NEW YORK - Sharon Corr has just done something fairly extraordinary: walked out of her midtown hotel, nipped around the corner and had a coffee.
This being New York, she was able to run this errand in peace, attracting no more attention than any other attractive young woman might. But had she been in some other city - London, say, or Berlin or Rome or Manila - pandemonium would have ensued, as soon as someone recognized her as one of them: the Corrs.
"It's really funny," says Atlantic Records publicist Donna Jaffee. "I can take them anywhere in the city, and no one notices. But if this were Europe, it's a mob scene. Constantly."
Then again, the Corrs are huge stars in Europe and Asia. "In Blue," the Irish quartet's latest album, topped the charts in Ireland, Britain, Australia, Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Spain, Sweden, Norway, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Taiwan - to name just a few.
"It's No. 1 in a lot of countries in Asia," says Sharon.
"I think it's everywhere except Korea, is it?" asks her sister, Andrea.
"No, it's No. 1 in Korea, too," answers Sharon.
In the few European countries where "In Blue" didn't enter at the top of the charts, it was in the top three. And it has pretty much stayed there since its release in early August.
Opened for the Stones
In America, however, the Corrs will be lucky if "In Blue" (released here last week) enters in charts in the Top 50. Here, despite some positive press, a few minor radio hits and an impressive stint opening for the Rolling Stones last tour, the Corrs - siblings Andrea, Sharon, Caroline and Jim - are virtual unknowns.
So the question occurs: As the group begins its American publicity blitz, does it look around and wonder, What's wrong with these people?
"No, we don't," says Andrea, laughing. "We feel that the people are the same wherever we go, and if they got to hear our music, it's got to provoke much the same reaction."
But that "if" is a sizable one. The Corrs are, at bottom, a pop band in the great European tradition. The songs, which the Corrs themselves write, are tuneful and well-constructed, and rely more on melodic appeal than on rhythmic energy or vocal acrobatics. It's a formula that works wonders everywhere else in the world.
Unfortunately, radio programmers in this country don't have much use for that sort of pop. So the American Top 40 tends mostly to hip-hop and soul, along with a smattering of guitar bands and the occasional country act. Pop acts like the Corrs are very much the exception.
The Corrs know it, too.
"But we've had such success everywhere in the world, we really want it here," says Andrea. "And it's purely because we want to get out and play here, and play to the American audience. Because we did support to the Rolling Stones and the reaction that we provoked would lead you to believe that it's got to happen here."
Ah yes, the Rolling Stones. Even though they've been feted for decades as the World's Greatest Rock and Roll Band, the Stones have had a second, secret reputation in the music biz: The World's Worst Band to Open For. Over the years, some of the biggest names in rock have taken the stage before the Stones, and tanked. A few, such as Prince and Meredith Brooks, have actually been booed off the stage.
But when the Corrs opened for the Stones last year, a funny thing happened: The fans listened. They clapped along. By the end of the set, a fair number were actually cheering.
"It really was amazing, wasn't it?" says Sharon. "It is quite hard to go on before the Stones, we were aware of that." She laughs. "Maybe they felt sorry for us. 'Poor little Irish girls.' "
"Rolling Stones fans are a completely different thing," agrees Andrea. "They're just completely tunnel-visioned. But we got a lot of mail from people, saying that they were surprised that they were interested in the opening act."
Music comes first
It probably helped that the Corr sisters are remarkably easy on the eyes. But unlike so many pop bands these days, image is in fact the least of the Corrs' advantages.
"We're musicians, really," Andrea repeats throughout the interview, and she's got a point. Not only do all four write, but they also play. Sharon, in fact, is conservatory-trained on violin, and all four have deep roots in Irish traditional music, with Andrea playing tin whistle, Caroline drums and bodhran (an Irish goatskin drum) and Jim handling guitars, keyboards and accordion.
The four have a lot of confidence in their musical abilities, and deservedly so. Hearing the Corrs is usually what turns listeners into fans. But as Andrea points out, sometimes additional encouragement is needed to get people to give the band a listen.
"We do live in a very visual world," she says. "The picture is not hearing, and the printed word is not hearing. But they're all ways to get heard. So you have to use them."
As such, the Corrs have been doing a steady stream of interviews and photo shoots. "We did teen magazine interviews yesterday," says Sharon. "I just felt ancient. I'm 30, and I just felt ..." Her voice trails off.
"We're too old," agrees Andrea. "I think our music can get there, but I can't see us as personalities."
Then again, the Corrs aren't looking to become the next Backstreet Britneys. In fact, they're actively trying to avoid it.
"See, we're in a world now where there's a saturation of artists being made up, singing songs other people wrote, and learning to dance. And it's all very fine," says Andrea. "But because we're female, and because we look a certain way, we could nearly fall in there if people didn't open their ears."
So how have the Corrs avoided the image trap?
"We haven't changed," answers Andrea. "We've changed within ourselves, but we haven't gone, 'OK, now we need to wear denim for six months, get all our makeup done, and have an image.' We have just developed as women, and changed our makeup the way we like to see ourselves look.
"Now, Madonna is amazing. She'll always be Madonna, but she can drastically change her image. And U2 are great for changing their musical style," she adds. "But for us, it's always been about a musical consistency, with maturing being the fundamental thing."