Pop: It's all over, Barbie

Aqua flew a hundred journalists to Copenhagen so they could experience them live. Why? Because they know the game is up.

Fiona Sturges
Thursday 17 September 1998 23:02 BST

"ASK THEM if they take drugs," whispered the hack next to me as an imperious record company executive ordered us to "Stop talking. Let's have one question at a time". But just as we began to muster the confidence to ask a suitably probing question, the tacky Euro-popsters Aqua were hastily awarded a prize - we never discovered what for - and swiftly ushered out of the room.

The question "what for?" was on all our lips for the duration of this most extravagant press junket. When a band hauls 100 British journalists overseas, you can usually guarantee that they have got something big to promote. But according to Aqua's publicists, we were invited to Copenhagen simply because the band wanted to "give something back to those who had supported them" and enable us to "experience" Aqua live.

You can't have missed Aqua's rise to superstardom. These sugar-coated Scandinavians, led by super-trendy singer Lene and booming rapper Rene, captured the imagination of millions of pre-teens last year, driving the rest of us insane, with the relentlessly catchy "Barbie Girl", a happy- clappy and utterly trashy Euro-pop satire on those ubiquitous playthings, Ken and Barbie. The song elicited such outrage from Barbie doll manufacturers that they took Aqua's label to court claiming unwarranted damage to their product's squeaky-clean image. Aqua's album, Aquarium, containing 12 songs fashioned with the same Barbie formula - chirpy vocals, tinny techno, repetitive choruses - has sold 12 million copies worldwide.

But what with "Barbie Girl" being branded by HMV's customers as the most irritating pop song of all time, their record company knew it would take more than just a free drink to get us there. We were shamelessly wooed by the promise of a private jet adorned with the Aqua insignia, an audience with the band and a depraved night in foreign climes. As it transpired, the "private jet" was a British Airways aeroplane with a giant sticker slapped on to the tail, and the audience with the band was a five-minute press conference with a hasty handshake at the end.

You couldn't help but feel sympathy for Steve and Kev, a pair of genuine Aqua fans, who, having won a competition on MTV to fly to Copenhagen with the band, found themselves on a hand-me-down BA plane with one hundred disorderly hacks. Though they put on a brave face for most of it, at the end of the scandalously brief "meet'n'greet", they were somewhat incensed.

"We were promised 12 hours with the band and we have had 7 minutes so far," declared Kev. "This lot couldn't organise a piss-up in a brewery."

Following in the footsteps of their predecessors, 2 Unlimited and Whigfield, Aqua have displayed all the classic characteristics of the here-today- gone-tomorrow teen pop band. They project a clean-cut cartoon-like image for the parents and underpinned it with a hint of naughtiness to entice the kids. They have recognised the value of repetition, display an irrepressible predilection for kitsch, and swell with pride at the suggestion that their music is out-and-out bubblegum schlock (though after a few too many beers, a record company representative revealed it to be a "load of bollocks").

They have played it to perfection so far, having refused to show up any potential inadequacies by playing live in Britain, doing selective interviews (we are informed in no uncertain terms that there will be no private interviews on this trip), and appearing on every possible UK pop programme to bond with their fans. And despite the efforts of the tabloids to steep them in smut - Lene was once accused of being Posh Spice's lesbian lover - their reputation has remained spotless.

But though Aqua confidently inform us during the press conference that they are currently "writing" another album due for release in the summer next year, you get the feeling that they know their number is nearly up. This at least would explain the enormous scale of our excursion.

Later on, Aqua tried to lure us into their fantastic, plastic world with fireworks, an inflatable octopus and a Peter Pan act at Copenhagen's famous Tivoli Gardens. At the start of the show, Lene bound on to the stage wearing a pair of skin-tight jeans with lasciviously located holes across her behind, shouting in Danish, "Do you want to see my arse?", while Rene gadded about in a spaceman outfit. Musically, they failed to sustain any significant presence as their set became a series of extravagant gimmicks, but Steve and Kev were entranced and rolled up their sleeves to reveal Aqua tattoos on their upper arms. When interrogated, they boasted an irony- free devotion to the band. "This trip may have been a complete shambles but I still love them," said Kev. "They're just a good laugh. And let's face it, nobody will ever forget the Barbie song."

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