Everybody's heard of the British Invasion, the period in the mid-1960s when a bunch of artists and bands, led by The Beatles, crossed the Atlantic Ocean to perform in front of audiences in America for the first time. That two year span of time brought us now-household names like The Rolling Stones, The Yardbrids, The Kinks, The Who, Small Faces, and many more. The period had a large influence on popular music and culture in the United States, and British artists have been a major part of the American music scene ever since.
Is the same thing that happened in the 1960s now happening with artists from Australia and New Zealand? Are we seeing an Australasian Invasion? I believe so.
Iggy Azalea, Gotye, Lorde, Cody Simpson, and 5 Seconds of Summer Lead the Way
Even though the argument is that an Australasian Invasion is happening now, that doesn't mean that the region hasn't contributed acts in the past. In fact, Australia has brought us many of them. Acts popular in the U.S. but hailing from Oz include Olivia Newton-John, AC/DC, INXS, Tommy Emmanuel, and more recently Flight of the Conchords. The difference is that these earlier acts were relatively few and far between. For example, Newton-John and AC/DC found international success in the mid-70s, INXS in the early '80s, Tommy Emmanuel in the late '80s (as a solo artist), and Flight in the Conchords in 2009.
In contrast, the acts that seem to make up the vanguard of the Australasian Invasion — Cody Simpson, Gotye, Lorde, Iggy Azalea, and 5 Seconds of Summer — have all found an international fan base at around the same time: 2013. Gotye won a Grammy for Making Mirrors last year, while Simpson and Lorde released popular albums Surfers Paradise and Pure Heroine not long afterward. The trend has continued into 2014 with successful albums from Azalea and 5 Seconds of Summer, The New Classic and 5 Seconds of Summer, respectively. On the live side of things, all of these artists have either had successful North American tours in 2013 or 2014 or seem set do so next year, as in the case of 5 Seconds of Summer. All of that in two years, which is the same time frame of the British Invasion.
A Passing Phase...Or Long-term Impact?
It's one thing to say that a lot of acts are coming to America from Australia and New Zealand, but quite another to say they will have a lasting impact. However, while it is true that 5 Seconds of Summer and the other acts really have yet to prove that they have staying power, the success they've already seen in America is pretty immense. In the case of 5 Seconds, one can see their journey as following the same pattern as that of the band that introduced them, One Direction. 1D effectively supplanted their own introducing band, Big Time Rush, as the top pop act of the last year or so, and there is a good chance 5 Seconds of Summer will do that to 1D. If it happens, it will emulate a similar phenomenon seen in the British Invasion, when The Beatles and other bands impacted the commercial success of Elvis Presley and Fats Domino.
Meanwhile, the upcoming iHeartRadio Festival is featuring three of the big Australasian acts: Iggy Azalea (on two stages), Lorde, and 5 Seconds of Summer (opening for One Direction). Consider for one second the history of the British Invasion. It's called that not just because of the influx of acts, but because The Beatles were introduced to the country on The Ed Sullivan Show. While musical acts do still appear on talk shows, I think it's safe to say the festivals have mostly taken over the job of introducing bands to an audience. So having all three acts at one event is a clear indication that these are bands to notice, or otherwise they wouldn't have been invited.
That said, a festival appearance is not a guarantee that a band will make it in America. That's not too concerning, though, as many British bands didn't make it big after that invasion ended. On a collective scale, one major thing that sets the the Australasia Invasion apart from the British Invasion is the relatively eclectic group of acts that make it up. The British Invasion featured mostly rock acts, but this one has artists representing a diverse set of styles, from rock to pop to R&B, to electronic, to hip hop. So unlike the BI, there isn't a critical mass of acts from one genre that will push all the others out of the way; they sort of have to act on their own. It doesn't help that popular music is now more diverse than ever: there are more options from which to choose. Not everybody is listening to the same genre.
The real measure of success of these acts will likely come from their overall influence. What effect will they have on music and culture going forward? Unfortunately, that's a tough question to answer. On one hand, what kind of shelf life can these acts expect? Will 5 Seconds of Summer be the Next Big Thing? Yes, I think so, but for how long? Modern pop acts tend to have a notoriously short window of major commercial success. They pop up and fade away almost faster than you can blink. On the other hand, acts like Gotye, Lorde, and Iggy Azalea may have a better chance at long-term success because they're not pop acts, or not purely so. Cody Simpson? Maybe he can. He's more in the mold of Justin Bieber, and though Bieb's star seems to have faded somewhat, he hung on for quite a while, even in the midst of One Direction. Ultimately, only time will tell how successful these acts will be.
Keeping Track of the Invasion
In wrapping up, I suppose the true question is: how long will all of this last? And how many more acts can be expect to see arrive in the U.S.? The British Invasion lasted only two years, though its effects remain felt to this day. It also produced almost four dozen acts. With the Australasian Invasion, we've seen four major acts thus far. However, if we take 2013 as the real start of it, there is still another year for more acts to arrive in order to see the same level of success. Though, really, it doesn't matter how long it lasts, as long as more acts keep arriving on a regular basis. Then we will truly be able to see the effects of the invasion. For now, though, the Australasian acts have their turn in the spotlight.