What the Hell Happened to Aqua?

Source: YouTube
Source: YouTube

 —The year was 1997. The U.K. returned Hong Kong to the Chinese. Princess Diana died in a car accident. NASA's Pathfinder landed on Mars. And Aqua released "Barbie Girl."

The Danish-Norwegian electro-pop group's single debuted at No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100, making it the highest-charting debut ever for a new group at the time; to this day, Aqua remains the most successful Danish band of all time. The bubblegum pop song was one of the stickiest earworms ever written, and it came at the perfect time. Seventies kitsch was in full swing as '90s novelty: Flower power, lava lamps and smiley faces were at the peak of popularity, and pastel "Barbie Girl" was no exception.

Aqua's success came practically overnight, but their immense popularity disappeared almost as quickly as it appeared. What happened to the band after their hit song faded from the charts was neither plastic nor fantastic.

Source: YouTube

Aqua in the Supreme Court: One year after Aqua released "Barbie Girl," the doll's manufacturer, notoriously litigious Mattel, took legal action against the band in a lawsuit that would last five long years and go all the way to the Supreme Court. In Mattel v. MCA (MCA was Aqua's record label), Mattel sued on the grounds that Aqua's song defamed Barbie's good name and even "confused" children, according to CNN.

The lyrics in question: "I'm a blond bimbo girl, in a fantasy world / Dress me up, make it tight, I'm your dolly / You're my doll, rock 'n' roll, feel the glamor in pink / Kiss me here, touch me there, hanky panky." Mattel claimed in court that Aqua's lyrics "associate sexual and other unsavory themes with Mattel's Barbie products."

MCA countersued, and the lawsuit finally came to an end in 2002 in favor of MCA. In one of the most awesome decisions ever handed down, Circuit Judge Alex Kozinski wrote, "With fame often comes unwanted attention ... The parties are advised to chill."

But while the lawsuit was underway, Aqua faced other obstacles that led to a flopped album and a temporary hiatus.

Source: Giphy

Failed comeback: In 2000, Aqua released their sophomore album, Aquarius. It was a flop compared to their debut album, Aquarium; Aquarius peaked at No. 82 on the Billboard 200, compared to Aquarium's No. 7 ranking. Its single, "Cartoon Heroes," failed to chart at all in the U.S. The album turned out to be more than just a slump, and the band split in 2001.

"We have looked each other straight in the eye and reached the conclusion that, for the moment, the spark is missing," the band wrote in a statement, according to Billboard.

Rumor has it that the band's split actually came about because of a love triangle. Lead singer Lene Nystrøm ("Barbie") allegedly hooked up briefly with bandmate René Dif ("Ken"), then she cheated on him with their bandmate, Søren Rasted (keyboardist). Regardless of what caused the rift, Rasted and Nystrøm are married and have two kids together.

Meanwhile, each of the Aqua bandmembers pursued less than successful but very intriguing solo careers.

Source: YouTube

Lead vocalist Nystrøm released a solo album in 2003 called Play With Me, featuring the single "It's Your Duty." Neither the album nor the single charted in the U.S. She did, however, have nominal success as a songwriter in the U.K.; she penned Girls Aloud's "No Good Advice," which was a No. 2 single in that country.

Source: YouTube

Keyboardist Rasted, meanwhile, took on interesting if not commercially successful musical projects himself. He started a band called Lazyboy, which, according to last.fm, "uses spoken word trivia, self-help advice, voices of people on the street and criticism of modern society set to hip hop-esque beats in a style dubbed 'Rhythm'n'Speak' by the creators." 

Rasted narrowly avoided another lawsuit when La-Z-Boy wasn't thrilled that he'd hijacked the sofa brand's name. His band was henceforth called Lazy B. Their first album, released in 2004, had minor success with its single "Underwear Goes Inside the Pants," which charted at No. 5 in Australia.

After Lazy B, Rasted moved on to another project called Hej Matematik ("Hi Mathematics"), which consists of him and his nephew. The band is currently on tour; you can catch them at Smukfest in Copenhagen if you're so inclined.

Source: YouTube

But male vocalist Dif def takes the cake when it comes to side-projects. According to his LinkedIn page, he is the CEO and founder of a "personal snack and salsa brand company" called Diffood. His Twitter corroborates that; the cover photo is a snap of tortilla chips and dip. He also makes bracelets after he was inspired to make jewelry on a trip to the Himalayas. Last but not least, he's a life coach. (Also: Some genius made a Tumblr dedicated to GIFs of Dif.)

Source: ReneGif
Source: YouTube

Little is known about Claus Norreen, the fourth member of Aqua. His Wikipedia page says that he has a son and is separated from a Danish journalist. 

In 2007, though, Aqua embarked on a reunion tour, and in 2011, the band released their third album of original material, called Megalomania. The single off that album was "Playmate to Jesus," which Time magazine described as "some sort of outer space travel that does (or doesn't?) lead to Jesus and universal love." Neither the album nor the single charted in the U.S.

Source: YouTube

But the band is still at it. In January, Aqua released their latest single, "Back to the '80s," which Entertainment Weekly called an "audio/visual travesty." There's no word on what they've been up to since the release of that single, but based on their track record, Aqua isn't going anywhere anytime soon. Consider yourself haunted by the '90s.

Source: Giphy

How likely are you to make Mic your go-to news source?

Kate Beaudoin

Kate is a staff writer for Mic's music section. With an M.A. in journalism from NYU, she's written for Salon, NewYorkMagazine.com, and RollingStone.com. Kate hails from Montana, but eats pizza like a New Yorker—often and aggressively.

MORE FROM

7 times women in Hollywood pushed back against the pressure to lose weight

They're not here to fit any sort of body standard.

Kendrick Lamar's "Element." video shows a violent portrait of black life in America

"I done cried for this shit, might take a life for this shit/ Put the Bible down and go eye for an eye for this shit."

Nicki Minaj was given the key to Queens. These 9 verses prove she deserves it.

"A star will arise/ And she'll originate from the streets of Southside"

Here's everything you need to know for the 'Pretty Little Liars' finale tonight

Secrets abound in the 'Pretty Little Liars' season finale.

Algiers' 'The Underside of Power' is a soundtrack for every revolution — past, present and future

'Mic' talks with the experimental, Atlanta-bred group about their latest improbable fusion of industrial, punk, gospel and soul.

These are the 9 best 'America’s Got Talent' Golden Buzzer moments of all time

A look at the acts that have earned the show's distinct honor.

7 times women in Hollywood pushed back against the pressure to lose weight

They're not here to fit any sort of body standard.

Kendrick Lamar's "Element." video shows a violent portrait of black life in America

"I done cried for this shit, might take a life for this shit/ Put the Bible down and go eye for an eye for this shit."

Nicki Minaj was given the key to Queens. These 9 verses prove she deserves it.

"A star will arise/ And she'll originate from the streets of Southside"

Here's everything you need to know for the 'Pretty Little Liars' finale tonight

Secrets abound in the 'Pretty Little Liars' season finale.

Algiers' 'The Underside of Power' is a soundtrack for every revolution — past, present and future

'Mic' talks with the experimental, Atlanta-bred group about their latest improbable fusion of industrial, punk, gospel and soul.

These are the 9 best 'America’s Got Talent' Golden Buzzer moments of all time

A look at the acts that have earned the show's distinct honor.