July 1, 2018
Todd plays "Lovefool" on the piano.
THE CARDIGANS - LOVEFOOL
A one-hit retrospective
Todd: Welcome back to "One Hit Wonderland", where we take a look at bands and artists known for only one song. Plowing my way through all these requests, today we're going to the far-off year of [text appears on screen] 1996, and... okay, what is the deal here? Literally all the requests I've done so far have (1995, 1996, 1997) been from the same three-year stretch of the mid-'90s, what gives? Eh, I was just doing the requests in order, but maybe I should switch it up some. But, this does give me an opportunity to talk about the mid-'90s as a whole, 'cause...
Clip of Everything But the Girl - "Missing"
Todd (VO): ...last time we were talking about trip-hop, and Everything but the Girl, and, you know, that song was big but it's not really what I think of when I think of the mid-'90s.
Clip of Gina G - "Ooh Aah... Just a Little Bit"
Todd (VO): After grunge started waning, what I remember is bright colours and happiness. [shot of Stacey Dash and Alicia Silverstone in...] Clueless, [shot of "The Freshmaker" tagline from one of the...] Mentos commercials, [picture of Reel Big Fish] ska, [screenshot from the video for The Notorious B.I.G. ft. Puff Daddy and Mase - "Mo Money Mo Problems"] Hype Williams videos. Todd: Certainly compared to our current hellscape dystopia, the '90s seems like living [picture of Candy Land box art] 24/7 in Candy Land. And I don't know if there's a better representation of the bubblegum '90s than this song coming up next.
Clip of The Cardigans - "Lovefool"
Nina Persson: Love me, love me
Say that you love me
Todd (VO): Yes, that's right. The Cardigans, who cried and begged their way into our hearts [picture of "Lovefool" single cover] with the massive smash hit "Lovefool". Todd: One of the sweetest, happiest songs about abject, pathetic co-dependence ever written.
Nina: Leave me, leave me
Just say that you need me
Todd (VO): Never has pathetic neediness ever sounded this charming. I think this is officially the start of the bubblegum boom of the late-'90s. From here you can make a direct line to Hanson and Spice World and Total Request Live.
Todd: And for the record, no, I would not have done this episode if it weren't a paid request.
Todd (VO): 'Cause this is another one of those borderline cases that I'm not so sure about. "Lovefool" is definitely the only pop hit they ever had.
Todd: But they did have one other song that was popular on the rock stations. [brief clip of "My Favourite Game"] We'll get to it.
Todd (VO): I asked the requester if he wanted to reconsider but he doubled down. Eh, fine. If Billy Ray Cyrus is a one-hit-wonder, then so are The Cardigans.
Todd: But for me, this all means that I came into this kinda already knowing how their story goes and... well, some minor spoilers here...
Todd (VO): ...despite them singing how desperately they loved and needed you, The Cardigans decided that the pop world wasn't something they needed or loved at all, and their career went some odd places instead.
Todd: So here we are. The strange, varied career of The Cardigans. Wanna know who they are? I think you do.
Nina: I think you do
Todd: Let's go.
Nina: I cry, I pray and I beg
Before the hit Todd: Okay...
Picture of The Cardigans, with arrows pointing to each member and names coming up on screen as they are said
Todd (VO): ...these are The Cardigans. Nina Persson on vocals, Peter Svensson on guitar, Magnus Sveningsson on bass, Bengt Lagerberg on drums, Lars-Olof Johansson on keyboard. Todd: I don't normally list all the band members but they've never changed a single time so, that's awesome. [thumbs up] And in case you couldn't tell from names like Magnus and Lars-Olof...
Pictures of Swedish Eurovision fans and people dressed up as Vikings wearing Sweden flags as capes
Todd (VO): ...they are in fact [stereotypical Swedish accent] Swedish. They're from Sweden. So, like, yeah... Todd: ...no wonder "Lovefool" sounds like it does, they're Swedish.
Live clip of ABBA - "Dancing Queen"
Todd (VO): Sweden exports only their sugariest, cotton-candy pop music, [image of Swedish Fish packet] and also actual candy. Or occasionally [live clip of Opeth - "Bleak"] this stuff, if you're into that. Todd: So let's hear some upbeat Eurovision-y cheesy bubblegum Europop.
