What is Love?

What is love tits.jpg

Date Aired
March 1, 2018
Running Time
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Todd plays "What is Love?" on the piano.

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. And today–

Haddaway: What is love?

Baby don't hurt me

Todd looks around in confusion, before cutting to footage of the music video for the song of discussion

Haddaway: What is love?

What is love?

Baby, don't hurt me

Todd is seen dancing in his seat to the music

Don't hurt me no more

Todd: I wonder if I can do this the entire episode. [stops dancing] No, no, no, it's starting to fuck up my neck. "Baby don't hurt me," indeed.

Haddaway: Hey hey

Todd (VO): Anyway we're going back to the wonderful wacky world of Eurodance. In fact, this may be the Eurodance song of the entire '90s. Although at this point, it's more meme than song.

Todd: The man we're gonna be talking today is German bass singer...

Todd (VO): Haddaway. And Haddaway had a hit. A big hit. A big hit that asked a big question.

Todd: The question that has bedeviled the entire history of popular music.

Haddaway: What is love?

Todd: No seriously, what is love?

Todd (VO): I've listened to a lot of music and I've heard so many different possible answers to this question. [Montage clips of Wet Wet Wet - "Love Is All Around"; Pat Benatar - "Love Is a Battlefield"; "Love Is an Open Door" from Frozen; The Beatles - "All You Need is Love"] "Love is all around", "love is a battlefield, "love is an open door", "love is all you need". A billion different ideas that never came together.

Todd: Pop music never came up with a unified theory of love.

Todd (VO): Haddaway didn't try to answer it. What he had was existential confusion...

Todd: ...which he wailed in anguish.

Haddaway: What is love?

Todd (VO): And then Haddaway went away. But no one has ever forgotten him. Not the least because [clip of The Roxbury Guys skit...] Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan then spent the rest of the '90s pounding it into our head. One of a [...and More Cowbell...] very long list of songs that [...and Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy] Will Ferrell has cast his long shadow over.

Snippet of Blades of Glory sample from "Ni**as in Paris"

Will Ferrell: Gets the people going

Todd: But try and put that out of your [another clip of The Roxbury Guys] bopping head for one moment. Before it was a joke that...

Clip from A Night at the Roxbury

Todd (VO): ...somehow got stretched into a feature-length movie, it was a real song. Let us explore the man...

Todd: ...behind the meme.

Female vocal: Whoa, uh, uh

Before the hit

Todd: For a guy whose big hit seems so very [image of Europe] quintessentially European, Haddaway is not actually from Europe. [images of...] Nestor Haddaway is Trinidadian, and he spent his childhood in America and went to college in Washington D.C. In fact, according to one source I've read [shot of said source] he actually has a Ph.D in political science. That's probably bullshit; I couldn't confirm that in my research at all. Although, I did get a hold of his thesis, [image of fake doctorate thesis by Haddaway] "What is Legitimate Use of [Political] Authority? Baby Don't Hurt Me, Don't Hurt Me, No More." But...

Todd (VO): Dr. Haddaway [text appears: "CITATION NEEDED"] wanted to pursue a career in music. And apparently, he wasn't fond of the American record industry, which...

Todd: ...he felt was trying to [image of Robert Brookins with caption: "Why the late '80s was a bad time for R&B"] shoehorn him into R&B, so he...

Stock footage of Germany

Todd (VO): ...moved to Cologne, Germany. He worked in bars, was a dancer, started his own fashion marketing company...

Todd: ...played football. [image of German magazine article featuring Haddaway in football attire] Yeah, like real American-style football. I didn't even know you could do that in Germany. I-I don't know how much it pays. I'm gonna guess he made more tending a bar.

Clip of old Haddaway performance

Todd (VO): And eventually he found a record label he felt like he could work with, and hooked up with some [low quality image of Tony Hendrik] German producer I've never heard of [clip of Bad Boys Blue - "You're a Woman"] who was famous for making a bunch of German songs I don't recognize.

Clip of Londonbeat - "I've Been Thinking About You"

Jimmy Helms: I've been thinking about you

Todd (VO): Oh, oh! Wait, wait, wait, I know this one! Oh man, I haven't thought about this song in a million years. I should do an episode on these guys.

Todd: But I'm getting off the topic. The producer presented Haddaway with a new song. [image of single cover for "What Is Love"] The one that would make him famous. Except the original version was apparently very different. Haddaway said it sounded like The Yardbirds...

Clip of live performance of The Yardbirds - "For Your Love"

Keith Relf: For your love, for your love

I would give the stars above

Todd: ...and that the producer wanted him to sing it like Joe Cocker.

Clip of live performance of Joe Cocker - "The Letter"

Joe Cocker: Listen to me mister, please don't you ever

For my baby once more

Todd: [shrugs] I have no idea what that could possibly sound like. Anyway, the producer took the song back to the workshop, and then gave us this instead.

