From documentaries on Pamela Anderson and Anna Nicole Smith to films about Beanie Babies and Michael Jordan’s sneakers to the revivals of Frasier and The Full Monty, 2023 has gone in hard on the pop culture of the 1990s. And that extends to the dancefloor, where the decade’s most derided genre has once again got us all waving our hands in the air like we just don’t care.
Forget the bro-country that has dominated the upper reaches of the Hot 100: the hottest, and far less problematic, sound of the summer has been the minor chord melodies, four-to-the-floor beats, and hooks that permanently lodge inside your brain — whether you want them to or not — of vintage Eurodance. As its name suggests, this is a form of electronic music that emerged from Central Europe in the late 1980s, and typically involves male rappers (often delivering rhymes about peace and love in broken English), female-fronted choruses, and simplistic ravey synths that appealed just as much to the playground as the superclub. Its visuals were similarly colorful, the acts usually letting loose in CGI fests which were deemed cutting-edge at the time but now look like they were created on a Commodore 64.
Modern Takes on a '90s Sound
Take David Guetta, for example, who has enjoyed a Billboard chart resurgence by borrowing from two bona fide classics. His 2022 Bebe Rexha collab “I’m Good (Blue)” became his joint-biggest hit to date and nabbed him a Grammy nomination back in January 2023 after the TikTok crowd discovered his Eiffel 65 tribute five years after its debut at Ultra Music Festival. Coincidentally, just two years later in 2019, no fewer than three different artists — Swedish singer Nea, PC Music alum GFOTY, and Australian DJ Flume — suddenly all decided “Blue (Da Ba Dee),” was ripe for the picking, too, releasing their own takes on the 1998 tune. And the Frenchman, never one afraid of repeating a trick or two, is also now enjoying success with “Baby Don’t Hurt Me,” an Anne-Marie and Coi Leray team-up borrowing from Haddaway’s Eurodance classic “What Is Love.”
Interestingly, there’s also been an uptick in listeners keen to check out Guetta’s source material, with “Blue (Da Ba Dee)” racking up an additional 110.5 million Spotify streams since “I’m Good (Blue)” first dropped in August 2022, and “What Is Love” a further 107.8 million since the release of “Baby Don’t Hurt Me” in April 2023.
Nicki Minaj has also twice hopped aboard the Eurodance train; first alongside Kim Petras on “Alone,” a retooling of Alice Deejay’s turn-of-the-millennium banger “Better Off Alone,” and then again with Ice Spice on the Aqua-sampling “Barbie World,” currently competing with Dua Lipa’s “Dance the Night Away” as the biggest U.S. smash from Greta Gerwig’s neon pink phenomenon Barbie.
Elsewhere in 2023, there have been hit samplings of Robert Miles’ comedown classic “Children” (Switch Disco and Ella Henderson’s “React”) and Strike’s handbag house anthem “U Sure Do” (Borai and Denham Audio’s “Make Me”). South Korean DJ Peggy Gou achieved her mainstream breakthrough with “(It Goes Like) Nanana,” using the same pitched-up guitar sound that made ATB’s “9 PM (Till I Come)” the perfect pre-millennial floor filler. Calvin Harris, meanwhile, spent eight weeks at the U.K. number one spot with “Miracle,” a deliberate throwback to the days when he wasn’t a Vegas superclub hunk but a gawky bedroom DJ hooked on trance.
It’s a resurgence that has been gathering pace since the late 2010s, with Ava Max as one of the driving forces. No doubt inspired by her Albanian roots, the dance-pop singer built her early career on the genre, taking elements of Aqua’s “Barbie Girl” and ATC’s “Around the World” on “Not Your Barbie Girl” and “My Head and My Heart,” respectively.
A few years earlier, Gala’s often misquoted (it’s “strong beliefs” not “trampolines”) 1997 smash “Freed from Desire” had become adopted as soccer’s ultimate singalong, buoyed by a viral YouTube video celebrating Wigan Athletic and Northern Ireland striker Will Grigg. More recently, current festival favorites Janet Planet and Sugar Bones, aka Aussie outfit Confidence Man, have ticked off several Eurodance boxes with their gender dynamic, exuberant choreography, and summer holiday sound. And, in every episode of 2022’s Cunk on Earth, scatterbrained TV presenter Philomena Cunk (Diane Morgan) tenuously segued from a serious historical tidbit into a burst of Technotronic‘s “Pump Up the Jam.” No doubt some of the 25.7 million Spotify plays the 1989 hit has accrued since the mockumentary dropped on Netflix in late January 2023 are from viewers wanting to hear the whole thing.
And who can forget how the unfortunately named band Corona was thrust back into the spotlight in 2020? “It would be a lot better if the world was infected by the song instead of that dangerous virus,” noted Olga Souza, the face (but certainly not the voice) behind the group responsible for arguably the pinnacle of the Eurodance scene, “The Rhythm of the Night.” A classy Italo-disco affair which managed to charm the genre's naysayers, the 1994 single was by far the highest-placed Eurodance entry on Rolling Stone’s 200 Greatest Dance Songs (No. 68), while The Guardian ranked it 50th in its list of all-time great UK No. 2 hits.
But, it’s undoubtedly 2023 where this unlikely revival is achieving its commercial peak. Guetta and Rexha remained at the top of Billboard’s Hot Dance/Electronic Songs chart for a remarkable 55 weeks — being beaten out during the week of October 21 by Kenya Grace’s “Strangers” — the second longest run at the top since the chart’s 2013 inception, while Minaj’s Barbie revamp hovered around the U.S. Top 10 for four months.
