Top listeners:

skip_previous skip_next
00:00 00:00
playlist_play chevron_left
  • cover play_arrow

    Fun Size Trending Topics September 23, 2021. His Name? St. Dangerous Of Course CD929

For “Song History Saturday” we take a song each week and break down some of the details about the writing, recording, and sometimes the legacy of the song.

Yesterday, for Flashback Friday, we broke down many of Barbie’s forays into the music world. Today we discuss the music world’s foray into Barbie. Today, we’re wrapping up Barbie week with the song history of Aqua’s “Barbie Girl.”

Aqua was formed in 1994 as the band Joyspeed. Danish frontman René Dif discovered Norwegian lead singer Lene Nystrøm on a cruise ship. The trio of Danish men and their new Norwegian lead singer were signed as Joyspeed, but ended their contract after their first and only single saw very little success. The band changed up their sound and soon attracted the attention of Univeral Music Denmark. They changed their name to Aqua and released “Roses Are Red,” which saw a great deal of success in Denmark. Their follow-up single “My Oh My” broke Danish sales records and went gold in just six days. Their third single as Aqua was “Barbie Girl” in 1997.

The song was inspired by a visit keyboardist Søren Rasted paid to an exhibit on kitsch culture that included Barbie dolls. “Barbie Girl” ended up being an incredibly kitsch song with a video to match it. The lyrics surround the idea that Barbie is a plaything in multiple ways. Packaging for the CD release of the Aquarium album declared “The song ‘Barbie Girl’ is a social comment and was not created or approved by the makers of the doll.”

That explanation makes a great deal of sense, and the song isn’t particularly vulgar (Editor’s note: They played this at the roller rink all the time when I was a kid and I thought it was a little annoying but it took me a few years to figure out there was something going on lyrically that wasn’t above-board). This did not, however, keep Mattel at bay.

Half a year after the song was released, Mattel sued MCA Records, the U.S. distributor for Aqua’s music. They claimed that the song infringed on the brand’s copyrights and trademarks on “Barbie” and that the song turned her into a “sex object.” They also said that  “Barbie Girl” ruined the historical popularity and the reputation of the character, stating that it had an effect on their marketing plan- a bold claim, considering the Barbie division of Mattel saw its most successful year OF ALL TIME in 1997. Aqua and MCA retorted that Mattel were pushing their own meanings onto the song. The legal dispute got nasty, with Mattel insinuating that MCA were “bank robbers.” MCA counter-sued for that comment, claiming defamation. The lawsuit filed by Mattel was rejected by the lower courts. Mattel took the case to the Supreme Court, where their appeal was also rejected.

“The parties are advised to chill.”

In 2002, the lawsuits raged on. The song was ruled a parody and thus protected by the trademark doctrine of nominative use and the First Amendment. The mess of lawsuits was finally wrapped up when Judge Alex Kozinski dismissed the defamation suit against Mattel with the immortal words “The Parties are advised to chill,” a line that sounds like he could have taken it straight from the lips of “The Dude.”

When the lawsuits wrapped up in 2002, Mattel saw their highest year of sales since 1997, which kind of tells an amusing story about the possibility of the song being good for doll sales and Mattel shooting themselves in the foot by suing a beloved song. They may very well have considered this possibility themselves, since the once-again suffering brand licensed the song in 2009 for use in commercials and promotions (with edited lyrics, of course).

For Aqua, “Barbie Girl” was a tremendous hit, selling more than 8 million copies worldwide, seeing critical success in its heyday, and ultimately becoming one of the best-selling songs of all time in multiple countries around the world. For Mattel, the song may have made them take an honest look at the Barbie design. It could be a coincidence but in 1997, Mattel announced that they would be creating a new body for Barbie that would feature a more realistic figure (Editor’s note: Being that I know how doll collectors are and specifically how everyone was about collectables in the late ’90s, I should also point out that the new body announcement could have also created soaring sales in 1997 as people thought that they were collecting the last-ever versions of the 1966/1991 body molds).

Whichever way you interpret the data, “Barbie Girl” definitely had some impact on the sales of the doll.

Despite the teams and MCA and Mattel seemingly having made up in 2009, this year’s Barbie film doesn’t contain the original song, but instead a new take on it by Nicki Minaj and Ice Spice called “Barbie World.”

-Just Emma (


Now Playing


No event found!

Written by: Emma Sedam

Rate it