Clip of "Black Letter Day"
Nina: Black letter day
All the fun has gone away
Todd (VO): Okay, well, this isn't, like, goth metal or anything but it's, it's not quite the sound I expected. Actually, what the hell is this?
Todd: Here, let me listen to some more.
Clip of "Sick & Tired"
Nina: You can always say my attic has its charm
You can always say you did no major harm
Todd (VO): This song is cool because it's the only one I've ever seen where a band member plays a bassoon in the video.
Todd: Okay, based on these first few singles The Cardigans appear to be not a sunshiny Europop act.
Todd (VO): What they seem to be is some kind of twee, Belle and Sebastian-y indie rock band.
Todd: And this predates...
Todd (VO): [live clip of Belle and Sebastian - "Lazy Line Painter Jane"] ...Belle and Sebastian by a few years, so they're well ahead of the curve on that one. All my indie friends in college should have been [back to "Sick & Tired"] listening to this instead for mega hipster points! But, uh, yeah, this stuff is legit.
Todd: Which was not a surprise to me 'cause I remembered their other song. [brief clip of "My Favourite Game"] We'll get to it.
Live clip of "Plain Parade", and clips for The La's - "There She Goes", The Sundays - "Here's Where the Story Ends" and The Cranberries - "Dreams"
'Todd (VO): 'But this is from an entirely different genre than their bigger hits. See, back in the early '90s there was this whole hipster-y trend that was never popular exactly but you were into them if you were in the know, they were bands like The La's or The Sundays. The only one I can think of that ever got huge was The Cranberries but they all did these lilting, slightly melancholy pop songs on the college rock stations. Todd: Take this, for example.
Clip of "Rise & Shine"
Nina: I raise my head and whisper
Rise and shine (rise and shine)
Rise and shine, my sister
Todd (VO): This song is a bop and I've been listening to it for weeks now. Todd: I'd have never known about it if not for these requests, so thanks! [thumbs up]
Nina: See the moon alone
Todd (VO): So this was not big anywhere or [image of Swedish canal] even released anywhere except for their home country. Todd: Oh, and of course, Japan. [Todd presses button on his keyboard, causing "Big In Japan" title to show on screen, along with gong sound effect] I am so glad I had that button installed, I'm gonna get a lot of use out of it.
Shot of cover of Japanese single for "Carnival" and "Carnival" video
Todd (VO): Yeah, but they were surprisingly big in Japan and they had a tiny cult following in the UK. This is all certainly sprightly and upbeat, but it's not quite "Lovefool" yet. If you were a fan, you wouldn't necessarily see the "Lovefool" coming. Todd: Except, there was one indication. See, they had this hilarious habit of doing sugar-pop covers of Black Sabbath songs.
Audio of The Cardigans - "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" played over Black Sabbath live footage
Nina: You've seen life through distorted eyes
You know you had to learn
Todd (VO): And they just kept doing it, throughout their whole career!
Audio of The Cardigans - "Iron Man" played over Black Sabbath live footage
Nina: (I am iron man!)
Has he lost his mind
Can he see or is he blind
Todd: And there are actually more Ozzy songs, but, uh, let's do a different band.
Audio of The Cardigans - "The Boys Are Back In Town" played over Thin Lizzy live footage
Nina: The boys are back in town
The boys are back in town
Todd (VO): Haha! This is great.
Todd: And believe it or not, these joke covers pretty much indicate the direction of their music.
The big hit
The Cardigans live footage
Nina: Now we're gonna play a song about love and foolishness. It's called "Lovefool", and that's what we are.
Clip of "Lovefool"
Nina and Todd: Dear, I fear we're [cuts to Todd] facing a problem
Nina: [back to clip] You love...
Todd (VO): So, in 1996 The Cardigans suddenly became the next big thing with their single "Lovefool". The Cardigans say they knew this would have been a single, they didn't know it would be the single of their careers. And it wasn't huge, not at first.
Clip of original video
Nina: Love me, love me
Todd (VO): In fact, here's the original video, it's very grotty and low budget and British. You never saw this 'cause it didn't cross over.
