A*Teens – Upside Down

Released: 14th May 2001

Writers: Gustav Jonsson / Marcus Sepehrmanesh / Tommy Tysper

Peak position: #10

Chart run: 10-17-21-31-47-57-72
Billboard Hot 100 chart run: 93-93-100

The A*Teens are a fascinating case of a pop act who only ever enjoyed limited success in the UK and for all intents and purposes would be considered little more than a footnote of the ‘90s – and only then in relation to the resurgence in ABBA’s popularity. However, looking beyond our shores, the A*Teens actually enjoyed a healthy career spanning five years, three and a half albums and a greatest hits compilation. Following their debut, the group rapidly shed their origins as an ABBA tribute to deliver some brilliant pop songs in their own right. And yet, we saw only a glimpse of their brilliance. That being said, Upside Down does so happen to be one of their very best.

Having toured extensively in support of The ABBA Generation, the A*Teens had garnered success in America and created a platform from which they could launch their next album. Conveniently this also coincided with the chart dominance of Cheiron Studios; as such, the A*Teens were perfectly primed to take advantage of this piqued interest in Swedepop, having secured a foot in the door. For their second album, the group weren’t going to rely on another collection of ABBA covers. Instead, they planned to make waves (and an identity) of their own. In that respect Upside Down was the perfect song to open phase two of the group’s career.

The one thing that worked about the A*Teens post-The ABBA Generation was that almost everything they recorded had a consistent authenticity that evaded most of our local pop acts. Upside Down feels precisely like the sort of a song that a quartet of teenagers would be singing; it’s written in such a way that even where its lyrics feel a bit corny, they’re delivered with an exuberance and energy that sells them beyond doubt. In many ways, this is the age-old tale of a high school crush, but there is a charming degree of detail within the lyrics: “My grades are down from A’s to D’s, I’m way behind in history”. One might even say the exposition goes to extremes; as far as we are aware, this is the only pop song from the ‘90s/’00s that refers to Peter the Great. Indeed we’d feel fairly confident to suggest it’s one of the only songs ever to do so: “My teacher says to concentrate, so what his name was Peter the Great”. It’s probably a good thing the A*Teens weren’t paying attention because we’re not quite sure how Upside Down would have accommodated poor Peter and his death from a gangrenous bladder.

Interestingly, Upside Down flirts with elements of production that would be much more prominent in their later material but fails to do much with them here. The intro, for example, has a robotic: “Upside down” vocal sample and literally uses it just the once. That same gimmick would be used again and more prominently on the A*Teens’ 2002 hit Floorfiller, but here it’s tossed casually aside. Indeed, one could go as far as to say the intro to Upside Down is a bit disjointed from the rest of the song altogether. The first 12 seconds of the track hint at a pounding electro-pop anthem and then switch into something much more straightforward. The same elements are revisited after the middle-eight but are again equally inconsequential to the end product. It’s not a major distraction, but it’s the one aspect of Upside Down that feels ever so slightly clunky.  

One thing without question is that the track never ceases to be anything less than an utter joy. This is feelgood pop music at its finest; sure, it’s a tale of unrequited love but rather than being melodramatic and angsty, Upside Down instead captures the euphoria associated with the feeling: it’s zany, it’s goofy and its brimming with optimism. And of course, we simply can’t ignore the key-change. Just when you think the song can’t possibly get any peppier, it throws in quite frankly one of the most ludicrously exhilarating key-changes of the ‘00s. If ever there was a song that could make someone literally pop with nostalgia, then this is it.

Upside down
Bouncing off the ceiling
Inside out
Stranger to this feeling
Got no clue what I should do
I’ll go crazy if I can’t get next to you

So effervescent is Upside Down that it even gets away with something that we would never normally want in a pop song: forced laughter. As the “Somehow, someway, you will love me too…” middle-eight concludes, the girls descend into shrieky laughter. Usually we would find it incredibly off-putting – but here it’s tolerable and thankfully brief. Although we’d still rather it wasn’t there…

What became clear from the music video for Upside Down is how hard the A*Teens were chasing the American market at this point – but it’s also immediately evident how competently they pulled it off. The single is a perfect example of the group’s consistently slick and polished visuals from a production standpoint – again something we saw criminally little of in the UK. While relatively loose on narrative, each sequence within the video is flawlessly executed. Many aspects are invariably about as turn-of-the-century as they could be, such as the high frequency of split-screen shots and the colour pallet of garish blue, purple and white. But there are also some neat shots in the video that mess with gravity – and while some merely involve turning the camera at an angle, others employ slightly more complex camera techniques. The result is a video that has a considerable amount of effort and investment behind it, successfully emulating the slick choreography and glossy productions of their pop peers. If the intention was to create something that looked like it belonged on MTV, then it was a runaway success.

Considering the effort that the A*Teens put into growing their profile Stateside, you’d have to consider a #93 peak something of a success for Upside Down – or Bouncing Off The Ceiling (Upside Down) – as it was known in America for absolutely no reason whatsoever. It became the group’s most successful single on the Billboard Hot 100 and in the UK was also the A*Teens’ first and only top ten single. But honestly, we think Upside Down should have been much bigger. It is a brilliant pop song and one that seems much more fondly remembered than its chart peak would suggest. More importantly though, as pop music’s love affair with Swedepop exploded at the turn-of-the-century, the A*Teens were doing it better than most and Upside Down was just the tip of the iceberg. 

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Post Author: cantstopthepop