Second British Invasion

The Second British Invasion consisted of music acts from the United Kingdom that became popular in the United States during the early-to-mid 1980s primarily due to the cable music channel MTV. The term derives from the similar British Invasion of the U.S. in the 1960s. These acts primarily brought with them synthpop and new wave styles of music to the American charts, and according to Rolling Stone, brought "revolution in sound and style".

During the late 1980s, glam metal and dance music replaced Second Invasion acts atop the U.S. charts. In 2011, The Guardian named the Second British Invasion among their "50 key events in the history of pop music".


In the late 1970s and early 1980s, music from the United Kingdom was informed by the after-effects of the "punk/new wave" revolution. In early 1979 "Sultans of Swing" by Dire Straits and "Roxanne" by the Police cracked the American Top 40, followed by the more modest chart successes of Elvis Costello, Sniff 'n' the Tears, the Pretenders, Gary Numan, Squeeze, and Joe Jackson, the latter scoring a new wave hit with "Is She Really Going Out with Him?". Scripps-Howard news service described this success as an early stage of the invasion.

Music videos, having been a staple of British music television programmes for half a decade, had evolved into image-conscious short films. At the same time, pop and rock music in the United States was undergoing a creative slump due to several factors, including audience fragmentation and the effects of the anti-disco backlash. Videos did not exist for most hits by American acts, and those that did were usually composed of footage from concert performances. When the cable music channel MTV launched on 1 August 1981, it had little choice but to play a large number of music videos from British new wave acts. The Buggles' "Video Killed the Radio Star" was the first music video shown on MTV in the U.S. To the surprise of the music industry, when MTV became available in a local market, record sales by acts played solely on the channel increased immediately and listeners phoned radio stations requesting to hear them. Also in 1981, Los Angeles radio station KROQ-FM began the Rock of the '80s format, which would make it the most popular station in that city. With British artists featuring heavily on the station, Rick Carroll of KROQ states, "There wasn't American product worthy of being played every three hours, so we had to look and listen to British imports to fill the void."

More hints of the impending invasion were observed in 1981 on the dance charts. Only seven of the top 30 groups of the dance rock chart Rockpool were of American origin, while later in the year, 12-inch singles by British groups began appearing on the Billboard Disco chart. The trend was particularly strong in Manhattan where import records and the British music press were convenient to obtain and where the New York Rocker warned that "Anglophilia" was hurting U.S. underground acts.

The Invasion

On 3 July 1982, the Human League's "Don't You Want Me" started a three-week reign on top of the Hot 100. The song got considerable boost from MTV airplay and has been described by the Village Voice as "pretty unmistakably the moment the Second British Invasion, spurred by MTV, kicked off". "Tainted Love" by Soft Cell spent a record-breaking 43 weeks on the Hot 100. The September 1982 arrival of MTV in the media capitals of New York City and Los Angeles led to widespread positive publicity for the new "video era". By the fall, "I Ran (So Far Away)" by A Flock of Seagulls, the first successful song that owed almost everything to video, had entered the Billboard Top Ten. Duran Duran's glossy videos would come to symbolise the power of MTV. Billy Idol became an MTV staple with 1983's "White Wedding" and 1984's "Eyes Without a Face" and his second album Rebel Yell sold two million copies. Pop rock songs that topped the charts included Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart", John Waite's "Missing You", and Robert Palmer's "Addicted to Love". Girl group Bananarama had hits with "Cruel Summer" and "Venus", the latter reaching number one.

New Music became an umbrella term used by the music industry to describe young, mostly British, androgynous, and technologically oriented artists such as Culture Club and Eurythmics. Many of the Second Invasion artists started their careers in the punk era and desired to bring change to a wider audience, resulting in music that, while having no specific sound, was characterized by a risk-taking spirit within the context of pop music. Rock-oriented acts that knew how to use video, such as Def Leppard, Big Country and Simple Minds, became part of the new influx of music from Britain.Early in 1983 radio consultant Lee Abrams advised his clients at 70 album-oriented rock stations to double the amount of new music they played. Abrams stated, "All my favorite bands are English ... It's a more artistic place. Experimentation thrives there. Everything over here is more like McDonald's." During 1983 30% of US record sales were from British acts. On 16 July 1983, 20 of the top 40 singles were British, surpassing the previous record of 14 set in 1965; this tally was equalled the week ending 7 June 1986. Culture Club and Duran Duran created a teen "hysteria" similar to Beatlemania during the first British Invasion. Newsweek magazine ran an issue which featured Annie Lennox and Boy George on the cover of its issue with the caption Britain Rocks America – Again, while Rolling Stone would release an "England Swings" issue in November 1983. The following April, 40 of the top 100 singles were by acts of British origin.

U.S. radio stations that catered to black audiences also played Second Invasion acts. Music critic Nelson George ascribed this "reverse crossover" to the dancibility of the songs. Another music journalist, Simon Reynolds, theorized that, just as in the first British Invasion, the use of black American influences by British acts such as Eurythmics, Culture Club, Paul Young, and Wham! helped to spur their success. Released in 1984, "Careless Whisper" by George Michael topped the Hot 100. His band Wham! released another 1984 U.S. chart topper, "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go"; its music video featured oversized message T-shirts created by Katharine Hamnett, starting a craze covered in the 2002 VH1 series I Love the 80s.

At the Second Invasion's height, during a five-month period UK acts claimed nine out of the eleven Hot 100 number 1 hits, from Simple Minds' "Don't You (Forget About Me)" through to Dire Straits' "Money for Nothing". During the second week of that period, the week ending 25 May 1985, 8 of the top 10 singles were by UK acts. Tears for Fears' "Shout" spent three weeks at number one. "Don't You (Forget About Me)" (featured in The Breakfast Club) represented the first of three British acts to provide the theme song for a Brat Pack film, followed by John Parr's Hot 100 number 1 charting single "St. Elmo's Fire" and the Psychedelic Furs "Pretty in Pink".