The big hit

Video for "What Is Love" starts

Haddaway: What is love

Baby don't hurt me

Todd: Yep. Still gotta. [dances once more to the beat]

Haddaway: What is love

Todd (VO): To me there is no other song that sums up the entire '90s dance scene more than "What is Love". It's not even that I like it exactly. Like, you know, the European club music is...not really my thing. If you ask me what I feel about "What Is Love"...

Todd: ...it's okay. But more important than whether I like it, is that I respect it. I admire it.

Todd (VO): It feels like a towering, mammoth defining hit. Just the pinnacle of the genre.

Todd: I mean I have no idea if it seemed like that at the time. It...could have been just another club track for all I know.

Todd (VO): It didn't top the charts; not even the dance charts. But, like, just for kicks [clips of Robin S. - "Show Me Love" and Culture Beat - "Mr. Vain"] I ran through a whole bunch of '90s dance stuff, and "What Is Love" is so much better than its peers. It's ridiculous. Now why is that? I think...

Todd: ...it's just because of how punchy it is.

Haddaway: What is love

Baby don't hurt me

Todd (VO): I mean that's a hook right there. That's the eternal question. As we all know...

Todd: ...love makes the world go round. But also, love hurts, and love stinks. [image of heart and question marks over a girl's head] So why do we do it? Why do we even bother? We can't even answer that question 'cause we don't even know what we're talking about!

Haddaway: Don't hurt me no more

Todd (VO): Haddaway doesn't even pretend to have the answer. All he knows is his baby keeps hurting him, so all he can do is give out a primal scream of [image of man with blindfold shouting...] "What even the hell is this?!"

Haddaway: I don't know why you're not fair

It's such a simple song, but that's what's great about it. It cuts to the chase. [clip of Right Said Fred - "I'm Too Sexy"] Some dance songs aren't meant to be taken seriously, they're jokes. Haddaway is dead serious.

Todd: And to be fair, it makes it that much funnier.

Todd (VO): I had not watched the video for this. [beat; laughing] This is great! Remind me to save this one for Halloween.

Female vocal: Uh

Todd waves his arms pretending to be scared

Todd (VO): But the whole sexy vampire thing fits. One observation I've always liked-and I don't remember where I heard this-but...

Todd: ...early '90s house music was like [image of...] cathedral music, or [...and...] for like an opera house. It just conveys this huge amount of space and echo and Gothic architectural majesty. I mean, here-check this out.

Clip of "All I Ask of You (Reprise)" from Phantom of the Opera

The Phantom (Michael Crawford): You will curse the day you did not do

All that the Phantom asked of you!

"What Is Love" plays over the final note

Todd: Seamless. I can't tell the difference. Can you? [shrugs]

Todd (VO): And it has to sound big. 'Cause it's such a big topic. Like, imagine this as a folk song. [image of white guy with acoustic guitar; singing] "What is love? Baby don't hurt me, don't hurt me, no m-"

Todd: [immediately regrets it] Agh! No! No, no, no! Awful, awful.

Todd (VO): Now, unlike some dance tracks, "What Is Love" is recognizably an actual song with actual song parts. You know, verses, bridge, chorus, and so on. But it doesn't feel like that, does it? It just feels like the groove just kinda rides and rides without ever stopping. It seems endless.

Todd: It really seems endless if you watch [clips from...] Night at the Roxbury, where the song plays basically non-stop through the entire movie. [beat] Good God, how did Will Ferrell have a career after this?!

Cambi (Elisa Donovan): Oh, I love this song!

Vivica (Gigi Rice): Me too!

Steve Butabi (Will Ferrell): Actually, I'm getting kinda sick of it.

Todd: Yeah, so am I. Let's move on to the follow-up.

The failed follow-up

Todd: Haddaway's next single was called [single cover for...] "Life." Man, he doesn't shy away from the deep subject matter, huh? I'm sure he's got a song for [Venn diagram showing...] the universe and everything also. Well, let's check it out.

Video for "Life"

Haddaway: Life will never be the same

Life is changin' 

Female vocal: Yeah, yeah

Todd (VO): Oh, he's a mad scientist now. That's great. Haddaway is by far my favorite Halloween costume-based dance singer.

Todd: After, of course, Dr. Re-Animator.

Video for Dr. Re-Animator - "Move Your Dead Bones"

Dr. Re-Animator: Move your dead bones bones bones

Move your dead bones bones bones

Todd (VO): That is "Move Your Dead Bones" by Dr. Re-Animator, check it out some time.

Dr. Re-Animator: Reanimate your feet

Todd: Well, anyway...

Todd (VO): Uh, yeah. This, uh, certainly sounds familiar. Think it's even the same chords. Now the question of why this failed seems pretty easy at first.

Todd: Because he's a European dance artist. No one cares if they go or stay.

Todd (VO): Haddaway was no one's favorite band in high school. House and dance acts don't...engender the kind of brand loyalty the other genres do.

Todd: I mean, did you ever wonder why [video for 2 Unlimited - "Get Ready For This"] 2 Unlimited never had other hits besides "Y'All Ready For This?"

Ray Slijngaard: Y'all ready for this?

Todd (VO): Of course you didn't. You don't even know they had a [clip of 2 Unlimited - "Tribal Dance"] ton of hits. Some of which you probably even recognize. 'Cause who cares?!

