The Look and their iconic sound: a tribute to Roxette
It’s hard to think of a musical act more universally beloved than Roxette.
Unlike many of their 80/90s pop contemporaries, this affection doesn’t come from any cheesiness-fuelled irony. Roxette’s music was distinct and consistently stellar. It felt like it was on another level, even if not consciously at the time.
In hindsight, it was timeless in a genre and era that – for all its many other guiltily pleasing qualities – rarely was. This is why Roxette have stood the test of times in a sincere way that goes well beyond just nostalgia and the novelty we so often associate with that time.
This is especially true for their ballads, a song form that is so hard to execute with class and without cheese. But when that’s achieved, such songs are rightfully immortalised. There might not be a single better example of this than It Must Have Been Love.
The Look is one of my earliest memories of pop music on the charts. The day I witnessed it make #1 in Australia (courtesy of Sunday Morning’s Video Hits countdown), we went on a family trip to Pipeworks – an outer suburban Melbourne marketplace-meets-carnival of sorts. The sort of retail mongrel that has both everything and nothing.
The trip and its associated musical milestone are extra memorable for me because that day Mum sponsored me get my own ‘the look’ by way of a white ‘Australia’ jumper that had little cartoon koalas crawling all over the letters. I was only 7 and I really did think it was the shiz. It’s exactly the type of fodder that was the bread and butter of Pipeworks’ retailers.
Beyond the jumper, it’s also probably etched into my brain because from that day on Roxette’s music has been a cherished mainstay.
Nowadays, ballads seem to be the side of Roxette most often showcased. And deservedly so. Though their sad songs alone don’t quite show the full breadth of their talent and unique style.
It was their impossibly-catchy rock-infused numbers that I enjoyed most of all. The guitar riffs on the Look along with those na-na-na-na’s are still iconic. Then there’s Joyride – arguably their finest song of all that still has the smoothest beat and managed to integrate a whistle sequence without it being gimmicky.
Both those songs shared vocals between Marie and Per, yet the voice you remember most is Marie’s. Impossibly powerful and smooth all at once. It carried real emotion and tenderness, like all the best singers.
Take what might just be my favourite Roxette moment of all, when the ‘every time I see you …’ kicks in to big-up the otherwise slow-song sadness of Fading Like a Flower. They clearly knew the need for some power in a ballad and Marie brought it every damn time.
Because many people’s expectations of pop music are lower, it conversely sets a higher bar for what’s considered ‘quality’. It’s grossly unfair, but that only makes the universal appreciation of Roxette even more impressive. It’s testament to the calibre of their song writing and music.
They had four #1 hits in the US alone, which is more than any other European act ever outside of Britain – even U2 or their Swedish pop-predecessors, Abba. They kicked off a new post-Abba contemporary era in Swedish pop music excellence and worldwide domination. A trail that continued with Ace of Base and is still being blazed until this very day, thanks to Max Martin’s production work and even the likes of Lykke Li.
It’s always sad when one of your favourite childhood musicians dies. Even though we don’t ‘know them’ they played such an omnipresent and evolutionary role in our formative years. Their music can jog memories and feelings, maybe only equalled by smell.
Sad as it is – both that they died and the feeling of a kind-of life chapter somehow (but never really) closing, it feels like an important opportunity to reflect on just how much joy and psychological memorabilia they helped us collect over the years.
Ps. I’d also like to give Marie and Per an additional shout out for being ahead of their time on the gender equality front. Beyond sharing song writing and singing duties, this also extended to their haircuts. They really didn’t a miss a beat.