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Aqua are reuniting and we all forgot they wrote one of the greatest pop songs ever

The story of one of pop music's great lost songs

Aqua are reuniting and we all forgot they wrote one of the greatest pop songs ever
15 September 2016

So, in this world of stupendously successful second acts (Take That), feverishly-anticipated reignitions of heroes worshipped by all (The Stone Roses) and comebacks that we didn't think we'd see before hell froze over (Guns N' Roses), comes the reunion news that literally no one was asking for: Aqua.

It's been reported that the pop act will be reuniting next year to tour their native Denmark to celebrate the twentieth anniversary of their breakthrough hit Barbie Girl, which hit number one in the UK back in 1997. Its parent album Aquarium would go on to sell an astonishing 14 million copies worldwide.

Notwithstanding this huge number of sales, it cannot be said that anyone really has any desire for this comeback - after all, to 99.9 per cent of the public, they're that one-hit wonder band that had a hit with that unbelievably annoying song.

Which is, of course, 100 per cent true. And yet, as is so often the case in the crazy world of music, dig a little deeper, and you'll begin to discover why Aqua are so much more than just this track.

For example, did you know they once performed Funiculi Funicula with Luciano Pavarotti?

As ever, the good commenters of Reddit pretty much hit the nail on the head with their reaction to this piece of footage, which we cannot believe ever actually happened.

So let's get the doll-shaped elephant in the room out of the way. Barbie Girl. How's it sounding, 20 years on?

I mean, it's clear isn't it? It's basically absolutely brilliant and also absolutely terrible.

The lyrics are - come on - excellent: the 'come on Barbie let's go party' bit is still excellent the video is excellent. There's even a few tropical house elements in there, twenty years before it took over Hype Machine - maybe they should give Jamie xx a ring and see if he's up for an 'anniversary mix'?

And yet, obviously, it's rubbish. It's a total novelty hit at which, in the unlikely event that it came on in a club, you'd roll your eyes and then dutifully sing along (and get really into it by the end).

However, the best thing about the song by far is the fact that when Mattel, the makers of Barbie, filed a lawsuit against the group for the use of double entendres in the song and the damage it might cause to their brand,  a judge refused to hear the case, ruling that "the parties are advised to chill."

That judge should probably rule on every court case in the world.


But, as we've already established, this group sold 14 million albums. There must be more to them than just this song right?

Let's go down their Spotify most-played list and see what we find.

Next up behind Barbie Girl (40m streams) is, of course, Doctor Jones (14m streams).

Let's take a look.

This is - if you can believe it - even more Europop than Barbie Girl, and it doesn't mess with the formula. A melodic verse gives way to a 'Barbie' and 'Ken'-style chat, before Lene Nystrøm takes us through the chorus, before the lyrical peak of the song in the post-chorus section: 

Ah yippie yi yu
Ah yippie yi yeah
Ah yippie yi yu ah

Is it good? Is it rubbish? Again, it's a bit of both. It's not quite as gimmicky as Barbie Girl, but then, paradoxically, that makes it not quite as interesting.

So onto the rest of the Spotify list and - I'm afraid, dear reader, it's not good news for Aqua and those of you looking forward to the middle section of their comeback setlist.

Roses Are Red (5.8m): just awful

Lollipop (Candyman) (5.1m): Christ

Cartoon Heroes (4.5m): the first 'comeback' single from their second album Aquarius, there's a reason you've never heard of this song. It's bloody awful.

My Oh My (4m): Bloody hell my ears

All You Need Is Love (2.4m): What the hell? They covered a Beatles track at a live event with Pavarotti, Enrique Iglesias, Savage Garden, Eurythmics, George Michael, Skunk Anansie and Tracy Chapman? Just how many drugs were the bookers for that gig on?

But then.

Then, there is this.

Sticking out like a supernova in a pitch black sky. Like an oasis in a desert. Like Gareth Bale in the Wales team.

Ladies and gentlemen, quite simply one of the greatest pop songs ever written.

Continuing the record of songs called Turn Back Time being amazing, this song is, well, amazing.

Featured on the soundtrack to Sliding Doors - and you show me someone who claims that that isn't a brilliant film and Gwyneth Paltrow's finest hour and I will show you a liar - Turn Back Time is a beautiful, beautiful song. Melancholic, atmospheric, melodic: the opening sounds like something from Pet Shop Boys' seminal record Behaviour. And - no word of a lie - just seconds after writing that line, Wikipedia tells me (don't think we don't do our research at ShortList) that it actually samples the Pets' 1988 number one Heart. It's no surprise: class will out.

Meanwhile, the chorus, which mercifully - and we're not getting at you personally here René Dif - doesn't have 'Ken' ruining it with his stupid honking voice, lifts the listener to another, wistful place - exactly as the lyrics allude to.

The video even features the band recreating Sliding Doors shot-for-shot in Holborn tube station. They'd never get away with that these days what with terrorism laws would they?

The band even look cool. Even René. Even René. Seen and not heard mate, that's the lesson of the story here.

Honestly, just what a brilliant, brilliant song. And no one remembers it, which is a tragedy.

So now, as we all get together to remember Barbie Girl, let's not bother doing that, and remember Turn Back Time instead. An absolute gem of a song which, twenty years on, sounds better than ever.