This is about one of Estelle's previous relationships. She told Giantmag: "It's based off my ex, ex-boyfriend. I met him during the first album and he got me pretty excited about American boys (laughs)."
Kanye West featured on this track and the album was executive produced by John Legend. In the same interview Estelle told how she originally met the two Americans in a Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles: "I was in L.A. in this little crap session with a producer who was trying to jerk me and I didn't want to take part in the session anymore. So I went to get some food. I walked in there [Roscoe's Chicken and Waffles] and I was like that looks like Kanye West so I said, 'thank you, Jesus' (laughs). I was a big fan of his and John Legend, because I had heard his voice and it was amazing and I wanted to work with him. So I was speaking to this guy with Kanye for a long time, and this is before I realized it was him [John Legend]. So while talking to Kanye I asked him about John Legend because I wanted to meet him and Kanye was like 'he's right there.' So I was like oh, okay. He was cool about it though and we exchanged info and kept in touch over the years. He actually helped me write a few tracks on [her debut album] The 18th Day. When he'd come to the UK and Europe we'd do work and when I came over here [the US] he'd help too."
"American Boy" was produced by Will.I.Am of the Black Eyed Peas. A number of critics have noticed that this uses the same beat as Will.I.Am's "Impatient" from his Songs About Girls album. Estelle told Giantmag.com what happened: "He played me the beat and before the track ["Impatient"] came out I had already recorded 'American Boy' with him. But when he played the beat for me, I was like I love it and I want to use it. But, I heard his track and I was like didn't you play that track for me? But, I think it was just one of those things were his album came out first and our lines got crossed up. But I'm not hating; there's no beef or anything like that. It worked out for both of us so I'm not mad."
This became Estelle's first UK chart-topper when it debuted at #1 on March 23, 2008, a day before the single's physical release.
On the UK Top 75 singles chart announced on March 30th 2008, Kanye West achieved the unusual feat of being involved with both the #1 song (American Boy) and the one at #75 (Stronger).
Estelle told the Daily Record that one of the inspirations behind this song was 1980s English comedienne Su Pollard from the BBC sitcom Hi-De-Hi!'. She said, "The whole point was that I would sing it in the most ditzy voice ever."
Estelle (from the Daily Mail April 4, 2008): "There are too many man-bashing songs, so it was nice to have one with the opposing view. We were also trying to get John Legend into house music."
Estelle has admitted that when she was dancing with Kanye West in the song's video, all she could think about was whether she'd cleaned her ears. She told RealMusic Blog: "He was looking right in my ear and I was worried he'd go and tell his mates that I had dirty ears. I mean, what if I had one piece of errant wax… But I didn't ask him - I just went away with my obsession, told my friends and they laughed at me."
Estelle told the Mail On Sunday July 13, 2008 that originally she "didn't think that song was right for me at first, but now I've got a song I can sing for the rest of my life."
In the same Mail On Sunday interview Estelle explained the hand dance she does in the video: "I was just messing around with that - it's something daft I used to do with my sisters. Now all these girls in clubs are doing it."
When Estelle's record label, Warners, noticed that most iTunes customers were downloading this song but not bothering with anything else on the album, they pulled Shine off iTunes in the US. Estelle's record company hoped that all those people who still wanted to buy this track would purchase the full album but instead the British singer's US sales figures plummeted. Even worse, a cover version of "American Boy" by a sound-alike act called Studio All-Stars raced up the iTunes download charts in Estelle's absence. As soon as Warners put Shine back up on the US iTunes store both this song and the album jumped back up the charts, as a result of accumulated demand during the period of unavailability.
This topped the charts in Belgium and Israel, as well as in Estelle's native UK.
This won the Best Single Award at the 2008 Mobo Awards. Estelle also won the prize for Best UK Female at the same ceremony. In her acceptance speech, the British singer said she gave all the prizes she wins to her mother, who "puts them on the shelf."