“I believe when you do something that’s really special, there will always be people who love you and people who hate you. The worst would be if people didn’t even care,” Søren Rasted tells HollywoodLife as he, Lene Nystrøm, and René Dif – aka the dance-pop dynamos Aqua – discuss the special 25th Anniversary re-issue of their debut album, Aquarium. When the Danish-Norwegian group first made a splash in 1997, it was less of a breakthrough and more of a tsunami, thanks to their song, “Barbie Girl.”
With an infectious Eurodance beat, an undeniable earworm for a chorus, and a charismatic back-and-forth from the heavenly Lene and the gruff but debonaire René, the song blew up, topping charts across the world (while reaching No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 here in the U.S.) In the years following the group’s success, there was a “Barbie Girl” backlash, with Rolling Stone readers naming it “the worst song of the Nineties” in a 2011 poll.
Yet, a quarter-of-a-century after that auspicious debut, the band seems vindicated. Not only has “Barbiecore” become en vogue in 2022, and the Greta Gerwig-directed, Margot Robbie-starring Barbie stands as one of the most awaited movies of next year, but the message at the heart of “Barbie Girl” – that it’s okay to be the person you are – echoes throughout GenZ/Millennial social media.
This isn’t to say that the band has completely ignored the haters – nor do they completely disagree. “In some ways, [that R.S. poll] was a good thing to us,” says Søren. “Yes, we took it as a huge compliment,” Lene. “It is an annoying song, I know,” added Søren with a laugh.
“[‘Barbie Girl’] sticks to your brain, and the kids wanted to hear it over and over again, and you can’t really escape from it,” says Lene. “We one stood in front of a journalist who was really aggressive, and he said, ‘do you feel like this music is making people more stupid than they are,’ and I remember answering that if he wanted to call 25 million people stupid, that’s on you and then we left [laughs]. When something becomes so popular, there will be people hating it too.”
“I think, at the time,” she adds, “Barbie was already a sexual object in some way. But that might have turned around today and become an image of a strong independent woman who is able to do it all on her own and who is not dependent on Ken. They managed to turn it around somehow.”
The 25th anniversary of Aquarium may also help turn around Aqua’s legacy in the United States. The U.S. may primarily know the group for “Barbie Girl,” but Aqua has scored chart-topping and Top 10 hits with their follow-up singles. When asked what songs fans — who ordered either the pink or white-colored vinyl pressing of Aquarium – should listen to with this new re-release, Rene told HollywoodLife, “I definitely think they should check out ‘Doctor Jones.'”
“Yeah that was the problem in the U.S.,” adds Søren. The second single was ‘Lollipop (Candyman),’ and it didn’t really work in the U.S. In all other countries, ‘Doctor Jones,’ ‘Turn Back Time,’ ‘Roses Are Red,’ and ‘My Oh My’ had been singles and worked really well, so I think they should check out those tracks.”
There is also something nice about putting on an entire album from beginning to end and really listen to it,” adds Lene. “People tend to just shuffle through music, and sometimes that’s a shame. It is very cozy with the vinyl and listening to it all, I believe.”
It seems that the re-issue of Aquarium has arrived at the right time. For fans who experience Aqua’s breakthrough firsthand, the re-issue is a helpful reminder of their pop-music prowess. For those who weren’t around in the late-90s, this is a much-needed burst of happiness.
“If you think about how the world looks today, I think a lot of people could use a little uplifting pop music during all the crazy things happening around the world right now,” says Rene. “When we first began releasing music it was a completely different time; the music was darker, there were a lot of guitars, and it just wasn’t as pop as we were. You don’t have to think very much about what you listen to, it’s more an energy. I think this could be some of the reasons why people keep loving the music [in Aquarium]. And then the lyrics — [these] are just very well-written pop songs.”
The fans seem to agree. Though the band has undergone a hiatus or two in its 25-year history, demand for their brand of music keeps bringing them back. Plus, it’s surprising who exactly is an Aqua-holic. “Every time we have a concert I see people with heavy metal t-shirts,” says Søren. “I don’t know if they’re there because they love the music or maybe because they have a girlfriend who does [laughs].”
“I think it’s the way we perform,” suggests Lene. “The sound becomes a bit harder — we go beyond the stage somehow. So even though you might not go home and listen to Aqua, you find it nice at the live shows because of the energy we put out there.”
“It’s difficult to say for us,” says Søren. “I think the live thing is something else that can’t really be compared to listening to the music. You can enjoy watching a pop band our caliber but not really enjoy the music as such.”
“I think the full experience of a band is firstly met after seeing them live,” says Lene. “There are many bands you don’t really like when listening to the music but where it totally changed when you see them live. The ‘wow, okay, now I get it’ feeling.”
And what would 1997-era Aqua say to their 2022 counterparts, knowing they were inspiring that feeling twenty-five years after their breakthrough? “I would say congratulations, give myself a hug and tell myself that I still looked good,” says Lene. “It never helps regretting stuff, so I never did that. It’s a waste of time.”
“We have just been lucky all the way, and we have really made some right decisions along the way,” says Rene. “I wouldn’t have believed it if I was told we would be where we are today 25 years later. And I don’t think it would have been healthy to know. I think you would stress yourself out about how to get to that point and make a lot of bad decisions on the way. So, I think what we did was just targeting what we believed was the right things, but I would have found it to be surreal at the time, and it wouldn’t have been fun to know what would happen in the future at all.”
Worrying about the future isn’t in the cards for Aqua, but the band did share what they think Aquarium’s legacy would be like, once the great, grand history book of music is written. “Just the fact that we’re still sitting here I find pretty crazy,” admits Søren when thinking back on 25 years of Aqua.
“They will probably write that [Aquarium] was a hopelessly annoying album,” Lene says with a laugh, “but that it was well-written.”
“Maybe it will say that it was one of the bands who managed to keep their careers rolling for more than 30 or 35 years and especially within pop music which tends to change all the time,” contemplates Rene. “Maybe it’s random and extremely lucky that the young generation suddenly taps into the music on TikTok and such, but it’s also our hard work that pays off, I’m sure. It’s not only fun and partying, but it also takes a lot of hard work.”
“But it will surely depend on where this history book is written,” says Søren. “I believe the U.S. would focus solely on ‘Barbie Girl’ whereas big parts of the rest of the world would focus on a lot of our music.”
“But maybe we’re not done with the U.S. yet,” suggests Rene. “Maybe we can still convince them of other songs than ‘Barbie Girl’?”
Click here for more information about Aqua’s 25th re-issue of Aquarium