The band aren’t sure why they are now getting this attention in the US, nearly a decade after they debuted.
While Arctic Monkeys are a household name in the UK, they’ve never quite made it big in America. Since releasing the UK’s fastest-selling debut album in 2006 – and representing their country on the world stage at the London Olympics opening ceremony in 2012 – mentions of their name in the US more often received a response of: “Who?” Hardly recognition, let alone fandom.
But now, in the US and other countries outside Britain, Arctic Monkeys’ latest album, AM, is topping radio charts for the first time and is prevalent in 2013 album of the year lists. This fervor helped the band reach a milestone in American music culture: selling out an arena show for the first time in the US at New York City’s Madison Square Garden.
“For anyone, no matter what stage of your career you’re at, it’s still an amazing place to play,” drummer Matt Helders told the Guardian on Saturday before the band’s MSG show. He was drinking coffee with lead singer Alex Turner at the Manhattan hotel at which they had arrived a few hours earlier, with just enough time to get a few hours of sleep before the big gig.
Helders and Turner weren’t entirely sure why they are now getting this attention in the US, nearly a decade after they debuted. “We’ve played here an awful lot. Most of our time in the last seven years or whatever has been spent touring the US, so I think that’s built up this fanbase that’s been bubbling, and I guess it’s starting to spill over with this record,” said Turner.
“It’s not like there was a different approach to this album. I suppose there was in specifics technically or whatever, but it essentially was: we thought of an idea for an album and wrote the songs for it,” Turner said. “It didn’t seem like this sort of overhaul to the approach to making music.”
The hip hop and R&B inspired AM was released in September, and is the band’s highest-charting album in the US. The album’s second single Do I Wanna Know? has been No 1 on the US alternative chart for four weeks in a row, and it is their first time at No 1 in the US.
“Even back home there’s a feeling this record is more popular than the last few. It’s a bit better, really,” Turner said. “There’s something fresh about it.”
For years, Arctic Monkeys have quietly built up a cult following in the US. At the Garden concert, a woman in the front row carried a sign telling of how this was her 67th Arctic Monkeys show.
The concert was a celebration for these American fans who have been proselytizing about the band for years. One of those people was Blake Puente, a 28-year-old paralegal who was at his 50th Arctic Monkeys concert. Puente is a mini-celebrity in the Arctic Monkeys fan community for creating the band’s online forum in 2009 – which has since been picked up by the band’s official site – then creating a Tumblr in 2010 that now has 35,000 followers.
“A lot of the people I’ve been yelling at about Arctic Monkeys for six years, who’ve never felt any sort of, who never liked them, suddenly everybody I know is telling me: ‘I listened to Arctic Monkeys’ new record’. I love it” Puente said.
Puente was excited they were finally getting some of the attention he thinks they deserve, but didn’t know why AM is the album that did it. “I didn’t listen to it and think: ‘Oh my gosh, this is the one that’s really just going to crack America,” Puente said.
The album and single also performed well on one of the newest indicators of success – Tumblr – where in the past thirty days, 57,000 people wrote posts including the words “Arctic Monkeys.”
“This is bigger than Lady Gaga on Tumblr right now,” said Tumblr’s music evangelist Nate Auerbach, who first noticed the Arctic Monkeys’ Tumblr dominance after the illustrated visuals for AM and the Do I Wanna Know video were released in the summer and subsequently spread across the site.
Auerbach is working on a case study for Tumblr about Arctic Monkeys because of their unprecedented success on the site. He thinks that British bands do well on Tumblr because it’s their first point of access for American fans. “The internet is the new Ed Sullivan show,” Auerbach said, referencing the venue for The Beatles’ first televised US performance.
The MSG show happened to coincide with the anniversary of The Beatles performance, which occurred about 24 blocks from the Garden, 50 years earlier. “Apparently one in three Americans watched that performance, and if we’re lucky, maybe, one in three Americans will see this performance on YouTube,” Turner told the audience during the concert, before the band covered All My Loving.
While the show was a celebration for the band and its fans, the band performed there for the first time in March 2012 as the supporting act for The Black Keys on a North American arena tour. It is the only time they toured as a supporting act. Turner and Helders happily reminisced about touring with a band they love, though those shows were performed in half-filled auditoriums consisting mainly of restless concertgoers anxiously waiting for another band.
“Looking at it purely cold, business-wise, it meant we got to reach a lot of people who wouldn’t have heard otherwise, turned a few heads,” said Turner. The Olympics performance afforded a similar opportunity and helped get their debut single I Bet You Look Good On The Dancefloor on iTunes’ top 100 list, again, after debuting at No 1 in the UK in 2005.
That international exposure, the album and some weird internet stuff seem to have helped fill 14,262 seats on Saturday night. The set ended with the first single off AM, R U Mine? There, a tradition for this tour continued, as the crowd displayed the most fervor for songs off the newest album, banging their heads through the thumping chorus.
“There’s some gratification that comes with that, somehow, that you’ve still got it or something.” said Turner, who seemed to walk extra slowly off stage at the end of Saturday’s concert. “It seems like some sort of victory. I don’t know why.”
Fan questions for Arctic Monkeys submitted through Tumblr:
What is the weirdest moment you’ve had on this tour?
Matt Helders (MH): “I don’t know what’s the weirdest thing that’s happened on this tour.”
The Guardian: “It’s all been normal?”
MH: “Or it’s all been weird.”
Matt, what do you think of Alex’s dance moves? Alex, where do you get your dance moves from?
MH: “I think they’re great, ‘cos he got them from me.”
If you woke up and realized you’d become someone from the band, who would you want to be, and what is the first thing you would do?
MH: “I’d be Jamie Cook and I’d cut my hair. No, I wouldn’t. The reason I want to be Jamie Cook is purely based on our arena tour we just did in England – I haven’t told anybody this. During Arabella, because I’m facing that way, I can always see big screens, and there’s always a great bit of him during that song, where they do a split-screen mirror. The way he moved it looked like 70s rock, I looked at it and thought that looks great.”
Alex Turner (AT): “And I’d be Nick and the first thing I’d do is keep my beard.”
Do you believe in aliens?
AT: You’d be naive not to.
How does American food compare to UK food?
MT: There’s more of it.
Would you rather get your thumbs eaten by a piranha or walk around London naked?
MH: London. We need them [thumbs].
Will there be a The Last Shadow Puppets reunion?
If you had to swap hairstyles with another famous person, who would it be?
MH: Oprah Winfrey. Only because I want her to have mine, because that’s part of the deal.