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POP MUSIC | Pop Eye

Trying for a Transatlantic Breakthrough

England's latest sensation, Craig David, wouldn't mind becoming a star in the U.S. too--but it's not as easy as it used to be.

February 04, 2001|STEVE HOCHMAN

Craig David's having an odd experience on his first visit to New York.

"I can see the sights and go record shopping with no one bothering me," he says.

So? Well, maybe you've never heard of him, but in the U.K. and much of Europe, David can't go out in public without being mobbed. He's the latest English pop music sensation and, at 19, the youngest British male ever to have a No. 1 single there, with sales of 1.5 million for his debut album, "Born to Do It." The album has also logged gold and platinum sales throughout much of Europe and Asia.

Next month he'll be headlining arena concerts in England, and he's up for four honors--making him the top nominee--at the upcoming Brit Awards.

He's getting not just popular acclaim, but also critical praise. Highly respected Q magazine named his album among the best of 2000, calling its mix of rap, R&B, dance and distinctive lyrics "a cross between TLC and Paul Simon."

And now he's making his move to the U.S. Atlantic Records has signed him and will release the album here in late July, with a first single, "Fill Me In," to go to radio stations in early May. If things go according to plan, David should enjoy his anonymity while it lasts.

He should be cautious, though. Such predecessors as Robbie Williams and Mark Morrison, while topping the charts over there, have flown largely under the radar here.

"Robbie Williams is the biggest pop star on the face of the planet, bigger than Madonna right now, and he could walk down the street here and no one would recognize him," says Michael Steele, music director of Los Angeles pop station KIIS-FM (102.7). "I don't know why that is. But in the last five or 10 years of music, the only act that has really crossed over from being huge in England to being that big here is the Spice Girls."

David is aware of that, and he recognizes the difference between compact England, which has really only two major pop radio stations, and the vast U.S. with its hundreds of outlets.

"There are so many great artists here in the U.S.," he says. "It's a different culture. I feel I have a different approach, being a DJ and rapping in my songs as well as singing. And I feel confident about the material. But sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't."

Of course, Atlantic's plans call for it to work.

"We're over the moon to have him on Atlantic and he's going to be paving new ground sonically as well as making a huge impact," says Craig Kallman, Atlantic executive vice president, office of the chairman.

The company's not taking anything for granted, though, and is not counting on instant stardom.

"We want to get all the key grass-roots elements," he says. "When Craig comes back to the U.S. in early April, we'll do showcases in New York, L.A., Chicago, Atlanta. It's very important that we launch him by getting as many key people at radio, press and retail to see him and get the scopes of his talents."

David is sanguine and realistic.

"I'm so lucky to have the opportunity to come over here and give it my best shot," he says. "I believe your life is planned out, and if you succeed you succeed. You just have to be natural."

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THE LO DOWN: Jennifer Lopez's "J.Lo" album debuted last week on the SoundScan chart at No. 1, selling 272,000 copies--none of them sporting a parental advisory sticker, but every one featuring the prominent use of a four-syllable expletive. The offending word, which isn't printed in the enclosed lyrics, comes in an aside in the song "Play," in which Lopez says, "Play my [expletive] song."

That disturbed one mother of a 13-year-old girl who bought the album at a Target store. The parent contacted Pop Eye to get a clarification on stickering policy.

Michele Schweitzer, spokeswoman for Epic Records, which released the album, said company officials had no comment on the matter. The Recording Industry Assn. of America, which represents the major labels on such matters, has no binding guidelines for what should be stickered, leaving the decisions to the individual companies. Application has been inconsistent at best, with some albums with just one expletive receiving a sticker, and others with even more sometimes getting no warning.

Target spokeswoman Patty Morris said that the company refuses to carry CDs with obscenities printed on the outside artwork but does not screen content.

"We consider that censorship and will not do that," she says.

*

TALKIN' TRASH: Major labels eager to court the group are keeping a close eye on a lawsuit filed Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court by Garbage asking to be released from its contract with the Universal Music Group. The band's two albums were released by the Universal-distributed Almo Sounds label, which folded last year. In the suit, it seeks to invoke a "key man" clause allowing it to go elsewhere if Almo head Jerry Moss was no longer with the company.

Universal spokesman Bob Bernstein would say only, "The case has no merit."

The band is hoping the matter will be resolved soon, as it's in Minneapolis working on a third album, with tentative plans for a fall release and a major tour to follow.

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