‘Oh my God – this is big!’ How the Cardigans went stratospheric with Lovefool
Nina Persson, singer and co-writer
In 1995 we had just released our second album, Life, and were touring a lot. We were in an airport somewhere waiting for a flight and were looking at material Peter Svensson, our guitarist and songwriter, had written for the next record. He played this song on guitar: it was a bossa nova at that point. I thought it was beautiful, but found the chorus “Love me, love me, say that you love me” too cliched, so I tried to offset its sweetness by adding: “Fool me, fool me, go on and fool me.” It’s a song about how it’s very human to bend over backwards when it comes to getting love. The character is very calculating, aware that what they’re going to get isn’t real but that it’s better than nothing.
Our producer Tore Johansson would break our balls. He couldn’t stand that it was a bossa nova and immediately had our drummer play a disco beat. Disco wasn’t being used a lot then and it helped the song stand out. The first time we released Lovefool, in 1996, it did well. We didn’t think it could be any bigger. Then, a year or so later, Baz Luhrmann asked us for a song to use in his film Romeo + Juliet. It felt really nice that he personally got in touch. We offered him a different song that was way more romantic but then he heard Lovefool and said: “No, that’s what I want.” We were invited to the premiere but were away on tour at the time. I still haven’t met Leonardo DiCaprio. I never got my chance, before I turned 25, to have my moment with him.
The culture verged on pornographic. There were shoots of me licking an ice cream, while Peter made guitar mag covers
After that second release, I was in a Nike store in New York one day and the video came on their big screen. The salespeople were all singing along. “Oh my God!” I thought. “This is big.” I had to go outside – I was freaked out. I loved music but I had no intention of being famous. I also had a problem with how women were presented. At the time, there was this horrible culture that verged on pornographic. There were photoshoots of me licking an ice-cream, gross stuff like that, while Peter got to be on the cover of guitar magazines.
Lovefool has definitely come back around, with the 90s being so hot right now. My 12-year-old son and his friends know it through things like TikTok. Young girls ask me if I’ve met Justin Bieber, because of his song Love Me, which borrows the chorus from Lovefool. We thought it was bullshit at first. Let a 15-year-old use our song? No way! But our manager said: “You guys want to think twice because people say this kid is going to be really big.” We’re happy we did.
Tore Johansson, producer, played bass
My friends and I were hobby musicians. We built Tambourine Studios in Malmö just to have a place to record. We started recording other bands to make money. One was the Cardigans. I never really wanted to be a producer but I ended up recording all of their albums except one and having an amazing, almost full-time career with them for many years.
When they came to me with Lovefool, I thought: “Yeah, it’s really good, but we’ve made so many of these indie bossa nova songs. Couldn’t we try something a little funkier?” Latin rock and disco were the big inspiration, the organ was inspired by Oye Como Va by Santana.
We bought a restaurant. That was fun. But in a very Malmö way. Not much cocaine going on
We recorded it totally analogue. Our studio was like an authentic 1970s studio: it’s an easy way to get that kind of retro sound. We worked hard on every instrumental part to get it perfect. I think I played bass on the chorus and Peter on the verse. Nina is super good at doing vocals. She had a sound and she had a style.
The Cardigans are very down to earth, so Malmö was a great town for them to be famous in. We had this weird double life, of being pretty normal at home while all this crazy stuff was happening around the world. There was so much money coming in to the studio, we started a record label and we bought a restaurant. That was fun. But in a very Malmö way. Not much cocaine going on.
I went on to produce Franz Ferdinand’s first album, as well as lots of other bands. But Lovefool is definitely my claim to fame. If I’m at a wedding or something, meeting people who don’t know me, I can tell them: “You know that ‘love me, love me, say that you love me’ song? That was me.” I can do that and be proud.
The Great White Sea Eagle by James Yorkston, Nina Persson and the Second Hand Orchestra is out now; they play Lemon Tree, Aberdeen, on 1 February, then tour.