Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

“The Sign” ruled 1994, even if it said nothing at all

In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. This week, we’re picking from 1994’s most popular cuts.


With three songs sitting in the top 10 of 1994’s Hot 100, Ace Of Base was 1994’s undisputed pop phenomenon. The Swedish quartet broke into the charts with “All That She Wants” in 1993, but really lit things on fire with “The Sign,” which went to No. 1 that March and sparked the re-naming of the band’s record, Happy Nation, for the States.

While “All That She Wants” is a low-key dub-reggae swinger and the group’s later single “Don’t Turn Around” mills the same romantic grist as a lot of the group’s other material, it was “The Sign” that put Ace Of Base on the cultural map. With Arista Records’ Clive Davis on the group’s side in the states, Ace Of Base brought Swedish pop back into the collective consciousness. Working with now-legendary pop producers like Denniz Pop, Ace Of Base made the saccharine seem palatable and brought the tempo down on club jams, making them more accessible to the Lite Rock knob-twirling masses.

Of course, it didn’t hurt that the group was incredibly attractive, flaunting crop-tops, slip dresses, and rugged jaws in the accompanying video. It also helped that, while incredibly catchy, “The Sign” isn’t really about anything. Sure, there’s some hardcore making out in the video and what appears to be a rotating ankh that’s supposed to be “the sign,” but the track’s lyrics (“Life is demanding / Without understanding”) are convoluted at best and act as a reminder that just because a European band technically knows English doesn’t mean it has a real active command of the language. Still, “The Sign” emerged from 1994 an incredibly popular and fluffy confection, leading acts like Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and Robyn to call Ace Of Base an influence on their respective tunes even now.


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