Peter Svensson of The Cardigans
One-Hit Wonders: The Cardigans

The Cardigans were fringe artists with a rich library who had one song cross over out of nowhere. It never happened again.

The phenomenon of the one-hit wonder fascinates me. Every now and then, an artist will catch lightning in a bottle and record a song that rockets up the charts with no one quite sure how it got there or why. The song may linger in the public consciousness while the artist fades. Is this fair to the artist? Not really. They often become cultural punching bags or punchlines and are dismissed. It’s not, let’s say, Gerardo’s fault that “Rico Suave” was his only hit. At least he had one! And according to Wikipedia, he signed Bubba Sparxxx to Interscope while working as a record executive. Huh.

What’s rarer is for a somewhat fringe artist with a rich library to have one song cross over out of nowhere and never have it happen again. This was the case with The Cardigans, the Swedish chamber pop band whose 1996 single “Lovefool” was a worldwide smash, thanks in part to being featured on the soundtrack for Baz Luhrmann’s twitchily gonzo Romeo + Juliet. The breezy, gossamer pop song seems weightless and ephemeral, and maybe that’s why the Cardigans remain nothing more than a faint memory to most. 

There’s a lot going on under the surface of “Lovefool.” The chords and progression are more jazz than pop; it’s basically a bossa nova song dressed up as power pop with a disco backbeat and Nile Rogers-style guitar chucking. Much of The Cardigans’ catalog is a melange of musical styles and influences in this vein. Two founding members, guitarist Peter Svensson, and bassist Magnus Sveningsson, had been in heavy metal bands before forming the band. Their first two albums, Emmerdale and Life, feature genre-bending Black Sabbath covers. “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” becomes a blissed-out calliope-flavored jazzy cocktail party number, while “Iron Man” becomes a trip-hop lo-fi vamp. Their entire discography is worthy of a closer look. They are so much more than one song. Other singles with a similar feel to “Lovefool,” such as “Carnival” and “Rise and Shine,” could have been hits too, had things gone differently. Every musical artist experiences many sliding-door moments in their lifetime. Getting a record deal and the opportunity to release anything is remarkable. How many one-hit wonders could have had significant careers?  How many successful acts could have missed their break?  It’s impossible to say. Maybe there’s an alternate universe where the Cardigans are the biggest Swedish band since ABBA. They should have been so much more.

Photo Credit: Alex Laljak

Adam is just a dude based in Brooklyn who enjoys thinking about music in all forms. He enjoys cooking, board games, baseball, and arranging songs for ukulele that shouldn't be played on ukulele in an extremely amateurish way. Adam is shown here at age 13 on his way to a bar mitzvah.

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