Friday, April 24, 2009
Ah, 90s Swedish pop. Nothing says grunge backlash like rave-soundtrack European techno. Turn on one of their many hits and you can actually see the glowsticks waving. If the word Eurotrash had yet to enjoy significant circulation, Ace of Base certainly played a major role in inserting it into mainstream vocabularies. It was bad news for any of you out there aching to don a cropped turtleneck and a leather vest, play synthesizers, and produce dramatic slow-motion sepia-toned music videos. Ace of Base had already cornered that market.
There's something to be said for a band that can achieve international fame while filed under the Eurodance category at record stores. Ace of Base's upbeat, club-friendly songs created a new link between the Swedish and American pop music in the early 90s. Determined to prove they were more than just an ABBA knockoff, Ace of Base churned out English-language single after single to the international music market.
Ace of Base songs were incomparably catchy. God forbid you ever heard one on the radio, because your brain would probably never rebound from the strain of constant and continuous internal play. Their heavy use of synthesizers in lieu of what some may refer to as legitimate instruments pounded residual reggae-inspired technobeats into our ears for hours after the cassette tape had clicked off. If any of you out there were at any point exposed to Ace of Base (you can test yourself for potential airborne exposure using the videos below,) there is no doubt that the opening techno bars will bring back floods of un-expellable lyrics.
The group didn't only have extremely captivating, beat-heavy songs; they also produced what can only be appraised as the quintessential 90s pop music videos. Their videos frequently utilized exceedingly dramatic cutaway shots, black and white photography, and the most advanced special effects the 90s had to offer us. In many cases, it seemed as if their video producers had sat down at the editing booth and applied every available piece of special effect technology to the videos. Hazy smoke over every shot? Why not? People floating in bubbles? You got it! Rotating ankh computer graphics? Sign me up!
In case you have not been sitting around watching old Ace of Base music videos for the last 15 years, I'd be happy to point out some of the finer points of their more popular videos. I invite you to come with me on a chronological whirlwind tour of cheesy 1990s Swedish pop music sights and sounds:
All That She Wants (1993)
Is it just me, or is she playing with some Star of David jewelry in the first shot? Well, never mind the potential religious jewelry implications. The real focus is on the wonderfully literal storytelling technique the band employs to illustrate the major plot points of their song toward the beginning. She literally opens up her eyes and it's safe to say that she's thinking, "Oh, what a morning!" Thankfully they were able to leave some segments en metaphor, or else we may have had our lead characters dressed as hunters and foxes, talking gently to one another.
There are a few shots that don't quite add up, however. Despite their compelling descriptions of this woman as a maneater, in most of the shots she appears vaguely bored. It's possible that she's just concentrating on trying to hear the whispered, "All that she wants...", but this woman doesn't seem particularly vicious. Are we to assume that her application of Cleopatra-esque undereye-liner is emblematic of her desire to use 'em and lose 'em? And the way she blows out that candle. What a trollop! I'll concede to the video's credit and/or legitimacy that in the end she does pick up that guy at the bar, but I'm not yet convinced of her deviance by candle symbolism alone.
The Sign (1994)
Oh my God, it's the Sopranos! I knew they had to have ripped off their signature poster design from a 90s Swedish pop group, I just knew it!
Here's where the aforementioned random special effects montage comes into play. "Oh, so you can make a fire background, show a silhouetted person swirling around, superimpose the band members over images of themselves, and twirl ancient Eqyptian style ankhs? Management team, what do you guys think? Throw 'em all in? Alright, great! And if we could just remix them continuously throughout the run of the video, that would be super." If you had yet to notice from the first video, it's clear that the lead female vocalists were major contenders for the Overgroomed Eyebrow award. They don't give you much time to speculate on that, though, as they're always quick to cut away to interspersed shots of random people making out with no reasonable explanation to back up these visuals. If you gain nothing else from this video, I hope that you can take with you Jenny and Linn's increasingly comical calculated hand-gesture-dances for your next trip to the club.
Regardless of its social relevance on any other level, I've yet to hear this once-immensely popular song (now relegated to muzak in grocery stores and elevators) without thinking of the following Full House episode:
Don't Turn Around (1994)
If you've yet to catch on, there's sort of been a general theme tying together these videos. While the special effects employed may vary, they all cut back and forth continually between the female lead singers and the actors portraying the song. At least in this one, we get a glimpse at why the men in the band are at most marginally necessary, as this is probably the most we've heard from them in any of the singles to date. Their little rap interlude proves that Buddha and Joker (those are their actual stage names, I did not just make that up) are not the mute eye candy we may have assumed them to be in the two former music videos. This video is also fairly high into literalism, though to their credit Eurodance music is not renowned for its subtlety. See how the girl enters the same beach as her former flame, but sits several yards away? That's her not letting you know. No, she won't let you know.
The whole situation is pretty awkward, really. I mean, these two are obviously trying to avoid each other, and where do they find themselves but on the same secluded beach? Well, she really told him off by walking into the water like that at the end. I'm not sure if that's some sort of purity symbolism or if maybe he's just allergic to moisture, but he seemed to get the message.
Beautiful Life (1996)
When I yawn, sometimes I randomly emit enbubbled people, too. That special effect is completely necessary, and not only because it conveys the general whimsy associated with life's beauty (not to be confused with the movie It's a Beautiful Life, which is something else entirely. I never saw it, but I imagine it doesn't too heavily feature people floating carefreely in soap bubbles.) The nonsensical montages in this particular video are certainly inspired, though by what we may never know. It has sort of that "Look, we're flying near but not directly over mountains! Now we're wearing sunglasses and cruising through a tunnel! Now we're hovering over violent car crashes!" feel to it. That pool table sequence toward the end ain't bad either.
Again, we get to hear a few snippets from the guys in this one, though they are rather brief. Would you believe me if I told you that it was actually the men who started this group and eventually solicited the help of a band member's sisters to get things off the ground? Further examination into a live performance indicates that they possibly rock the keytar and guitar respectively, but their presence in these music videos is generally fairly unnecessary.
Ace of Base also did a spectacularly 90-fied cover of Bananarama's "Cruel Summer" and some other follow-up work, but they were pretty MIA in the US in recent years. Don't fret about the fate of our Europoppers, however, they're still all the rage in places like Denmark, Estonia, and Lithuania. Who says fame is fleeting? Perhaps it's just nomadic.
Despite their more recent and undoubtably admirable achievements, the Ace of Base of our collective memory is 90s through and through. Though other Swedish acts such as Robyn and The Cardigans gained 90s fame in the US, they never quite reached an Ace of Base level of Hype. So to any of you who still own your early-90s-era Ace of Base cassettes and can find somewhere on your premises the means necessary to play them, I say enjoy them. Despite their earlier warnings against it, I'd say it's pretty safe to turn around at this point and look back on your favorite artists of seasons past. If all else fails, it's also available on Itunes.