Aqua is a Danish-Norwegian dance-pop group, best known for their 1997 breakthrough single "Barbie Girl". The group formed in 1996 and achieved huge success across the globe in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The group managed to top the UK Singles Chart with their first three singles. The group released two albums: Aquarium in 1997 and Aquarius in 2000, before splitting up in July 2001.
Beginnings as Joyspeed (1989--1995)
Aqua's history together dates back to 1989. They were originally called Joyspeed. Claus Norreen and Søren Rasted met in 1989, and throughout the early 1990s, they started writing songs together.
Aquarium and international breakthrough (1996--99)
With a new manager and no record deal, the group started over, and began to develop their famous bubblegum pop sound. The four began to produce and write melodic, catchy European pop songs, attracting the attention of major label Universal Music Denmark. They renamed themselves Aqua, choosing the name seen on a poster for an aquarium in their dressing room, and eventually accepted Universal Music Denmark's offer of a recording contract in 1996. The group's first release under their new name was "Roses Are Red", a dance song with a distinct pop sound. It was released in Denmark in September 1996, and was expected to break into the Danish top ten.
Aqua released their debut album Aquarium in Denmark on March 26, 1997. The album contained 11 tracks, including their first two singles and their then upcoming third single "Barbie Girl". Universal Music Group had by now begun to market the group in other countries, releasing "Roses Are Red" in Japan in February 1997 and in various countries across Europe in late 1996. The single had proven popular everywhere it was sold, convincing Universal that the group should not just focus on the Danish market, but instead on the general European market.
Aqua released their third single "Barbie Girl" in May 1997. The song, at first glance, appears to be about the popular children's doll Barbie. However, at second glance, the song contains several sexual overtones, such as " You can brush my hair, undress me everywhere," "You can touch, you can play," "and "Kiss me here, touch me there, hanky-panky". This caused some controversy upon its release in Denmark, but despite the controversy and perhaps partly due to it, it still sold well and easily made number one in the charts. The song was so popular that it was played regularly on radio stations which didn't air dance music. Universal Music decided to ignore complaints about the double meanings in "Barbie Girl", and successfully released the single across the world in September 1997 and October 1997. The release was highly successful, making number one in the United Kingdom for four weeks, in Australia for three weeks, and even managing to make the top ten of the Billboard Hot 100, something rarely achieved at the time by European pop acts. The song and group became a household name overnight, but to most of the world were instantly written off as a one-hit wonder. The double meanings in "Barbie Girl" caused the expected controversy, with many complaints aimed at Universal for releasing the track.
Mattel, also filed a lawsuit against the group's record label (Mattel, Inc. v. MCA Records, 296 F.3d 894 (9th Cir. 2002)), claiming that the song had damaged the reputation of the Barbie brand. Judge Alex Kozinski writing for the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld the district court finding the use of Mattel's trademark in "Barbie Girl" fell within the noncommercial use exemption to the Federal Trademark Dilution Act. Judge Kozinski concluded his opinion by writing, "The parties are advised to chill."
Aqua were relatively quiet during 1999, deciding to concentrate on recording Aquarius. According to promotional interviews with the group, over 30 songs were recorded for the album, although eventually only twelve made it onto the final version. The group released their second album Aquarius in February 2000. The album instantly proved popular with their fan base, despite some changes to their sound. Unlike Aquarium, the Aquarius album didn't just follow one formula, and instead contained several different musical styles. Tracks such as "Cartoon Heroes" and "Bumble Bees" preserved the pop sound of their debut album. The single "Cartoon Heroes" was released along with the album. The song featured some "anthemic" tones, but kept most of the features that had made Aquarium so successful.