One of the year’s most pleasurable pop confections came courtesy of a British soul singer who reeled in Americans by appealing to their innate narcissism. I speak, of course, of Estelle’s lighter-than-air, Kanye-assisted ode to Yankees “American Boy,” which first took hold of ears over here in February and slowly made its way into the Stateside pop consciousness over the ensuing months.
“American Boy” was one of the few singles this year that became a genuine phenomenon, inspiring gender-flipped takes from the likes of Fall Out Boy and live performances by Kanye that handed over the flirtatious parts to his lyrically adept audiences. It even caused Atlantic Records, Estelle’s record company, to rethink its digital-marketing strategy, although that was an experiment that wound up being ill-advised.
The album “Boy” sprung from, Shine, is pretty wonderful, too, gliding between straightforward R & B and dancehall in a way that can give a summery glint to even the coldest days. (My only quibble is that it does have a few too many cameos—Cee-Lo, yay; Wyclef, nay—but that’s par for the course in the R & B game these days.) Estelle also had a few fine pinch-hit appearances of her own, but my favorite had to come when she took on the role of “hook girl” for the Gym Class Heroes’ long-limbed jam “Guilty As Charged.” As a bonus, she gets to play a complete bad-ass in the video!