To mark the momentous 25th anniversary of Aqua's once-inescapable pop earworm "Barbie Girl," Rolling Stone spoke with the remaining members of Danish pop group about their unexpected one hit wonderdom. It's a surprisingly earnest interview; apparently they're still making music, even after two of them got married and divorced and now co-parent their kids from separate homes in the same building.
One thing I was surprised to learn about was that Mattel actually sued the band's label for copyright infringement — and they were not letting up:
The CD booklet for Aqua's album Aquarium included this sentence: "The song 'Barbie Girl' is a social comment and was not created or approved by the makers of the doll." This wasn't nearly enough to appease Mattel, and they filed a lawsuit against MCA in 2000.
Russell Frackman (lawyer): The lawsuit had 11 different claims. They pretty much threw the kitchen sink at us. They all boiled down essentially, in one way or another, to trademark infringement. They even claimed that they infringed on what they called "Barbie Pink."
Dif: The first thing I thought was, "Wow, the biggest toy company in the world is going after the little band from Denmark?"
Nystrøm: I thought it was hilarious, to be honest. I have to say, only in America. They didn't sue us. They sued our label. For a long time, we couldn't talk about it. If we were interviewed, we couldn't speak about it. There were a lot of hassles around it, bit it was also hilarious. And it was a free commercial on both sides, for Mattel and for us.
Frackman: I felt that Mattel had a weak case. My view was reinforced when I learned more about Barbie's background. Barbie began her life as a German doll known as Lilli. And Lilli was a plaything for adult men, so her background was not pristine. It also became very clear that Barbie had been represented in books and other media, even in recordings prior to "Barbie Girl," as representing a certain type of person. She became an icon standing for a certain type of person. That led to the major defenses in the case, which were essentially First Amendment defenses.
The judge in the lawsuit ultimately ruled that, "The parties are advised to chill."
'People Probably Want to Kill Us': The Oral History of Aqua's 'Barbie Girl' [Andy Greene / Rolling Stone]