Wednesday, July 8, 2009


There's a lot to say for a musical act whose breakthrough hit was a techno remix of "The Itsy Bitsy Spider". There's probably even more to say for that band going on to produce the most successful Danish record to date. Either they have some mystical unspoken musical quality that we have yet to discover and qualify, or the Danish music scene is really,
really, bad.

Popular music is a funny thing. Extremely talented musicians work a lifetime churning out soul-baring musical manifesto after soul-baring musical manifesto with no quantifiable following to speak of. On the other hand, a few Danes can throw together a little ditty about a leggy blonde doll and ride the waves of success, fortune, and fame, for many many years (note: this rule also applies to Swedes. See Base, Ace of).

That's not to imply that Aqua's music was not catchy. If anything, it was overly so. To listen to one of their many international chart-topping hits was to commit yourself to at least a day with their tinny, electronicized voices reverberating in your skull. The 90s music scene inexplicably embraced trashy Europop, opening their arms and ears to incessant pounding beats backed up by male rappers and hypnotizing female singers.

The skills necessary to be a part of one of these acts are pretty questionable. Bubblegum pop was a burdgeoning genre, and thus it seemed any vaguely eccentric former DJ or moderately good-looking specimen of 90s Eurotrash could become a star. Whatever the reason, the Danish Aqua managed to finagle their way into the limelight.

Image via

To show just how flexible the musical integrity of these types of artists are, it's pertinent to point out that our good pals in Aqua were quick to change their tune (literally) after a few failed ventures. With the quick rise and fall of their single Itzy Bitzy Spider, the group reconsidered their initial formulation as JOYSPEED and sought to adopt a lighter, sunnier, poppier style.

In case you're just dying to hear JOYSPEED's nursery rhyme gone techno, here's the audio to their original track release. Spoiler alert: The itsy bitsy spider crawls up the spout again in the end.

The single contains artistically crafted lyrics like:

Always on a mission in every little corner

of the wall so tall, of the wall so tall,

with his sexy legs and hairy back

Excuse me? That part was not in my nursery rhyme.

After their techno child's play gone awry, JOYSPEED was eager for an image change. With a new manager they became Aqua, lords and ladies of the European bubblegum pop scene. While they enjoyed moderate success with their first few singles*, their crowning achievement (and this is more of a claim to shame than claim to fame) was the immense success of their inane hit, Barbie Girl.

Presented in "Aquascope" for your viewing pleasure:

Note: those foreign subtitles are not a part of the original video, but YouTube is on major embeddable trademark video crackdown and it will have to suffice.

This song has quite a few mild sexual references, but it wasn't exactly earth-shatteringly shocking subject matter. The music video was campy, but then again, so was the song. It was light, moderately spoofy, and generally pretty benign. Its only real offense was on our eardrums.

Mattel, however, begged to differ. In a terribly ill-advised legal move, Mattel sued MCA records. Apparently their slinging of phrases like "blonde bimbo" and "let's go party" didn't sit well with all the Mattel product managers seeking to make Barbie into a dentistry-practicing elementary school teaching Olympic gymnast.

Mattel sued MCA for alleged infringement of copyright and some form of defamation of (fictional) character. MCA retaliated by slapping Mattel with their own defamation suit, claiming the company was sullying the company's good name. All this over a Barbie parody, and a poor one at that. Just imagine what would have happened if they'd pulled Skipper and Midge into the mix. That Midge was nothing but trouble.

Lucky for the integrity of the American judicial system,
Judge Alex Kozinski dismissed the case and sagely stated, "The parties are advised to chill." How's that for straightforward legalese?

Aqua continued churning out irritatingly bubblegum popping hits off their multi-platinum album Aquarium. Among them, Dr. Jones enjoyed relative popularity and sat comfortably atop many countries' popular music charts. Dr. Jones has Indiana Jones-esque undertones that are most evident in the video. I never knew that until I just watched it for the first time, but I did know that this song keeps me going on the treadmill. You should try it. If anything, your body will run faster for hope of escape.

You do sort of have to admire how plot-heavy their videos were. You really get a feel for the characters.

