Aqua – Around The World

Released: 29th May 2000

Writers: Claus Norreen / Søren Rasted

Peak position: #26

Chart run: 26-44-64-56-73-74

And so, we arrive at another casualty of the ‘00s poisoned chalice that saw any pop song called Around The World (or a variant on that title) cruelly flop. Before Northern Line and A*Teens succumbed to the same fate, Aqua were the original victims.

Although Cartoon Heroes hadn’t been a runaway success akin to the singles from their first album, there was little indication that the group’s commercial fortunes were about to take such a drastic tumble. Not least because Around The World presented itself as an epic composition that aligned itself with the Swedepop sensibilities of their peers. In hindsight, perhaps that was part of the problem; Aqua weren’t like other pop acts. But with the so-so response to Cartoon Heroes – and indeed their second album, Aquarius – it wasn’t entirely clear what people wanted from them anymore. Around The World is, therefore, one of their more traditional-sounding songs and an attempt to project a (slightly) less silly demeanour.

From a production perspective, Around The World sounds absolutely huge, with its classic-sounding jangly piano synths and a fuzzy electro-bassline. Even the backing vocals sound as if they’ve been layered and amplified to create heightened drama by giving the impression that Aqua have been joined by a choir. The track retains enough of the group’s identity to avoid reaching a point where it sounds like they’re singing a song that belonged to someone else, but for the first time, it was feasible that another pop act could have performed Around The World. The hooks are a little more refined and nuanced; indeed, Lene’s: “I’ve been the ONLY girl” during the chorus is just about the only one that threatens to jump out immediately.

The quality from the song instead emanates from the fact that it’s better taken as a complete composition, rather than a sequence of isolated elements. The gradual build-up to the final chorus, where Lene can stretch the melody is immensely gratifying, but much less impactful if you merely skip straight to that point. Musically, All Around The World only really reveals its charms once digested in totality. This is not necessarily a route that was commonplace for Aqua, and it’s entirely possible that the track suffered – outside of their fanbase, at least – for its lack of immediacy.

While Aqua were the purveyors of some truly fantastical lyrics, things veer into truly nonsensical territory with Around The World (and this is coming from the same album that contains: “Bumble bee, bump into me, I am in for pollination”). Thematically, the song is all over the place; one moment it’s an ode to cooking: “In the kitchen where I’m cooking what is good for me, spices from the globe, little by little it’s the finest meal”, then it sees Aqua delving into domesticated whimsy: “In the living room I’m cleaning up from top to floor, the place I love the most, the wall is covered up with all my souvenirs”. In-between, Around The World offers up some profound ruminations as Aqua appear to be experiencing an existential crisis: “I’m realising things ain’t what they seem; that’s the riddle of it, that’s the spirit of it, that’s the power of life”. The track retains the reliable interplay between Lene and Rene, but while the group usually excelled at crafting narratives within their music, it feels here as if they’re just spouting lyrics at each other with no real character or purpose. The juxtaposition against such grand production values certainly doesn’t help matters.   

The accompanying music video for Around The World offers up a similar dilemma. Firstly, credit where it’s due because what we got was an absolute extravaganza. We find Aqua in classic pop territory of trying to steal a jewel Mission Impossible-style. Much like the group itself, Lene and Rene are doing the legwork as they sneak into a museum, reliably flanked by Claus and Søren, who provide some high-tech tracking wizardry. The video goes all-in for the concept; where some of Aqua’s earlier visuals embraced cartoony aesthetic, this one is nothing of the sort. It’s slick, it’s polished and utilises a constant stream of post-production effects to create dynamic split-screen transitions. But equally, none of those things are very Aqua-like and having worked hard to create a distinctive aesthetic identity, Around The World files against it all. Arguably at a time when they needed to reinforce their brand more than ever.

An alternative video was also filmed, although little footage of it exists. It involved the group watching TV and channel-surfing while appearing in various skits. Quite why the concept was abandoned is unclear; it certainly didn’t have anything to do with travelling around the world but then, neither did a jewel heist, so…

Things didn’t go well for the single. Around The World peaked at #26 and spent just one week in the Top 40. For a group who had been one of the distinctive faces of the effervescent bubblegum pop of the late ‘90s, it was a curiously understated way to end their career in the UK. Indeed, it’s entirely possible that the song would have slipped under many people’s radars altogether. Little more than a month after its release, Around The World was included on a free CD with Smash Hits magazine, which just underlined how far Aqua’s stock had fallen. The track was already past the point of no return, but even a few months earlier, it would be unthinkable to consider their material literally being given away. The group did, however, persevere with the album campaign outside of the UK; the next single Bumble Bees was much more reminiscent of their earlier material, although it’s hard to imagine it would have turned the situation around back here.

The real shame of it is that Around The World is a brilliant pop package that – lyrics aside – does a lot of things right. But it was always going to suffer thanks to an impossible situation where the public just didn’t seem interested in Aqua anymore, whether they were being themselves or not.   

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