Helium-pitched vocals and kitschy lyrics made Aqua’s “Barbie Girl” a novelty hit for the ages, and the perky euro-pop anthem, which took the world by storm in 1997, is still going strong 25 years later. The candy-colored video has amassed more than 1.1 billion views on YouTube and any conversation about Greta Gerwig’s upcoming “Barbie” movie eventually leads to the question: Will “Barbie Girl” be part of the soundtrack?
The answer to that question is no. Which isn’t surprising given that Mattel sued Aqua in the ‘90s — and lost — but it’s still disappointing for many. The Danish-Norwegian group, however, is decidedly nonplussed.
Lene Nystrøm theorizes that using “Barbie Girl” in the movie would be too on-the-nose — or, in her words, “cheese on cheese.” Søren Rasted, he of the once spiky hair, finds the whole situation amusing: “We should say we turned it down. Ryan Gosling is not good enough!” Ultimately, they’re excited for the film. “I totally understand why they didn’t use it,” Nystrøm continues, “but it’s going to bring us a lot of attention, no matter what.”
And Aqua is ready for it. The band just released a 25th anniversary edition of their debut album, “Aquarium,” on September 23 and plan to ramp up their touring schedule. And while some artists distance themselves from their past, Aqua is very comfortable with their niche in popular culture.
The Scandinavian hitmakers are proud of “Barbie Girl” and happily share an anecdote about its notoriously high pitch. “At that time you couldn’t do autotune,” Rasted explains. “So you just had to hit it.” Which didn’t go down too well with Nystrøm. “I don’t know how many headsets I smashed,” she laughs. “I was furious for months.” Eventually, the singer came around: “It made the whole track magical, but it took me a long time to admit it.”
As much as pundits have read into the lyrics of “Barbie Girl” over the years, Aqua just wanted to make a catchy song. “We had the line, ‘C’mon Barbie, let’s go party,’ and thought it was great,” Rasted confesses sheepishly. “There were a lot of headlines about plastic surgery at the time, which influenced us, but we really just wanted to make a fun song. We didn’t put that much thought into it. The hook just worked really, really well.”
From the beginning, Aqua suspected they had a hit on their hands. They just had no idea how big. “Something magical happened when ‘Barbie Girl’ came out,” Nystrøm says. “The whole world exploded overnight.” Rasted remembers when the song broke in America. “Our label sent it to Z100 in New York and the phones just lit up.”
But as much as they enjoyed the rush of global fame, there was a downside. “We weren’t prepared for all the negative reactions,” Nystrøm says, referring to the anti-feminist accusations leveled at the song. “You know in your heart what your intentions were and reading all that was a little bit tough to swallow.”
She also vividly remembers the lawsuit Mattel brought against the band, which was eventually dismissed. “You had to watch what you were saying all the time, sometimes our words were twisted.”
While Aqua is remarkably candid about their brief stint at the top, they do take umbrage at being labeled one-hit wonders. “In the U.K., ‘Doctor Jones’ and ‘Turn Back Time’ also went No. 1,” Rene Dif, the band’s third member, recalls. “It showed that we were not one-hit wonders, which they were focusing on a lot back then.” However, he tends to let the description slide. “When you try to say, ‘No, I’m not a one-hit wonder,’ it makes you sound pretty weird!”
What was the secret of their success? Dif puts it down to the duet structure of the songs, with him and Nystrøm trading lines, and the iconic videos, which were presented in “Aquascope.” Rasted agrees, theorizing that good songs and memorable videos made them “larger than life.”
That cartoonish quality combined with the fact that the ‘90s are hot again make Aqua simultaneously very much of their era and strangely timeless. Just don’t expect them to release new music any time soon. “We get in the studio every once in a while,” Nystrøm says. “We recorded a lot during covid and made some amazing tunes, but we haven’t finished anything.”
Rasted admits that releasing an album simply isn’t a priority for the group. “The main thing for us is live gigs,” he says. “Releasing a track here and there would just be icing on the cake.”
In the meantime, they will keep on playing their hits. “’Aquarium’ became the soundtrack for a lot of people’s youth,” offers Rasted.
Adds Nystrøm: “A good melody never dies, it just keeps on giving. And ‘Barbie Girl’ is a perfect example of that.”