Aquarium, 25 years on. We spoke to the iconic Danish-Norwegian pop group Aqua about the legacy of ‘Barbie Girl’ and if it would have had the same success if released today. The doll-centered storyline and kitschy music video perfectly matched the playful aesthetic of the 90’s. The single raced to the top of the charts worldwide and became an instant classic. Even though the song sounded tailor-made for children, the lyrics told a different story, which infuriated parents everywhere. Nonetheless, the plastic fantastic song catapulted Aqua into the public consciousness.
In celebration of their 25th anniversary for their debut album Aquarium, the album will be re-released digitally and on vinyl in true Barbie Girl fashion featuring white and pink colourways.
Barbie Girl’ is 25 years old. Are your fans the same ones who bought your album 25 years ago or do you have a new audience now?
Lene: We have a new audience now.
Rene: We have gotten so many new young fans and it actually surprises me. I remember the first time we performed again after a long break that I looked out in the audience to see if it was the old fans still standing there just some years older – and luckily, they’re still there but I must say, it is teenagers in the front of the shows now.
Søren: There is always a difference in playing our own concerts and playing festivals. We’ve just been to Canada where we played our own concert where it’s also very mixed which I think is surprising.
Rene: I don’t think there’s many people our age who are willing to stand in the front waiting for the concert for 6-7 hours before and there are still a lot of fans doing that – that is definitely the younger ones.
Lene: We have so many different types of fans. Such colorful people it’s amazing.
In the UK people will often reference a Manchester sound or a Glasgow sound etc. Being from Denmark and Norway, how would you describe the Scandinavian sound, and do you feel as though you fit in with this?
Søren: I believe you can hear that our music is Scandinavian. It has a slightly different sound. But I believe it has something to do with songwriting. I can’t really pinpoint one thing, but I think it’s recognizable when songs have been written in the Nordics.
Lene: I think there’s something about the four seasons and the darkness we have in the winter in the Nordics. It is so difficult to say but a lot of great pop music is written in Scandinavia, and it could have something to do with the darkness.
Søren: What characterizes Nordic or Scandinavian pop music is that we write happy lyrics on minor chorus. It’s a tradition we have. Of course some people do it in England or other places as well but it’s a Nordic thing is what I’ve experienced. But pop is difficult and more complex to define in the same way you do with rock music for instance.
Was Barbie Girl right for the time or do you think if you first released the single in 2022 it would have had the same success?
Søren: I believe it would have but it probably had to be produced in a different way. There is so much high-hat in 90’s productions.
Lene: We also talked about how music follows the world economy. It usually shifts every 7 or 10 years and when we came out, I believe it was a lucky time and that we hit spot on a period where people were hungry for happy and easy pop music after a lot of grunge. We ended up being a part of the period with Spicy Girls and a lot of others.
Søren: I also think you wouldn’t have written it just as sexual today.
Lene: Oh Søren but that is all of our songs (laughing)
Søren: Yes, but the time is more, how do you say it, nice.
Your song Turn Back Time featured on the soundtrack for the film Sliding Doors. Have you ever had a sliding doors moment where if you had made a different choice, you would have not been in the band? What career path might you have chosen?
Lene: I was just finishing guide school at Mallorca meanwhile we were in the studio with Aqua but I had already paid for this guide school, so I went there for 3 months and then I came home and got offered a really nice job. So, I probably would have been in the traveling business if the boys had not hold me tight to the group.
Rene: I don’t know what I would have done. I’m convinced it would have been something with music, but I don’t know what it would have been. At that time, it wasn’t as popular with DJ’s as it suddenly became but if it was maybe I could have been a DJ.
Søren: The sliding doors moments is every day really. We could have been a much cooler band (laughing).
Rene: That’s impossible (laughing). But every day defines your life. In the beginning, when we were 4, I remember us sitting together making the large decisions and thinking ‘if I was to make this decision on my own it would really require balls’. But we did it together and we stuck together and every time we made a decision which seemed crazy it felt good.
Søren: I don’t know what I would have done if it wasn’t music. Maybe I would have been a great salesman.
With so many programs, dramas, and films being made in their original language, for example, Parasite by Korean director Bong Joon-ho. What is it that makes you choose to not release music in your first language? Do you feel as though songs not being recorded in English would be a barrier to success?
Søren: To be honest, Lene is from Norway, and Rene and I are from Denmark. We didn’t even talk about doing it any other way than in English. From the beginning we dreamed of crossing borders.
Lene: The English language just sounds so amazing and provides different opportunities. You can write in a completely different way.
Rene: Nowadays you find English words in close to all languages so doing our music in that language was never really a question.
What’s next for Aqua?
Søren: We have a lot of things in the pipeline at the moment, but we can’t really say that much.
Lene: And we’re still performing around the world all the time!
Where can fans get a hold of the 25th anniversary iconic Barbie pink and white vinyl?
Rene: The vinyl can be bought both online but also in local vinyl stores all over the world.
At OffTheRails we truly celebrate being unapologetically authentic and going against the norms. Something we always ask is what is the most OffTheRails thing that you have done?
Lene: It’s a huge question! We have performed in 5 different countries in 24 hours once. That is pretty crazy.
Rene: That’s true. We woke up in Madrid and ended up back home in Copenhagen.