Todd: Well, that was my first thought at least. But...honestly that's kinda not fair.

Video for Adamski - "Killer"

Todd (VO): Look at this guy. This guy was also some uncredited nameless mouthpiece for some faceless producer. [clip of Seal - "Kiss From a Rose"] And he went to a pretty damn good career.

Seal: Baby

I compare you to...

So, it can't just be the genre. I think the bigger problem here is that "Life" just isn't punchy enough. "What Is Love" hit you with the hard questions in half a second. Meanwhile, the hook for "Life" is, "life will never be the same."

Todd: I mean that just-that just doesn't have the same [punches palm of his hand] punch to it. Just has too many words.

Haddaway: Life will never be...


Todd: BORING! I'm bored! This is taking too long!! [image of...] But, of course, he was [...and a bunch of flags] foreign. You know what that means on this show.

Clip of live performance of...

Haddaway: Rock my heart

Todd (VO): Yes, he was of course huge in Germany. Well, maybe not huge, but at least as big as, like, Ace of Base was here. [clip of Haddaway - "I Miss You"] He racked up quite a few hits for a couple years. Although of course each made a little less impact than the last.

Clip of Haddaway - "Rock My Heart"

Haddaway: Rock my heart

Of his other hits in Germany, "Rock My Heart"...this one is I think my favorite. Possibly because of the short title.

Todd: Again, three words. Tells you all you need to know.

Clip of live performance of...

Todd (VO): And then he followed that up with [single cover for...] "Stir It Up."

Todd: Yes, the Bob Marley song.

Haddaway: Stir it up

Todd (VO): Ugh, no. No, no. I mean, if he was gonna cover a Bob Marley song...

Todd: ...you'd think he'd go for "Is This Love?"

VClip of Bob Marley & the Wailers - "Is This Love"

Bob Marley: Is this love, is this love, is this love

Is this love...

Todd: [singing] Is this love, baby don't hurt me, don't hurt me, don't hurt no more.

Did he ever do anything else?

Todd: So, apparently on his second album, he wanted to not be known as just a club artist. He wanted to stretch out, and broaden his career.

Clip of Haddaway - "Fly Away"

Haddaway: Away

You can leave it all behind you

Todd (VO): And judging by this, it sounds like his label did not agree. Yeah, he spent the rest of his career chasing that "What Is Love" high and he never quite found it again. But from what I can tell, he never gave up. He just keeps on making music, going on tour. [clip of "Lover Be Thy Name"] Most of it is dance music, some of it more low-key easy listening stuff like this. This one's called, "Lover Be Thy Name."

Todd: And, uh...now that I mention it, I think I spotted a familiar pattern in his music.

Montage clips of...

Haddaway: Who do you love

Todd (VO): After "Lover Be Thy Name," he released "Who Do You Love." And then, "Love Makes"..."You Gave Me Love." Even for the single most popular topic in music...

Todd: ...that's a lot of love.

Video for...

Todd (VO): But here's my personal favorite love single of his...

Todd: ..."I Love the 90's."

...Haddaway & Dr. Alban - "I Love the '90s"

Dr. Alban: We're gonna take you back to the '90s

Haddaway: It's gonna be '90s, yeah

Todd (VO): Yeah, that's a real song title...and it's basically just a bunch of random '90s dance references.

Dr. Alban: Can't touch this

Mister Scatman, Hammer time

Ski ba bop ba dop bop

Todd: Man, I really need to take notes on all of this. There's like, just a ton of different ideas for future episodes here.

Dr. Alban: Around, jump around

Jump around in a slow motion

Todd: And of course, I would be remiss if I didn't mention one of the biggest hits of his post-"What Is Love" career..."What Is Love Reloaded."

Clip of Haddaway - "What Is Love Reloaded"

Haddaway: What is love

Todd (VO): Yeah, you can guess [movie poster for Matrix Reloaded] what year that came out in. And after that...

Todd: ..."What Is Love 2K9."

Clip of Klaas ft. Haddaway - "What Is Love 2K9"

Haddaway: What is love

Female vocal: Whoa, uh, uh

Todd (VO): Having delved into the topic so deeply...

Todd: ...he probably at this point finally has figured out the meaning of love.

Did he deserve better?

Todd just shrugs

Haddaway: What is love

Baby don't hurt me

Todd (VO): He's a good singer. Others have done more with a lot less. But [sighs]...

Todd: ...I don't think it really matters. He was a dance artist.

Todd (VO): Your personality doesn't really matter in dance music. You have the songs to make people dance or you don't. And he didn't. Of course, he started on such a high note that there was nowhere to go but down.

Todd: I mean, that song's never going away. Not until we discover the actual meaning of love. What is love forever! [bops his head one more time]

Haddaway: What is love

Closing Tag Song: Lost Frequencies - "What Is Love"


"What Is Love" is owned by Coconut Records

This video is owned by me


Outtake of Todd still bopping his head; he suddenly stops

Todd: This is giving me a really bad headache.

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