to refuse to give talent where it's due, but in RW's case this is all a myth. His voice is pub-singer standard at best - witness his recent squeaky, butchering cover-version of Lewis Taylor's excellent Lovelight.

His songs that have been well-regarded were "co-written" with another songwriter. Frankly, when compared to the tedious, teenage-poetry dirges that he's churned out since, I don't think you have to be too cynical to question just how much involvement he had in writing the earlier stuff.

Great performer? Not my taste, but no comment on this, others seem to like him so I won't argue.

Funny? Hell no. All he semes to be able to do is spill cliche jokes from 5 years ago at high volume, while trying to not collapse with laughter at his own incisive wit. Every time I see him on TV I expect him to say "it's all gone pear-shaped" or "I'm not a happy bunny" or something else so far removed from contemporary language that he sounds like your gran after half a bottle of sherry.
posted by bifter at 6:35 AM on January 26, 2007

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