Perhaps too flamboyant or eccentric for more straitlaced American audiences, U.S. bands like Scissor Sisters have gone to Britain to make it big. Short-listed for Best International Group, Best International Newcomer, and Best International Album at Britain's top pop music awards on Wednesday, the rockers are in good company--Jimi Hendrix and Blondie also made breakthroughs across the pond. Scissor Sisters' sales say it all: The band's U.K. album sales of 1.6 million dwarf the 150,000 records sold so far in the huge U.S. market, reflecting, band members say, a "puritanical" streak in American tastes. "Puritans founded America while the pagans stayed in England," co-singer Ana Matronic told music magazine Blender. "No wonder we're popular over there!"
For an act difficult to categorize and not afraid to camp it up onstage, matching Hendrix's eventual superstardom in the United States could prove tough. "What makes the Scissor Sisters work here is they're non-categorizable," said Colin Barlow, joint managing director of the band's label, Polydor UK, which is part of Universal Music Group. "America is so formatted--bands like the Scissor Sisters that are eclectic and broad-minded, they'll find a home here more quickly." Moreover, the band's heavy dose of camp--lead singer Jake Shears is fond of wearing a pink feather boa and leather trousers onstage, for example--may be a tough sell in more conservative parts of the country. "I'd hate to think America was scared of that," Barlow said. "The flamboyance of the Scissor Sisters is what pop music is all about, from Queen to Parliament/Funkadelic to Prince."
Robert Christgau, chief music critic at The Village Voice, said the gay identity of the group made it harder to succeed in the United States. "There has been a whole bunch of bands that are essentially gay-identified that came out of England," he told Reuters. "There has been very little of that in the States." He also described Scissor Sisters' style of music and presentation as essentially "European. They're interested in pose and image."
The band, whose sound has been compared to acts such as Elton John, David Bowie, and the Bee Gees, has toured extensively throughout Britain to build its fan base, including a high-profile set at Glastonbury, a southwestern England rock festival that is one of Europe's biggest in the open air. Barlow also credited Radio One, a national radio station run by publicly funded broadcaster the BBC, for breaking bands in Britain that would never get a chance Stateside. In particular, legendary DJ John Peel spent more than 40 years championing artists ranging from the Ramones to Bob Marley until his death in October.
U.K. critics and fans loved the Scissor Sisters' debut, which included a disco remake of Pink Floyd's classic "Comfortably Numb" as well as the catchy "Take Your Mama," about a man who comes out to his mother in a gay club. But their native country has been slower to catch on. Barlow said the Scissor Sisters album was "catching on slowly but surely. There are pockets where it's really starting to work, in New York and Los Angeles."