In Defense of Aqua
Yes, the band: Aqua... A long discourse on music that's really just a "Fuck You" to all of my friends who give me that "If it ain't hardcore, it's shit." attitude.
People like to point out an apparent discrepancy in my tastes of music. I, like many people, enjoy a variety of kinds of music and artists. The bulk, pillar or vein though is relatively hard and off beat music. As a generality, I say that I like punk music and variations of it. Even the non-punk stuff tends to feel related to it; pre-punk rock'n'roll bands like the Rolling Stones and Lou Reed, milder off beat artists such as The Cure and Tori Amos, and aggressive bands in other genres and sub-genres like Public Enemy or The Pogues. But I also like (and defend) the band Aqua.
Aqua was a Euro-pop/dance act out of Denmark that had the most highly refined, bitterly sweet, peppy sound that could be generated in the late 90's. It was audio cotton candy. They have a line up of 2 technicians, a super-girly singer and a throaty rapper. I say "Technicians" because they are completely synthetic. Their music is generated from drum machines, synthesizers and sampling. They are as far from the raw, rootsy, surliness of the post-hardcore I usually hail to when someone asks "So what are your favorite bands?"
I first heard Aqua like so many Americans when their second single "Barbie Girl," with all of it's sickeningly sweet Euro-pop beats, strangely girly vocals and throaty white-rap hit American radio. I got a kick out of how all the little popsters loved it and it was so bubble-gum you could puke, but yet if you listened to it it was just a little bit evil. In fact Mattel tried to sue them over it. But when they stopped playing it I stopped listening.
Then I was working for a toy company that was marketing yoyos to kids in malls throughout Japan and now into the States and I was put on tour for 2 weeks with a girl that used a different cut off the album. Same uber-pop sound. Plus other friends who worked for the company had been using other cuts off the album. I don't know if they had a licensing deal or if they were just using it because they were coming out of Japan where the band was huge, but I ended up listening to at least 4 different songs off the album.
With any act, I can separate the music from the social commentary, from the manufactured image, from the statements, from the art, from the picture of a hot chick on an album cover. I don't crap on or elevate any one of them because of any of the others and everything aside, Aqua did have some catchy little melodies. Dick Clarke would be proud.
Then one day in 1998 I was in San Francisco loading up on used records at a giant record store in Berkley and there was Aqua's first album "Aquarium". I went ahead and picked it up. Checking out I felt like a kid buying rubbers or tampons who stocked his basket with other shit to draw attention away from that one item… Iggy Pop, Lou Reed/John Cale, Korn, Aqua,--
At first I couldn't listen to it. I would get halfway through and have to change out. Then I could get all the way through it but I'd have to chase it with the cornerstone of all noise-rock Iggy Pop's "Raw Power" or some nice hearty metal. Eventually I came to really like it and later even bought their second album when it came out.