Clips of Romeo + Juliet
Todd (VO): But then Hollywood came-a callin' and put their song in Baz Luhrmann's William Shakespeare's Romeo Plus Sign Juliet, a truly hysterical and idiotic movie of the kind not seen [clip of The Great Gatsby (2013)] until Luhrmann adapted The Great Gatsby by literally floating the book's text at the screen. [clip of "Lovefool"] And the song certainly fit the movie. Like, it's all bright and shiny colours. Nina Persson even kinda [pictures of Nina and Clare side by side] looks like Clare Danes.
I mean, who can forget the unforgettable scene where the song plays while Mercutio makes his entrance?
Kym Mazelle's "Young Hearts Run Free" plays in the background
Kym: Young hearts run free
Never be hung up
Todd: Oh wait, that was a different song.
Todd (VO): Or, uh, or was it the pool scene? Todd: Actually, I have no memory of this song being in the movie.
Romeo (Leonardo DiCaprio): I'm married.
"Lovefool" plays faintly in the background
Todd (VO): Wait, was that it? Todd: That's all? That wasn't much.
Romeo (Leonardo DiCaprio): I am fortune's fool!
Clip of "Lovefool"
Todd (VO): Well, anyway, The Cardigans definitely moved quite a few copies of that soundtrack. It's weird to me because not much of the rest of the '90s sounded like this. I mean, certainly, you can make a direct line between this and all the bright shiny happy music that followed, you know, Sugar Ray and Ricky Martin and Smash Mouth and so on, but it's not really the same thing. In fact, "Lovefool" kinda... Todd: ...falls into this very weird little micro-genre: the mid-'90s lounge revival.
Clips of Space - "Female of the Species" and Edwyn Collins - "A Girl Like You"
Todd (VO): I don't really know how to describe it. It was related to the swing revival, influenced by, like, Burt Bacharach, you know, just a lot of marimba and jazz flute involved. Just, imagine something that [clip of...] could play in the background of Barbarella.
Todd: I think "Lovefool" was the...
Todd (VO): ...biggest hit to come out of that and even that's kinda pushing the definition of it. Like, the rest of the album is very lounge, and "Lovefool" was originally supposed to be like that too. It started out as a [shot of album cover for Walter Wandereley - Summer Samba] bossa nova song. But it just kept getting more [back to "Lovefool"] pumped up and more energetic and disco-y. I don't know what to call it, really, it's just a singular little song, it's not like anything else.
Todd: It's just "Lovefool".
Todd (VO): And if I haven't said it yet, let me come out with it now. This really is one of the best pop songs of the '90s.
Todd: I mean, they just throw everything at it.
Nina: Anything but you
Todd (VO): Hooks for days in this song. In fact, it's so over the top with its sweetness, like, a lot of people wondered if maybe it was meant to be ironic. Todd: You know, 'cause it was the '90s and everything was ironic.
Clip of Romeo + Juliet trailer
Todd (VO): Certainly fits with Baz Luhrmann, who you're never sure is trying to be serious or not. And it works especially with [illustration of...] Romeo and Juliet, the greatest romantic tragedy in history... Todd: ...because this is a love song of the saddest, most pathetic variety.
Clip of "Lovefool"
Nina: So I cry
And I beg
Todd: This woman is pitiful.
Todd (VO): She knows it's over, but she'll just do anything. She just wants him back, and the whole song is about wanting lies.
Todd: Sweet little lies, if that's what it takes to hear what she wants to hear.
Todd (VO): It's kinda sickening, really. But, love is...
Todd: ...inherently humiliating, isn't it?
Todd (VO): And everyone still chases after it for that sugar rush of endorphins, which is basically the song.
Todd: You get where she's coming from.
Clip of Late Night with Conan O'Brien performance of the song
Todd (VO): They really make the best case for co-dependence. If anything, Nina Persson makes it seductive, even.
Nina: I can't care 'bout anything but you
Todd (VO): I mean, who could say no? Well, you really want me back, you'll do anything, don't have to stick around, I don't even have to try to make it plausible. Todd: I'm just saying, it'd take a strong man.
Back to "Lovefool" video
Todd (VO): To be clear, doing so would definitely make you the bad guy, you would absolutely be taking advantage of this sad wreck of a woman. Shame on you. And even just on a self-interest level, it'd be dumb. Like, any woman with this little self-esteem would be a clingy disaster in real life. Todd: Yeah, this story ends...
