Young Welsh soul singer Duffy has already made a serious splash in the U.K., with her second single "Mercy" going to No. 1 in February on downloads alone. Her management must be hoping that when her album Rockferry is released in the U.S. on May 13, she can repeat the huge crossover success of Amy Winehouse in moving from Britain to America.
Looks-wise, I’d say Americans are in for a treat, as the ’60s-inspired Duffy resembles a cross between Dusty Springfield and Julie Christie (with maybe a little bit of Kristin Chenoweth thrown in for good measure):
When Duffy’s "Mercy" appears on U.S. television, however, American viewers will be getting a slightly different first look at her than British viewers have had. For purposes of comparison, here is the original British version of the video:
And here is the re-jigged one for an American audience:
Now, in essence you might say these videos are fairly similar: Both of them feature Duffy in the center singing with a microphone while people dance around her.
But the Duffy of the American video is a more sexualized creature: She’s better-lit, she’s wearing a strapless dress, and there are close-ups on her lips and on her red high heels. The people surrounding her are partygoers rather than professional dancers, and — perhaps in response to them — she’s more expressive and uninhibited in the American video. The dancers also don’t eventually burst into flame like they do in the British video (was it thought that this would seem shocking or weird to an American audience?)
Duffy isn’t the first British artist to get a makeover for the American market. When Natasha Bedingfield‘s single "These Words" was released in the U.K., it showed her on vacation in Spain, dressed in bright colors, fidgeting and punching the air around her in anger and frustration at her inability to come up with a hit song:
When the video hit the American market, it was set in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil — the colors were more golden — and although Bedingfield was still singing about anger and frustration, she looked pretty cheerful and calm:
The R&B girl group Mis-Teeq could be described as the British version of Destiny’s Child.
When they released their single "One Night Stand" in the U.K. in 2001, the video was neon-bright, ghetto fabulous and full of backing dancers:
But when it was released in the U.S. in 2004, the video was dark, sultry and centered on the three girls parading up and down a catwalk, where band member Alesha Dixon had been made up to look remarkably like Beyoncé:
If I had to generalize, I’d say that the American videos tend to look more expensive and glossy, and also more golden and sweaty than their raw, bright British counterparts. They tend to be more sexed up (which is interesting, given that I think a lot of people view America as more puritanical than Europe).
I’m curious, though, what both American and British viewers think of these video pairs? Personally, apart from the Duffy video, I tend to prefer the British versions … but then I do live in the U.K. Do you think it’s necessary for the record companies to create entirely new videos for an American market? What is it about the British videos that don’t translate?
And why is it that some British artists — Amy Winehouse, Lily Allen, Joss Stone — seem to make it across the pond without their videos being changed? What is it about those artists that fits better with American sensibilities?