During the Second British Invasion, established British acts such as Queen, David Bowie, Paul McCartney, Phil Collins, Rod Stewart, Elton John, and the Rolling Stones saw their popularity increase; a few acts that dated to the era of the original British Invasion, including George Harrison, the Kinks, the Hollies, the Moody Blues, and Eddy Grant, had their last major hits in this time frame. Counting his work with Genesis, Collins had more top 40 hits on the Billboard Hot 100 chart during the 1980s than any other artist. British progressive rock artists would achieve major chart success in the U.S during the 1980s, such as Genesis, Yes ("Owner of a Lonely Heart" reaching #1), and The Alan Parsons Project ("Sirius"), which would be used as entrance music by various American sports teams, notably the Chicago Bulls.


Explaining why another British Invasion was taking place, one record-industry insider stated, "For whatever psychological reason, there is a very vocal and influential Anglophile rock audience that salivates to hits from abroad." All of this activity and the unusually high turnover of artists in the charts caused a sense of upheaval in the US. Commentators in the mainstream media credited MTV and the British acts with bringing color and energy back to pop music that had been missing since the 1960s, while rock journalists were generally hostile to the phenomenon because they felt it represented image over content and that the "English haircut bands" had not paid their dues. As the birthplace of glam rock the UK was always more theatrical than its US counterpart. Parke Puterbaugh for Rolling Stone writes, "The runaway success in early '82 of "I Ran (So Far Away)" by A Flock of Seagulls was the icing on the cake. Fronted by a singer-synth player with a haircut stranger than anything you'd be likely to encounter in a month of poodle shows, A Flock of Seagulls struck gold on the first try. The message seemed abundantly clear: America was ready for anything—the stranger, the better. And Britain, home of the brave new world of pop, has kept lobbing them over."

With the emergence of MTV, Jerry Jaffe, head of A&R at Polygram Records, stated, "I think the kids who watched it felt that there was something more than what they were being spoon-fed on local radio stations. Radio stations, for the first time, were getting requests for songs they were not playing." Puterbaugh writes, "The British won out here, hands down. Next to the prosaic, foursquare appearance of the American bands, such acts as Duran Duran seemed like caviar. MTV opened up a whole new world that could not be fully apprehended over the radio. The visual angle played to the arty conceits of Britain's young style barons, suggesting something more exotic than the viewer was likely to find in the old hometown."

The commercial burnout of corporate rock around 1979 opened the door for new music, most of which was from the UK. Giving a theory why this was the case, Polygram's Jaffe stated, "often bands you see in America are an amalgam of what they've heard on AOR radio. The motivation for American kids is, 'We want to be the next Van Halen and get rich'". Bob Currie, manager of A&R for EMI, added, "Bands in America want to be signed to make money, while bands in the UK want to be signed to communicate."

The UK initially embraced what was called "New Pop". However, by 1983, the song "Rip It Up" by Scottish rock band Orange Juice and "kill ugly pop stars" graffiti were expressions of both a backlash against the Second Invasion groups and nostalgia for punk. "Instant Club Hit (You'll Dance to Anything)", which became an underground hit for Philadelphia punk group the Dead Milkmen, took a satirical shot at the American subculture that followed British alternative/new wave.

According to music journalist Simon Reynolds, a majority of acts that signed to independent labels in 1984 mined various rock influences and became an alternative to the Second Invasion. Reynolds named the Smiths and R.E.M. as the two most important "alt rock acts" among this group noting that they "were eighties bands only in the sense of being against the eighties".

The Second British Invasion had its most direct impact on American country music, which immediately prior to the Invasion was enjoying a brief renaissance of mainstream popularity buoyed by country pop crossover artists. By 1984, country's mainstream popularity had fallen to a level not seen since disco, and Music Row publishers responded by retrenching, promoting neotraditional country artists popular with country's fan base but with less appeal outside it. Country's crossover appeal would not recover until 1991.

End of the Invasion

As the 1980s wore on, American rock, heavy metal and pop music acts learned how to market themselves using video and making catchy singles. Martin Fry of the Second British Invasion group ABC says that "The reality was that Madonna, Prince and Michael Jackson did it better, bigger and more global than a lot of British acts." From 1983 to 1985, several glam metal acts dented the U.S. charts and received some airplay on MTV, but heavy metal was still seen as a genre limited in popularity to teenage boys. In the spring and summer of 1986, acts associated with the Second Invasion continued to have chart success, with eight records reaching the Hot 100's summit. That fall Bon Jovi's third album Slippery When Wet topped the Billboard 200 and spent eight non-consecutive weeks there, and the leadoff single "You Give Love a Bad Name" displaced the Human League's "Human" atop the Hot 100. Such developments eventually led to decreased visibility of New Music. 1987 saw only seven British acts on the Hot 100's top 40 in January, and New Music exposure on MTV was limited to the program The New Video Hour. In 1988, British acts rebounded with twelve singles topping the chart that year.

As late as the mid-1990s, the Spice Girls were identified as part of the Second British Invasion; and prominent British acts such as Oasis, Blur and The Verve (some of whom were associated with the Britpop movement in their native United Kingdom) had some limited success in the United States, albeit less than their 1980s predecessors. US hits from these bands included "Wonderwall" (Oasis), "Song 2" (Blur), "Bitter Sweet Symphony" (The Verve). Over time British acts became less prevalent on the U.S. charts, and on 27 April 2002, for the first time in almost 40 years, the Hot 100 had no British acts at all; that week, only two of the top 100 albums, those of Craig David and Ozzy Osbourne, were from British artists.