Monday, November 29, 2004

Americans are Behind

I recently read a piece online reviewing one of Iron Maiden’s shows from last year’s Dance of Death tour and found it fascinating. With the band announcing European dates for next summer, and no mention of US dates, it brings me to a question that has bothered me for a long time.

Why is Iron Maiden so immensely popular in Europe and South America, but so off the map here in the United States?

A review of the charts is depressing for anyone who believes in music. Eminem, Destiny’s Child, and Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz occupy the first three spots, and it gets worse from there. I don’t know where you would find an actual musician on this list.

For the American Iron Maiden fan, a review of the charts in September of 2003 tells the depressing story.

In Sweden, Iron Maiden’s Dance of Death entered the chart at number 1, where it stayed for three weeks, before falling to number 5 in week 4 and number 10 in week 5. It stayed in the top 60 for 3 months. Dance of Death was in the number 1 spot in six different countries.

In Germany, Dance of Death made its debut at number 2, falling to number 5 in week 2 and number 12 in week 3. It reached the number 2 spot in three other countries, including the UK.

In the USA, Dance of Death made its Billboard debut at number 18. From there it took a nosedive and was gone from the radar within 2 or 3 weeks. I can only imagine what was topping the US charts at that time.

So, those are the facts. The question is, why?

Now the easy answer is that US audiences are sheep that are fed the slop that the suits in the music industry and on Fox shove down our throats. Can this really be true? Can we be so stupid?

To be certain, we are that stupid. Any country that has Eminem, Destiny’s Child, and Lil Jon & The East Side Boyz at the top of the charts is completely devoid of taste and culture. Despite this fact, I am unsure if we can place the blame here, although in fairness, many of these acts are popular in Europe as well, so they are not as smart as they think they are. However, music with actual music is still popular in these countries.

A controversial answer is the hip-hop culture dominates the US. Even suburban white kids can be found blasting gangsta rap from their cars these days. It is certainly cooler to be black or latino than white, so maybe that is it. Iron Maiden is definitely white, that is for sure, and white is so uncool.

Another factor is that Maiden is seen as an 80’s thing. Their popularity here was kind of short lived, and as such they are seen as a nostalgia act as opposed to a hard working band that has had consistent global success with thirteen albums over 25 years. In the era of MTV, bands have a pretty short shelf life as we are always looking for something new.

Finally, Maiden has never fit the US stereotype for heavy metal. They just don’t sing about sex, drugs and rock n roll; and while the metal community in Europe has grown up, kids here really can’t get into a group who writes 9 minute songs about World War I battles that took place in a small village in Belgium. Most Americans can't even find Belgium on a map.

This of course opens a can of worms regarding how many Europeans stereotype Americans as ignorant of the world around them at best, and just plain stupid at worst. I am not going to get into this discussion here about our educational system, and who is to blame, but based on our music choices, they may have a point.

So, I really can’t give a definitive explanation as to Maiden’s lack of commercial success here. I have proposed a couple of theories, but I really can’t explain why for certain. One thing I can be sure of is that Iron Maiden is not for the feint of heart. They are for people that like heavy music and good musicianship, but also like history, science and culture. Here in the USA, that may be a tough niche, and for the corporate suits that live and die by focus groups, it is well below the radar.

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