The Roots of the Revival
So, why is a genre once dismissed as pure throwaway nonsense now being embraced by both artists and listeners who weren’t even born yet during its commercial heyday? Well, the obvious explanation is that in the wake of the aforementioned pandemic, audiences will inevitably gravitate towards music rooted in pure escapism. And music doesn’t get much more escapist than some heavily autotuned blue-based babble or helium-voiced ode to Mattel’s finest creation. But perhaps it’s just another example of the cyclical nature of the music industry. We’ve had the UK garage revival, the emo renaissance, and the house resurgence. Why not Eurodance?
As for those who can remember doing the “Saturday Night” dance the first time around, the Eurodance of yesteryear can serve as a pure hit of feel-good nostalgia. Whereas the far more celebrated ‘90s music scenes, such as grunge and trip-hop were more suited to the insular listening experience — moping around the bedroom, for instance — Eurodance was designed to be communal. A school disco, for example, or a memorable family holiday is far more likely to have been soundtracked by a gruff-voiced European rapper, anonymous diva, and some cartoonish dance-pop than a cut from Nirvana’s Nevermind or Massive Attack’s Blue Lines, something which the soundtrack of Oscar-nominated coming-of-age Aftersun acknowledged perfectly.
What’s interesting for a sound once labeled as entirely disposable is how much 2023 listeners are willing to explore further, with Aqua perhaps the biggest beneficiary. The Danish trio were languishing outside the Top 2500 of Chartmetric’s Artist Rankings at the start of the year. But, as the Barbenheimer hype machine kicked in, they steadily climbed all the way up to the 54th highest-ranked artist in the world by August 7. In the same period, their monthly Spotify listeners ballooned from 4 million to 36.3 million, no doubt also capitalizing on high placings on popular throwback playlists such as Guilty Pleasures (3.3 million followers) and All Out ‘90s (7.9 million). With Margot Robbie’s feminist figure launching them back into the nation’s consciousness again, René, Lene and Søren were able to play their first-ever headlining American show last month 26 years after their "one-hit wonder."
As you’d expect, the band’s signature hit, in particular, has also enjoyed a renewed popularity. Although it was already a member of YouTube’s exclusive billion-views club, the Mattel-spoofing “Barbie Girl” video garnered an extra 55.6 million views in the first month after Barbie’s July 21 release alone. And the movie has also propelled its TikTok presence from 340k posts at the start of July, before it hit theaters three weeks later, to a now colossal 1.9 million. Meanwhile, Filtr Sweden’s Eurodance ‘90s, the most prominent professionally curated playlist on Spotify dedicated to the sound, has grown in followers from around 4.9k at the start of 2021 to a now impressive 124k.
The Summer of "Planet of the Bass"
Of course, one of the Eurodance songs that’s gained the most viral traction this year isn’t an established classic or sample-heavy anthem, but a completely original, pitch-perfect parody that manages to capture both the joys and the absurdities of the genre in just 50 infectious seconds. The brainchild of comedian Kyle Gordon, “Planet of the Bass” has taken on a life of its own since dropping in July, accruing 10.8 million views on TikTok and an astonishing 113.9 million on Twitter in the process.
@kylegordonisgreat Planet of the Bass (feat. DJ Crazy Times & Ms. Biljana Electronica) #djcrazytimes #eurodance #90s #dancemusic #edm #funny #funnyvideos #funnytiktok ♬ Planet of the Bass (feat. DJ Crazy Times & Ms. Biljana Electronica) - Kyle Gordon
Credited to Gordon’s outlandish alter-ego DJ Crazy Times, a flame-haired rapper of unknown Eastern European origin, and Ms. Biljana Electronica (aka face of influencer Audrey Trullinger and voice of Berklee College of Music graduate Chrissi Poland), the track expertly plays upon the Eurodance formula of Real McCoy, Maxx, and Culture Beat just to name a few: hyper-macho rhymes which flit between horndog demands and naïve calls for world peace (“Sex, I’m wanting more/Tell the world, stop the war”), unintentionally – or in this case, intentionally – amusing broken English (“Life, it never die/Women are my favorite guy”) and soaring female-led vocal melodies often lip-synced to by various inter-changeable vocalists.
Gordon’s commitment to the latter also threatened to spoil his Eurodance party before it had even properly begun. Indeed, a second video that substituted Trullinger for Mara Olney (2.3 million views) sparked a major online backlash, with most fans arguing the replacement lacked the energy and late-’90s aesthetics of her predecessor (“Bring her back or we riot” was the general consensus). Released just a few days later, a third clip featuring a slightly more animated Sabrina Brier (2 million) failed to placate the naysayers either unaware of Eurodance’s revolving door policy — Cappella, La Bouche, and Snap! are just a few of the acts who routinely swapped members without hoping anyone noticed — or believing, not unfairly, that Gordon had perhaps jumped the gun a little too soon.
Still, the 1.3 million YouTube views the full-length video version racked up in its first two days suggests there’s still plenty of mileage left in the joke. At this rate, “Planet of the Bass” may even follow in the footsteps of “Bed Intruder Song,” the pitch-shifted interview of flamboyant news TV witness Antoine Dodson, which in 2010 made that rare leap from comedy viral hit to the Hot 100.
Who knows how far the revival will go? Perhaps E-Rotic's “Max Don’t Have Sex with Your Ex” will become the defining anthem of the next Electric Daisy Carnival? Maybe Hollywood will serve up a Bohemian Rhapsody-style biopic of the Vengaboys? Whatever crazy times lay ahead, this summer has proved once and for all that Eurodance will always have the power to make “everybody movement.”
Graphics by Nicki Camberg and cover image by Crasianne Tirado; data as of Oct. 19, 2023.