On the front page of USA Today, Lady Gaga’s new album is described as a throwback to the 80s. Sure, that’s a fair description. We’ve all heard the obvious Madonna comparisons and there’s certainly some classic Whitney influence there, too. But, what about the often neglected music of the 90s?
Gaga’s most obvious nod to the 90s comes in “Alejandro,” which all but samples the breezy beat and melody of Ace of Base’s “Don’t Turn Around”. (The influence can especially be heard in the original demo of the song).
However, it’s another group from the 90s that inspired me to write this post: Aqua. Yes, they’re the cheesy pop group known for “Barbie Girl.” Yes, I was one of the people who bought the entire album. Yes, I listened to it again the other day—and it still sounds pretty good. Looking beyond the novelty of “Barbie Girl” and their ridiculous, cartoon-esque image, a lot of the album still holds up. I haven’t listened to the album in well over a decade and I may be suffering from a serious case of nostalgia, but I still remember the lyrics and melodies to many of the songs. That’s got to say something, right?
While listening to “Aquarium,” I couldn’t help but think of Gaga. For example, in “Roses are Red” the catchiest part of the song is the repetition of “Ah di da di mud, dum di da di da.” Gaga’s relied on similar nonsensical warbling, like “Rah rah ah ah ah ro ma ro ma ma,” for the hooks of some of her biggest hits. In Aqua songs like “Doctor Jones” (which also has an insanely catchy repetition of “Aa yippie ya oo aa yippie ya yea”) and “Lollipop (Candyman)” the back and forth between the bouncy female voice and deep, auto-tuned male voice, evoke Gaga’s “Monster” and “Starstruck.” Beyond these similarities, the song structures and soaring, melodic choruses are very Gaga-esque. It leads me to question… could Gaga also have been the proud owner of the “Aquarium” album back in the day?
No, I didn’t just make a semi-ridiculous post about similarities that may or may not exist between Lady Gaga and one-hit-wonders Aqua. Since “The Fame,” Gaga’s taken her 90s influence in a darker, more industrial direction. On “Born This Way,” the sound is less like the (cheesy) pop of Ace of Base and Aqua, and more like the house hits of the early 90s. This sound can especially be heard on tracks like “Marry the Night” and “Scheiße,” which recall the booming vocals and heavy dance beats of La Bouche’s “Be My Lover” and Snap!’s “Rhythm is a Dancer.”
However, Lady Gaga’s not the only one bringing the 90s back. Jason Derülo’s new single, “Don’t Wanna Go Home” literally samples the 90s house classic “Show Me Love” by Robin S., which was also recently used by Cheryl Cole in a performance last year.
While artists have been borrowing from the 80s for years, are the sounds from the 90s now old (and thus cool) enough to bring back? As the electropop formula is getting a bit stale, I can definitely see the heavier beats and stronger vocals of house music making a comeback within the next few years. Will it be the next big trend on pop radio? Maybe—it’s certainly a good sign when artists like Gaga (and even Derülo) are incorporating it in their music. However, I think it will take a new artist who fully commits to the sound to bring it back. Think, Lady Gaga circa 2008 with electropop/dance music…