The year was 1989. I was 12. I wore Revlon Pink Foil lipstick and favored a hairstyle that involved spraying the front half of my hair until it was shellacked into a wall that climbed off my forehead and resisted all weather types. My jeans were French-rolled (or pegged, if you were from the Midwest). I had a neon blue and yellow Columbia windbreaker and a Vuarnet t-shirt my mom had bought me from TJ Maxx. I was in the middle school band. And I loved Roxette.
Clearly, there was something about them. Two Swedes, who may or may not have been related and/or in a relationship. Per Gessle, former frontman for the enduring Swedish supergroup, Gyllene Tider, in black leather and a face like a man with lockjaw, on guitar. Marie Fredriksson, whose hair could have lit up New York City during a blackout, on vocals. Popularized in the U.S. by an American exchange student living in Sweden whose only customs declaration when he returned home was a cassette of "Look Sharp!". Their goal: to best ABBA as the number-one Swedish male-female group to ever sing in English. We were all charmed.
I wouldn't go so far as to say that "Look Sharp!" and its follow-up, 1991's "Joyride," changed my life, but I was unabashedly obsessed with them. Despite their ubiquitous presence on the airwaves, I thought of them as my find, an "obscure" pop duo who had managed to sneak their clever little lyrics about men who hit like hammers and girls who tasted like raindrops into the hearts of every pre-pubescent female across the country. For a girl who purposely chose the B-side to every pop single as her favorite song-of-the-month, Roxette was perfectly bad. The mangled English metaphors, the bland lyrics hidden by lush production and catchy hooks, the pop-rock hair that hinted at what Bon Jovi might look like if they cleaned up. Roxette were my Swedish penpals, educating me on the Big Three topics of American pop songwriting: making it on my own, losing love, and breaking up. When I slow-danced to "Listen to Your Heart" with a budding cellist named Bill at the spring 7th-grade formal, I pretty much thought life, or music, couldn't get any better than that.
I've come to terms now with the fact that Roxette, in retrospect, comes off as an only slightly more intelligent version of Ace of Base. A sample of Roxette's songwriting skillz, taken from the title-track to "Joyride":
"she has a train going downtown,
she's got a club on the moon
and she's telling all her secrets
in a wonderful balloon."
Er. Is Per really a 10 year-old girl with imaginary friends? Because this sounds a lot like my fifth-grade diary. And the secret I was telling in my wonderful balloon four years later was that I was a freshman in high school when this song came out, and I knew every word. Even I was aware there was something not quite right about this; I used to hide "Joyride" inside the tape cover to "Use Your Illusion I." Soon afterwards, though, I discovered classic rock (can anyone actually discover classic rock?) and, after that, it was all flannels and bandanas and Soul Asylum. So Roxette and I parted ways, with friendship and understanding and some embarrassment, just like their songs taught me, and I completely missed their MTV Unplugged spot in July of 1993 and the hit song on the "Super Mario Bros" soundtrack, not to mention their 1996 Spanish-language album, "Baladas En Espanol." And I believe I can say with some certainty that that is a good thing: a quick browse of song titles from their post-"Joyride" catalog reveals such gems as as "Ande I En Flaska (Gabba Gabba Come On Come On Karma Karma)," "Apple in the Mud," and "Make My Head Go Pop."
Longevity or quality aside, the enduring charm of Roxette's songs, if anything, is that they now seem culled from a more innocent, dreamier time. A time where prositutes could be turned into venture capitalist princesses, before Kurt Cobain bought a shotgun and 2LiveCrew made Tipper Gore spit out her coffee, before Axl Rose became a bloated recluse who practiced yoga. Per and Marie wrote catchy pop-rock songs and earnest ballads with more of an edge than anything the Goo Goo Dolls or Sugar Ray ever released ten years later. In a time where five singing pre-teen street kids from Boston were topping the charts just by swinging their arms in the air and selling sleeping bags with their likenesses on them, Roxette were the real deal: two sappy Swedes who knew how to write music that we would love for an instant and forget for a decade.
Every band, from the little-known southern Vermont heavy metal tribute band, Asian Snow Monkey, to the KISSes of the world, has and deserves its own collection of fans and fanatics. Despite the fact that yesterday I gave a soulful rendition of "It Must Have Been Love" during an afternoon karaoke session with my boyfriend's family, I wouldn't count myself as either now, as far as Roxette is concerned. Looking back, they're just a little too earnest, a little too associated with popping zits in the bathroom mirror and stuffing my bra with Kleenex during gym glass. So perhaps it's best to close with a few words from the true Roxette fans*:
-"If it weren't for them, I don't think I'd ever have come to love music the way I do now." -Chris Gilland, USA
-"I met a lot of boys and I've always been trying to find someone who had similar sense of humour or similar look [to Per]. There's no men like him, and I feel frustrated and happy in the same time. But every time I fall in love it's CRASH BOOM BANG." -Dizzy_Miss_Lizzy
-"Do you think roxette's songs, maybe from marie, gyllene ... can be a good idea to seduce someone, or while you are dancing with your couple listening it ? or roxette songs are not this kind ?" -danrox
-"Marie's face + Per's brain + Marie's body + Marie's voice + Per's Talent + Per's Money = The perfect human being!!" -arnie
-"i read in a comment that we are the craziest fans or something like that, don´t remember the words exactly, but do you really think we are the craziest fans? i think we are a little bit crazy, i mean, we have our own expressions, like "roxer", "rox on", "keep on roxin", and when you read some of the comments you see what roxette means for a lot of people here. we talk about per´s hair, about marie´s cars, about all the things we can imagine about them. for me it´s ok, it´s very fine. it makes me have a good time here. if this is to be crazy, i´d like to be crazy all my life!" -nedved
-"what is it that roxette has to do with beds??? all these videos there's bed on it. Some of them just some scenes, but THERE IS bed on it... WHy per, why marie? what's up with the beds? whats the need for a bed on your videos?any special reason? im just wondering....=)" -rox74ever
-"Dear Marie, I thank you much have us sent the mesaje of gratefulness, always in principal place of my heart, I want you much, you greeting from a distance, my dream is to go me to suecia, and to visit you, cares you much, I want you
*all quotes taken from Roxette fansites