The year — 1997. The grade — second. In my short amount of life, I happen to have in my possession three compact discs to date, entities quickly replacing cassette tapes in the music world. Those albums were that of Ace of Base, Spice Girls, and — the CD cherished most among them all — Aqua’s debut Aquarium. Yes, this explains a lot about my adult life, I know.
But back then, it was dance vibes. From the Real McCoy to La Bouche and Dee-Lite to jock jams and Gina G (yes, I went there), everyone had neon 90s dance fever. Well, except for the heroin-chic grunge movement and rising angry white boy music that led to Nu metal at the turn of the Millennium. I was eight, so none of that was on my radar though… and my mind was about to be blown with the looming mega-pop explosion of Britney, Backstreet, and a billion others that I was the target audience for.
Before the main course, was the Aqua appetizer — a perfect gateway drug for what lay ahead.
And I was addicted. I must’ve listened to that first Aqua album like 30,000 times. I still listen to Aqua bangers every day at the gym! That continues to CD define everything that is pure and fun for me, happy and carefree — a time before any kind of adulting. I’m sure older people loved Aqua in ’97, too… but I’m also positive that “Barbie Girl” didn’t resonate on the Richter scale for them as much as it did someone who was currently playing with the dolls. It was like the music was written for me, from my point-of-view. Aquarium was for the “Happy Boys and Girls”: the kids sucking down candy, playing make-believe, and “C-A-L-L-ING” their friends on the landlines. No, I didn’t understand what the “candyman” was in “Lollipop” or the “tequila” referenced in “Heat Of The Night” (although I did learn some Spanish customs, like fiestas and siestas). What I did understand was this band had upbeat, simple pop music about imaginary scenarios; second grade theme music has never been surpassed since.
Fast forward to 2023, when Aqua announced a U.S. tour over 25 years in the making (at least for this superfan). The band broke up following their sophomore LP Aquarius, an album I admittedly know little about beyond the main hits, claiming that the “spark” between members just wasn’t there anymore.
Well, we’re all in luck as this “spark” seems to be back and better than ever!
It was a Sunday night at the San Diego House of Blues, the weekend before Thanksgiving and a night following a full festival day for me. If it was any other band in existence, I wouldn’t be out of bed. But, it was Aqua. I had waited my whole life for this.
Opening the evening was pop artist Vassy, with catchy hooks and adorning all the colors of the rainbow. In fact, everyone in the joint was dressed in sequins, glitter, and glam — true ‘Barbie children’. Speaking of children, there were quite a few there late on a Sunday, which spoke to Aqua transcending generations, with kids nowadays in love with their music as much as I was back then. That made me smile.
Once Aqua took the stage, though, it went from zero to rave real fast.
Every person in the house was jumping. Some even were holding Barbies high in the air. We were shouting every word to every song at the top of all our lungs… it has been a hot minute since I felt this kind of powerfully pure, soul-stirring, pour-your-heart-out energy emanating throughout an entire establishment. It was intoxicating. From “Cartoon Heroes” to “My Oh My” to “Halloween”, Aqua had everyone hooked, looking like they never aged a day. They even made attendees over 30 remember that Gwyneth Paltrow was in an incredibly mediocre film called Sliding Doors with clips of it in the music video for “Turn Back Time” projected behind the onstage performers.
Of course, all hell broke loose for “Barbie Girl”…
And it didn’t stop for “Lollipop” or “Doctor Jones”. My personal favorite was, of course, reserved for the final song of the encore — “Roses Are Red”. It was then when we realized we all had to disperse back into reality, feeling especially giddy for our respective ages in the late November air on a week night. All I can say is that is was well worth it.
Photography by Kristy Rose