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Independent voice

Music | British star Natasha Bedingfield has gone mainstream without blending in

Issue: "Our long war," March 8, 2008

Twenty-six-year-old Natasha Bedingfield, a budding pop singer from the United Kingdom, occasionally gets questions about her faith. She answers them honestly and cheerfully, not forgetting to mention that she came to life as a vocalist at Hillsong London church, or that she believes prayer is a powerful, rejuvenating force.

But you wouldn't know that if you had only seen Bedingfield command the stage of the Today show with R&B sensation Sean Kingston recently, or if you knew her from hearing her single "Unwritten" on the radio every few minutes a couple of summers ago. Or perhaps you happened to catch the news that a woman had topped the British pop charts for the first time in almost two decades. That was Bedingfield and her single "These Words," which led to a Grammy nomination and, to date, almost 7 million records sold.

Currently on tour in the United States to promote her new album, Pocketful of Sunshine, Bedingfield is indisputably the United Kingdom's biggest pop star. A veteran of worship music, she could have easily landed a Christian record contract from those awed by her huge, bluesy voice. But she did not accept a ride to success in the Christian music industry. Unlike many young women with stellar voices and a church background, she did not refer to her music as a ministry.

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She saw that show business is show business. She worked with her brother, Daniel (also a successful U.K. musician), writing and playing music for the local scene. In her spare time, she relentlessly took her demos to record labels and, in 2003, reached a deal with Sony BMG (not exactly a small-time outfit). After achieving superstardom in her native country, she's proved willing in the United States to play to smaller crowds than she's used to, so as to establish herself in a new land.

Bedingfield's preference for the mainstream hardly means that she's trolling for worldly acceptance or is uncomfortable talking about her faith. She has made remaining independent as a woman and a believer the center of her public image, and she always has words for the critics who question her unabashed positivity. "I like guys who smile," she told the crowd gathered at Rockefeller Center to watch her perform on the Today show, explaining why she chose Sean Kingston to collaborate on her latest single. "There are so many rap dudes who like to put on a mean face." Her big hits, "Unwritten" and "These Words," extol sincerity and hopeful expectation.

Bedingfield's albums brim with typical messages of uplift, hope, and love, often expressed in unorthodox ways. She caused a minor stir in the British entertainment press with her single "I Wanna Have Your Babies," in which she jokingly sings about hiding her love of children from her boyfriends for fear they'll run out on her. It's a fun pop anthem with a pro-family message and tongue-in-cheek rhymes ("I wanna have your babies / Get serious like crazy / See 'em springing up like daisies").

A hilarious video features Bedingfield acting out the lyrics, but the song did not play well with the critics. After a mocking, frame-by-frame dissection, London's The Guardian sniffed, "I have to go have a baby now. Natasha Bedingfield told me to." The online music zine Drowned in Sound called the video "the most bizarre, surreal, absolutely terrifying thing we have ever seen on mainstream music television." Bedingfield's response: If you care too much what people say about you, then your head will swell when they praise you.

-David Sessions is the editor of Patrol magazine (patrolmag.com)

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