OK, d’you know who we can all agree were terrible? Aqua, that’s who. “Barbie Girl”. “Doctor Jones”. The sub-Roxette ballad one… They were unmitigated shite, weren’t they? And I, as a man of taste (if not wealth), took great pleasure in despising them. Nasty, cheap, synthetic rubbish. Pah.
But then they released “Cartoon Heroes”… and, well, it wasn’t so very awful. Preposterous, yes. Marred by big baldy bloke’s sub-Einar honking (is it the law that Scandi bands include a ‘comedy’ chap making noises only a mother seal could love?). But pretty damn catchy – and in less herpes-like, “get it gone!” fashion than their previous hits. I must admit, I own a copy. (This may well not surprise you.)
After that, I didn’t hear anything more of them. And I can’t say I was disappointed. I happily let them slide out of my consciousness, along with Whigfield, The Vengaboys and The Fast Food Rockers.
A few years later (2003 to be exact), I started hearing rumours of a solo single from Lene Nystrøm, Aqua’s erstwhile singer. Or Lene, as her marketing people now wished her – somewhat optimistically – to be known. Tsk. Even Kylie needed a couple of albums before dropping the Minogue. (That is not a euphemism. Although it’d make a great one. “Come on girls! Drop your Minogue, pull on your gold-lamé hotpants, let’s BOOGIE!”) But I digress…
Apparently, the song wasn’t half bad. Intrigued, I sought it out. And kind of loved it. Curse you, stupid-but-clever Danish pop lady! Who was expecting you to come up with a funny, raunchy call to sexual-empowerment arms? A song that pissed all over the meaningless Girl Power slurry the now-defunct Spice Girls had produced. (Zig-a-zig-arse.) An equal opportunities, tits-out, balls-out slammer of a track in the tradition of all those fab shouty, cheerleader-y songs of yore: Toni Basil’s “Mickey”, Shampoo’s “Viva La Megababes”, Republica’s “Drop Dead Gorgeous”, Daphne & Celeste’s “Ooh Stick You”…
Weirdly, though, what it has always reminded me of more – lyrically at least – is Billy Bragg. Billy Bragg at his most gauche, admittedly. The Billy Bragg of “Sexuality”. What a cringeable record that is, isn’t it? Well-meaning, but so trite lyrically as to border on offensive: “And just because you’re gay, I won’t turn you away…” Gee thanks, Billy. What does that even mean in the context of the rest of the song?! You contemplating shagging me? I doubt it. And yes, I’m sure we could find some common ground. As long as you put that bloody football away.
In contrast, how much more free-and-easy with the concept of sexuality does Lene sound?
Ooh, straight or gay
You swing it either way
You’ve got to whip it up
Into a frenzy
Ooh ooh, it’s what you feel
Get the flesh out for real
Flash it, it’s no big deal
You tell ‘em, girl! She doesn’t care; she just knows everyone should be free to enjoy themselves in the way that comes naturally to them. Oh, and how good is the line:
Handcuff up your boss, yeah, and be rough
He might like it, like it
He’ll get a rise, you’ll get a raise
Don’t tell his wife about it…
I wish I could be that witty… Ladies and gentlemen, thank you – as ever – for humouring me. Here is the lovely Lene with “It’s Your Duty”.