Another follow-up single released in the US was Lollipop (Candyman), which featured adorable lyrics like:

I wish that you were my Lollipop.
Sweet things, I will never get enough.

If you show me to the sugar tree,

will you give me a sodapop for free?

Oh no. The internal repetition has begun. It's uncontrollable, really. If you dared venture to press play on that video, your brain is now screaming out repeatedly, "Oh my love - I know you are my Candyman" and "You are my lollipop - sugar sugar top." I think we can all see why this album went multi-platinum, what, with brilliant lyrical twists like those.

Aqua's success was intense but justifiably short-lived. Though they did continue to release music (including some uncharacteristic slow jams), the magic quickly waned and the group split in 2001. If nothing else, they deserve a joint award for most Europop-ish band member names and most accent marks used in a listing of band members: between Lene Nystrøm, Claus Noreen, René Dif, and Søren Rasted, they certainly had that edge of the market cornered.

The band's profundity measure may have been admittedly low, but their overall Eurodance schtick will forever live in our memories. Mainly because try as we might, we will never, ever be able to get these songs out of our heads.

*I will admit, however, that in their first big European single "Roses are Red" I really enjoy the way she sings "Roses are red and wiiooooolets are blue." Wiolets. I love it. It's like my IKEA assembly guide come to life.


Brandi said...

I had this CD.

The New Black said...

I don't know if I've heard any of their other songs, but I love Barbie Girl. It's on my gym playlist and always gives me a little extra energy whenever I hear it!

Mrs. Newlywed said...

I own this cd.


The Socialite said...

My favorite song was "Turn Back Time" it's kind of still on my top list! ;)

Nessa said...

...i have their CD.

...and i used to LOVE it!!!


Well, i wont say anything. ;)

Sunshinemeg said...

Only one word needs to be used for your post today. Fantastic!

Cee said...

I still have my aqua cd...sad to say sometimes I put it on in the car.

Anonymous said...

OMG yes. The first favorite-song-of-the-moment I ever had was Barbie Girl...then it was Spice Girls.

Amber (Girl with the red hair) said...

I STILL know the chorus to "Barbie Girl" off by heart.

ashley-cita said...

The movie theatre showed the Dr. Jones video before the most recent Indiana Jones flick.

Dani said...

I must say that I still enjoy listening to Barbie is so stupid but great at the same time. I would listen to this song over and over.

Jaime said...

Barbie Girl is still a big favorite in England. Weird.

Lily G. said...

Omg, I totally remember them. I was obsessed with the song Barbie Girl back in the day.

Kristin said...

Yesssssssss, I haven't thought about them in forever. Thanks for the fabulous flashback.

BZ said...

I got in trouble in 6th grade for playing Barbie Girl in class, haha.

And um...that itsy bitsy spider song is quite possibly the worst song I have ever heard.

Adventures in Newlywed said...

'I'm a Barbie Girl, in a Barbie woooorrrrld..." crap, now I'm going to sing that song ALL day!

Alya said...

At one point in time, Barbie Girl was my ultimate favorite song of all time! LOL. I also liked Dr. Jones, but not more than Barbie Girl.

em said...

funny you posted this, i read on perez that they are making a comeback.

mpkogan said...

Ikea assembly manual!! Genius!!

Hannah Miet said...

"the 90s music scene inexplicably embraced trashy Europop"--totally true. Do you think that has something to do with the fact that, also in the 90s, Eurotrash raves (and the drugs that went along with them) had their heyday in America?

la flore et la faune said...

90's really are an interesting subject. do you think they begin exactly in 1990 or a bit later, stylishly speaking ?
bises from Paris

Laina said...

I think I can still sing all of their songs...

Oddly, I was delivered by a Dr. Jones. Seriously!

Anonymous said...

I own this CD and I love it.

Yes. I'm hooked ... and that will never change.

Anonymous said...

I love AQUA and I have a huge crush on Lene Nystrom. My mp3 player is full of AQUA when I'm out running. I've been to concerts in Copenhagen and London. They are Mint.
PS they write and produce all their music unlike manufactured pop stars (kylie, boy zone etc)

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