Aqua – My Oh My

Released: 20th July 1998

Writers: Søren Rasted / Claus Norreen / René Dif

Peak position: #6

Chart run: 6-12-27-45-44-54-63-57-73-X-X-72-66

Aqua’s fourth single in the UK marked a point where their debut album campaign started to come full circle as My Oh My pre-dated Barbie Girl…and if you looked close enough, there were some tell-tale signs.

There is absolutely no doubt at all that Barbie Girl was the right song to launch Aqua globally. It remains one of the definitive songs of the ’90s and is still among the biggest selling singles of all time in the UK (even with the inclusion of streaming). Cherry-picking the most potent hits from Aquarium gave the group a flying start here, with three consecutive chart-toppers. However, Barbie Girl, Doctor Jones and Turn Back Time were actually the third, fifth and sixth songs to be lifted from the album, respectively.  The drawback of the strategy is that eventually, the Aquarium campaign started recycling tracks from earlier in Aqua’s career, leading to a subtle – yet noticeable – shift in quality. My Oh My is still as brilliantly absurd as ever, but for the first time, it didn’t quite feel as if all the ideas came together as cohesively as they previously had done.  

Aqua excelled with Barbie Girl and Doctor Jones because they took their respective concepts and ran with the idea, firmly implanting themselves – lyrically and visually – within the characters. My Oh My opens with the sound of galloping horse hooves and a baroque harpsichord, situating it within the medieval/renaissance era. But then, it all goes a bit scattershot. First, we have Lene as a princess: Little princess in a terrible mess, a kingdom alone, but no love to confess, dreams of a prince on a tall white horse, runs like a spirit by the castle walls”, which – in fairness – works within the setup of the track. Next, we have Rene as a Robin Hood-esque character: “Gotta steal from the rich when they don’t know I’m comin’, gotta give to the poor, no time for lovin’”, which feels like it’s telling a slightly different story. And then we have the pirate-themed visuals that bear no relevance to either.

Sure, some people may baulk at the suggestion that an Aqua track doesn’t make sense, but that reflects a common misconception about their material. At their best, the group were able to meticulously construct not just catchy songs but entire worlds within which the lyrics took place. They might be fantastical; they might be downright daft, but everything within them exists logically. Unfortunately, My Oh My doesn’t achieve the same degree of cohesiveness, and as a result, comes off feeling like the product of a time when Aqua were still honing their craft.

Even so, My Oh My was a fundamental building block for the group as they grew their success in Denmark, and it’s not hard to see why. One thing it has in spades is the group’s knack for naggingly catchy hooks. If the chorus doesn’t get you: “My oh my, do you wanna say goodbye? To have the kingdom, baby, tell me why; my oh my, do you wanna say goodbye? To rule the country, baby, you and I”, then the post-chorus most definitely will: “If you were my king, woah-woah, I would be your queen, woah-woah; if you were my king, woah-woah, I would be your queen, woah-woah”. It’s terrifically catchy and – surprisingly for a song where galloping hooves form part of the beat – underpinned with a hint of melancholy. As star-crossed lovers within My Oh My, Lene and Rene cannot be together, for they have differing priorities, which is reflected by the occasionally sombre key in which the song is performed.

Taking the song at face value, it maintains the technicolour silliness that Aqua had come to represent. Even so, there is still an attempt to flesh out My Oh My to be more than just two characters talking at one another atop a generic Eurodance beat. And in that sense, although this might not be the most immediately marketable example of Aqua’s pop music craftmanship, it nonetheless demonstrates a willingness to get under the characters’ skin and try to define their motivations behind the fairy-tale veneer.   

All of which makes the pirate-themed music video for My Oh My inexplicably come out of left field because it has nothing to do with the song whatsoever. Aqua were usually so on-brand with visual pieces that resembled mini-movies, and the same approach is ostensibly applied here. They go all-in on the theme. There’s no CGI involved; that is an actual ship purpose-built for the video, and there are some neat touches for authenticity, like Captain Rene’s pegleg. The plot involves Lene being kidnapped by a motley crew (well, her bandmates) and held captive before she overpowers them in a swordfight and takes command of the vessel in pursuit of buried treasure. After spotting a desert island, the pirates land and quickly stumble upon a chest of riches. However, they’re discovered by an old man who transpires to be Rene’s father, who welcomes them into his company and proffers his daughters to Claus and Søren, while Lene and Rene fall into each other’s arms (but not before his father tries his luck).

If the ending sounds like a bit of an after-thought, then that is how it comes across. And when a music video requires multiple lines of subtitles to explain what is happening, it’s probably a sign that the concept has become a tad bloated. However, up until that point, My Oh My looks great, for the most part. There are some sexual undertones – such as Lene appearing not too unhappy about being tied to the ship’s mast and whipped by her captors – but it’s never to the point of being objectionably lewd. The unavoidable issue here is that the song and the visuals are two different concepts and just don’t fit together, however hard they try. Even the intro is awkwardly represented by a mechanical toy horse, which is a perfect manifestation of how far apart the two ideas are. It would be easier to digest if Aqua hadn’t gone to so much effort; this is the type of video that deserves recognition for its scale and ambition. In that respect, it’s terrific. If only it had been aligned to a more appropriate track – like Around The World (which even talks about the Seven Seas) – that would firmly enhance its strengths. 

It wasn’t awfully surprising that My Oh My became Aqua’s first single not to top the UK chart. Turn Back Time had already logged one of the lowest sales for a #1 (75,000 copies) in 1998 and would’ve missed out on most other weeks of the year. Furthermore, with the Aquarium album having been in the Top 40 for more than six months by this point – yes, that really happened – it was inevitable that eventually, its success would lead to diminishing returns on their singles. Thus, My Oh My peaked at #6, which feels like a reasonably fair result by comparison to the tracks that preceded it. Regardless, even if this isn’t necessarily a widely remembered single for Aqua, it was yet another example of them credibly (and deservedly) prolonging their chart presence far beyond that which many would have expected.

And they weren’t done yet, because a fifth single beckoned for the UK market. It would be the seventh in total to be lifted from Aquarium; yet – somehow – none of them was Happy Boys & Girls

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