Clip of Alanis Morrissette - "You Oughta Know"
Todd (VO): ...like another '90s classic, I'm fairly certain.
Alanis: ...to remind you
Todd: But of course, I'm kidding, 'cause reality doesn't matter to this song. "Lovefool" isn't serious, not at all.
Back to "Lovefool"
Todd (VO): If anything, you, the listener, are the one being fooled, 'cause the song's not really about what it's about. It's not about being loved or fooled or needed, it's just about the aesthetic. The singer wants pretty lies...
Todd: ...the song itself is kind of a pretty lie, it's a shiny, happy presentation of something that's actually kinda dark.
Todd (VO): I can see why people thought it might be a joke, but it's more like all the history of bubblegum music rolled into one song. Of course, it's a lie. Of course, it's blatantly artificial. That's what we like about this kind of music.
Nina: Go on and fool me
Todd (VO): And if you follow the story in the song, it's kinda like also the story of where they were in their careers. They begged the world to love them, and the world did.
Todd: Then what?
The failed follow-up
Todd: You gotta keep in mind...
Live clip of "Lovefool"
Todd (VO): ..."Lovefool", and the whole album, is not all that representative of their sound, it's a, it's a fairly unique point in their careers.
Todd: They weren't [shot of album cover for The Very Best of...] Deee-Lite, [back to Todd] they were The Cardigans.
Todd (VO): And that sound is so saccharine that even if they wanted to continue in that direction, it'd be hard to reach that sound again. So, I guess...
Todd: ...I understand why they went in the opposite direction.
Clip of "Been It"
Nina: Baby boy
Your face is pretty and your life's a toy
Todd (VO): Now this isn't gonna be called hardcore by anybody, but, it's honestly kinda the least poppy song on the album.
Nina: I've been your mother, I've been your father
Todd (VO): Maybe I'm just thinking that it is because of the weird video.
Todd: But that video is definitely a message and that message is "we are not 'Lovefool'".
Todd (VO): I mean, it uses the word "whore" right in the chorus.
Nina: Maybe I was your whore
Todd (VO): When they'd try to play it on the radio, they'd have to censor it out, so there'd just be an awkward pause. I don't know, it's hard to make the transition from [sings] "love me, love me" to "I'm your whore". [clip of "Mambo No. 5" by...] It's like if Lou Bega's second song was about his [image of dirty hand next to heroin paraphernalia] heroin addiction. Todd: It's not a bad topic, it's just not what I thought you were about.
Clip of "Your New Cuckoo"
Todd (VO): Now, there was another single from that album, and it was much more upbeat, but [sighs] I don't know if it even got an official release, it sure didn't chart anywhere.
Nina: La la la la la la
Todd (VO): [sings] Katamari Damacy. Todd: But nothing from that album is the follow-up people think of. This is the real follow-up.
Clip of "My Favourite Game"
Shot of Todd throwing the horns and headbanging
Nina: I'm losing my favourite game
Todd (VO): I swear to God this was a hit, it got played on MTV and on alt-rock radio and dear fucking God, why does no one remember this? Yeah, when they released their follow-up album, they went as hard as they could. It's like they wanted to erase the memory of "Lovefool" completely.
Todd: And for me, it did at least. This was a big deal.
Todd (VO): This was hardcore. It's so hardcore that there's some pretty graphic car crashes in this video and they had to recut it for MTV. I remember all of this. But the song itself, what about that?
Todd: [shrugs] Look...
Todd (VO): ...it was popular at the time. I don't know what it sounds like to you, maybe to you guys it still sounds good. But...
Todd: ...I'm just gonna say it. To me, this sounds like Garbage.
Clip of Garbage - "Only Happy When It Rains"
Shirley Manson: I'm only happy when it rains
Todd (VO): The [shot of the...] band Garbage, I mean. [back to "My Favourite Game"] I think the song is pretty awesome. Kicks a lot of ass. But the inspiration is [clip of Garbage - "I Think I'm Paranoid"] pretty clearly Shirley Manson and her lyrics of self-loathing set to an amped-up electro-rock background. [back to "My Favourite Game"] And it works! For one song. Todd: The rest of the album is even darker.
