PEOPLE.COM: Aqua on ‘Barbie Girl’ Resurgence, Grammy Nods and US Tour: ‘It’s Been Out-of-This-World Fantastic!’ (Exclusive)

The Danish group tells PEOPLE about how Nicki Minaj and Ice Spice's 'Barbie World' rework of their signature hit has given them a new wave of success


AQUA goes on tour

After nearly three decades in the business, Aqua‘s party is still going strong.

The Danish Eurodance group had a massive 2023, thanks to their signature hit “Barbie Girl” getting reworked by Nicki Minaj and Ice Spice for the Barbie film, which earned the band a new wave of stateside success in the forms of a top-10 hit, two Grammy nominations, a U.S. tour and a spot in the lineup of this year’s Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest 2024.

“It’s been out-of-this-world fantastic,” keyboardist Søren Rasted tells PEOPLE of Aqua’s whirlwind year while backstage at a concert venue.

“We didn’t know we had this many fans in America,” says vocalist Lene Nystrøm. “We are just blown away.”

“It’s been many, many, many years since we’ve played a concert where we basically could have been taking the microphone, put it down, and everybody was singing all the lyrics, all the songs — like, really f—ing loud,” adds vocalist René Dif. “And that is very impressive.”

Before this year, Aqua hadn’t properly toured the U.S. since “Barbie Girl” first became a hit around the release of the band’s 1997 debut album Aquarium. Back then, Søren, Lene and René (as well as former member Claus Norreen) were more focused on launching their career than taking in each moment — something they’re able to do now.

Danish-Norwegian pop group Aqua
Søren Rasted, Lene Nystrom, René Dif and Claus Norreen of Aqua.TIM RONEY/GETTY

“This time, you actually get to take in what the fans are telling you, and they’ve all got a beautiful story to tell [of] what the music did for them,” says Lene, 50. “It’s very, very touching.”

“Barbie Girl” remains prominent in pop culture today, but there was no guarantee that 2023’s Barbie would have much of an impact on the song. Last year, Lene’s former manager Ulrich Møller-Jørgensen told Variety there was no plan for the song to be featured in the blockbuster film.

At the time, the band understood the team behind the Greta Gerwig-directed movie might want to focus on current music rather than nostalgia. But leading actress Margot Robbie later told Rolling Stone she and Gerwig wanted to include “Barbie Girl” — and succeeded, as soundtrack producer Mark Ronson then crafted “Barbie World,” which samples Aqua’s original track, with Minaj and Ice Spice.

Not only is the inclusion of “Barbie Girl” in Barbie fitting for the film, but it also marks a shift in the brand’s parent company Mattel’s view of the classic novelty hit. In 2000, the corporation sued Aqua’s then-label MCA Records and claimed the song violated Barbie’s trademark and sexualized the kids toy with its cheeky lyrics. (“I’m a blonde bimbo girl in a fantasy world,” sings Lene on the track.)

The lawsuit was dismissed in 2002, with a court ruling “Barbie Girl” was protected as a work of parody under the First Amendment. Less than a decade later, Mattel used the song in a promotional video for Barbie dolls.

“It’s all about getting attention, isn’t it? And they got attention,” reflects Lene, while Søren adds: “I think they’re cool about everything.”

Lene Nystrom and René Dif of Danish Europop music group Aqua performs on stage
Lene Nystrøm and René Dif.ANDREW CHIN/GETTY

The brand likely doesn’t regret mending its relationship with Aqua. Since its release, “Barbie World” has become a smash hit and reached No. 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 — coincidentally the same peak position “Barbie Girl” achieved in 1997. While the group hasn’t spoken to either rapper about the collaboration, Lene says she “absolutely” likes the new song: “Absolutely. I love Nicki. I think she’s amazing.”

The cherry on top? “Barbie World” is now nominated in two categories (best rap song and best song written for visual media) at the upcoming 2024 Grammy Awards, marking Aqua’s first nods at the annual show. (The group did, however, win seven trophies at the 1998 Danish Music Awards, the country’s equivalent of the Grammys.)

Søren recalls learning about the nominations shortly after Aqua touched down in the U.S. for their tour, which wrapped earlier this month. “It couldn’t have been a better timing actually,” he says. “What a better way to start that?”

“Now, we’re waiting for our invitation [to the ceremony],” jokes Lene. “We’ll get there.”

The year of Barbie may be coming to an end, but if Aqua’s many sold-out concerts in the U.S. are any indicator, the band’s fandom is fully reignited. The trio will send off 2023 with performances of “Barbie Girl” and “Doctor Jones,” another Aquarium single. “It’s a huge honor just to be there,” says Lene.

While Aqua doesn’t have concrete plans to release new music in the foreseeable future — “Our legacy is hard to beat,” quips Lene — the band looks to continue touring the world, and they’re open to the idea of remixing more of their early hits alongside other artists.

René, 56, would revisit “Lollipop,” as he’s seen “people freak out” when they play the track live, while Lene wants to breathe new life into “Back from Mars.”

Søren has a more left-of-center song he’d like to look back on from their largely high-energy discography: “For some reason I’d love to see one of the ballads work over here [in the U.S.]”

Aqua perform at Fabrique on May 27, 2023 in Milan

Whatever’s next for Aqua, the band members are ready. This year has taught them just how passionate their U.S. fans remain. “We should’ve done this 10 years ago,” Søren jokes of returning to America.

“We didn’t know that we could, actually,” admits Lene.

“It is just so fantastic to be a part of something that people have loved and love so much now,” adds Rene. “We’re very grateful to our fans.”