Blunt becomes first Briton for a decade to top US chart

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The Independent Culture

Some think it soppy and sentimental but James Blunt's mega-hit of last summer, "You're Beautiful", has become the first single by a British artist to reach the No 1 slot in the US charts for almost a decade.

The lovelorn ballad has gone straight to the top of the US Hot 100 Billboard chart, which reflects a combination of record sales and radio play time. The last time a British singer achieved the same feat was in 1997 when Elton John captivated American listeners with "Candle in the Wind" after the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. It stayed at No 1 for 14 weeks.

Blunt's Back to Bedlam has, meanwhile, reached No 5 on the Billboard album chart, establishing the singer as a new darling of the US music scene. Never mind that only a week ago at the NME awards it was voted the worst album of last year.

As a new British export to the US music market, Blunt follows a path first taken by the Beatles and thereafter by the Pet Shop Boys, Seal, Culture Club and Phil Collins. In recent years, however, the British music industry has had limited success on the other side of the Atlantic.

Bombarded with rap and hip hop and homegrown pop divas such as Britney Spears on their radio stations, Americans may be susceptible to the high-pitched, romantic strains of the 28-year-old former army captain, who is said to have written the song after seeing an ex-girlfriend on a train with a new man.

"The US seems to think that we Brits write sloppy, sensitive ballads better than anyone else," suggested Alex Needham, deputy editor of NME. "Americans like Brits when they are the musical equivalent of Hugh Grant: sensitive, slightly bumbling and a bit posh."

He added: "It's a very commercial record that is average enough to have universal appeal."

The success of Blunt, who was a double winner at last month's Brit Awards, is kindling hopes that other British artists may be on the brink of similarly conquering the US market. Acts that are already attracting favourable attention in the US include K T Tunstall, Hard-Fi and the Arctic Monkeys.

"The current strength of the UK repertoire and the state of the US market presents us with probably the best opportunity we have in a decade," said Peter Jamieson, chairman of BPI, the UK record companies' association. "That's why the UK music industry is putting so much effort into US promotion in 2006".

Blunt was catapulted to stardom in July and August when he simultaneously topped the UK singles and album charts for five weeks. Back to Bedlam sold 2.4 million copies in Britain, and he quickly exported his success to the European market. Sales of the album in the US have reached 750,000 copies, according to the Billboard website.