Clip of "Hanging Around"
Nina: I hang around
Todd (VO): It had to have been deliberate. This was the anti-"Lovefool" in all ways. If they'd kept going like this they'd have been [shot of...] Napalm Death, like, a year or two later.
Todd: And seeing as they kind of vanished right afterward, I guess in the end, that's not what anyone loved or needed.
Did they ever do anything else?
Todd: Actually, they did have one other big pop hit. It was only big in the UK, but it was pretty huge, and it was a duet. Yes, that's right...
Shot of Cardi B and The Cardigans, with mashup of "Lovefool" and "Bodak Yellow" playing in the background
Todd (VO): ...they teamed up with Cardi B. They called themselves the Cardi B-igans. Todd: No, that didn't happen.
Clip of Tom Jones and The Cardigans - "Burning Down the House"
Tom: Watch out, you might get what you're after
Todd (VO): The person they teamed up with was actually human tuba Tom Jones. They did a cover of the Talking Heads' "Burning Down the House".
Tom and Nina: Burning down the house
Todd (VO): The pairing kinda makes sense, 'cause Tom Jones was, like, the biggest of the original lounge-pop stars that the Cardigans were emulating. Todd: On the other hand, this sucks.
Tom: I'm gonna burst into flame!
Todd (VO): I can't pretend this doesn't completely and totally suck. God, Tom Jones has been around for, like, 50 years, he's got, like, 2 good songs. Todd: Why do we keep him [catches himself]... sorry.
Clip of "For What It's Worth"
Nina: For what it's worth
Todd (VO): And after that, the Cardigans just kept performing. They released a couple more albums where they went into a country music direction?
Todd: [shrugs] Yeah, I don't know.
Todd (VO): But they still had that same, slightly melancholy tone to all their songs.
Clip of "I Need Some Fine Wine and You, You Need to Be Nicer"
Todd (VO): Now, here's one I liked. It's called "I Need Some Fine Wine and You, You Need to Be Nicer".
Nina: So I need some fine wine
And you, you need to be nicer
Todd (VO): I think they picked that title so that [shot of...] Fall Out Boy couldn't get to it first. Todd: But these last couple albums didn't really get any traction.
Clips of The Hives - "Hate to Say I Told You So"
Todd (VO): At this point, there was a full-on trend of kickass Swedish indie rock, it was all the rage on Pitchfork and stuff. [clip of The Sounds - "Living In America"] And I guess The Cardigans got kind of dismissed from it as yesterday's news, here's the new Swedish hotness. [back to "I Need Some Fine Wine..."] But this stuff is actually pretty good. And since then [clip of "Food for the Beast (Animal Heart)" by Nina Persson"] Nina's also done some solo work, [shot of...] Peter Svensson does his [clip of "Can't Feel My Face" by...] work as a collaborator for The Weeknd now, co-wrote a lot of his hits. [clip of more recent performance of "Carnival"] And the band still tours too. Todd: [beat] Okay, one more Black Sabbath song.
Clip of The Cardigans - "Changes" over Ozzy video
Nina: I'm going through changes
Todd throwing the horns and quickly headbanging
Did they deserve better? Todd: Hell yeah!
Clip of "Lovefool"
Nina: Anything but you
Todd (VO): Very strange and interesting band you got here. Now I wasn't too surprised at this, 'cause I, you know, I remembered that second hit, but these guys are just all over the place. And I will say this, every phase of their career I liked. They're not a band that was ever gonna be, like, these huge lasting rockstars, they were way too idiosyncratic, but this is exactly the kinda act we need more of. In a world where so much rock music sounds calculated...
Todd: ...the sense I got from The Cardigans is that they made the music they wanted to make, and I found all of it extremely refreshing.
Todd (VO): And at the very crest of their career, they gave us one happy, sunshine-y, summer pop song. God bless you, unclassifiable Scandinavian indie rockers...
Todd: ...you made the '90s so much more interesting.
Nina: I can't care 'bout anything but you
Closing Tag Song: "Lovefool" by New Found Glory
"Lovefool" is owned by Universal Music Group
This video is owned by me
THANK YOU TO THE LOYAL PATRONS!