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Best known for their hooky, tongue-in-cheek anthem "Barbie Girl," Denmark's Aqua rode a wave of chart success with their day-glo, bubblegum brand of dance-oriented Europop. Released in 1997, "Barbie Girl" helped land the group's debut album, Aquarium, at number one in Europe, Australia, and Canada, eventually cracking the top 10 of the Billboard 200. Their sophomore album, 2000's Aquarius, hit number one Denmark and Norway, spawning the Danish hits "Cartoon Heroes" and "Around the World." A lawsuit with Mattel over the double-entendre filled "Barbie Girl" brought more notoriety to the group before they broke up in 2001. They eventually reunited and returned to the Top Ten in Denmark with 2011's Megalomania. In an ironic twist, "Barbie Girl" returned to the charts after it was reimagined into the Nicki Minaj and Ice Spice track "Barbie World," as featured on the soundtrack to director Greta Gerwig's 2023 Barbie movie. You can trace Aqua's source back to 1989, when keyboardists, songwriters, and producers Claus Norreen and Søren Rasted were collaborating on the soundtrack to the Danish children's film, Fraekke Frida. It was during this period that they met and hired singer, rapper, and DJ René Dif for several tracks. Following the film's release, Dif happened to meet Norwegian singer Lene Grawford Nystrøm while she was performing on a cruise ship. He introduced her Norreen and Rasted and the four soon formed the band Joyspeed. In 1995, they scored a minor hit in Sweden with their single "Itzy Bitzy Spider." A dance reworking of the classic children's song, it spent one week on the lower end of the Swedish charts before falling into obscurity. Though disappointed with the song's performance, the band nonetheless forged ahead, reinventing themselves as Aqua (a name allegedly inspired by a poster featuring an aquarium that was hanging in their rehearsal space). Soon after, they secured a record contract with the Danish Universal Music and released their first single, "Roses Are Red," in September 1996. The song stayed on the charts for two months, receiving platinum status. The follow-up, "My Oh My" arrived in February 1997 and went gold in only six days; which was then the fastest-selling Danish single of all time. That March, they released their full-length debut album, Aquarium, which included the previous singles, along with the soon-to-be international hit, "Barbie Girl." Anchored by an infectious Euro-dance groove and featuring winky, double-entendre lyrics about the iconic Barbie and Ken dolls, "Barbie Girl" spent four weeks at number one in the U.K., three in Australia, and reached number seven on the Billboard Hot 100. The song lifted Aquarium to the top of the album charts across Europe and gain attention in the United States where it cracked the top 10 of the Billboard 200. Aquarium ultimately sold more than ten million copies worldwide and spawned several more singles, including "Doctor Jones" and "Turn Back Time," the latter of which was included on the soundtrack to the Gwyneth Paltrow romance Sliding Doors. In 2000, Aqua returned with their sophomore album, the Norreen and Rasted-produced Aquarius. It featured a similarly upbeat Euro-dance vibe, heralded by the lead-off single "Cartoon Heroes," which hit number one in several countries, including Denmark and Norway, and peaked at number seven in the U.K. While not quite as huge as its predecessor, Aquarius again proved popular in Europe, debuting at number one in Norway and Denmark and number two in Sweden. It also reached the top 30 in the U.K. and spent six weeks on the Billboard 200, peaking at 82. More singles followed from the album, including "Around the World" and "Bumble Bees." In December 2000, toy company Mattel (makers of the Barbie doll) filed a lawsuit against Aqua's American label MCA Records, alleging copyright and trademark infringement and claiming that the group's song "Barbie Girl" had done damage to the Barbie brand. MCA Records filed a counterclaim for defamation and moved to dismiss Mattel's complaint. On appeal in July 2002, the Ninth Circuit court dismissed the case, ruling the song was protected as a parody. Despite the lawsuit, Aqua continued to tour and perform during the trial, appearing with Safari Duo during the Eurovision Song Contest in 2001. Nonetheless, they decided to call it quits that same year. Following their split, the band members pursued their own projects. In 2003, Nystrøm hit number 30 in Denmark with her solo album, Play With Me. She also moved into songwriting, co-penning the Girls Aloud hits "You Freak Me Out" and "No Good Advice." In 2004, Rasted released the album Lazyboy TV under the alias Lazy-B. Dif also embarked on a solo career, moving into acting and releasing the songs "Let It All Out (Push It)" and "The Uhh Uhh Song." Norreen continued in music, remixing tracks under the name Danny Red. Aqua eventually reunited, headlining a 2008 tour and promoting a 2009 hits compilation, which featured "Back to the '80s," their first original song in over a decade. In 2011, they released their third album, Megalomania, which found them balancing their earlier bubblegum sound with a more sophisticated dance and electronic pop-influenced approach. Buoyed by the singles "How R U Doin?," "Playmate to Jesus," and "Like a Robot," the album hit number one in Denmark. In 2016, Norreen amicably left the group to focus on his own work. More tours followed, including a 2017 stint marking the 20th anniversary of "Barbie Girl." A standalone single, "Rookie" arrived in 2018, followed by a cover of "I Am What I Am" from the musical La Cage aux Folles released in 2021 for Copenhagen Pride celebrations. In June 2023, "Barbie Girl" was heavily sampled and reworked into the song "Barbie World" featuring Nicki Minaj and Ice Spice as part of the soundtrack to director Greta Gerwig's Barbie movie. Aqua can be heard on the song, which reached number seven on the Billboard Hot 100. The same week "Barbie World" was released, "Barbie Girl" also returned to the charts, hitting the U.K. Top 40 and going triple platinum in the United States.
© Matt Collar /TiVo


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