What is it that makes something era-defining? It’s a question that has had art historians scratching their eccentric heads for decades, and it would seem that when it comes to the second half of the 1990s, The Cardigans have the answer. If offshoots of eras can be dubbed as genres, then it would seem that songs like ‘Lovefool’, ‘Sweet Like Chocolate’, the awfully named Sixpence None The Richer classic ‘Kiss Me’ and pretty much everything by The Cranberries parade as paradigms of late nineties alternative pop.
However, music isn’t alone in capturing the zeitgeist, films have forever mimicked the feat. In the 1960s, you had movies like Easy Rider embodying the counterculture movement. 30 years later, you had flicks like Cruel Intentions and Romeo + Juliet capturing the loose-fitting MTV teen aesthetic of the era with frightening fidelity. Much like Easy Rider and hundreds of other era-defining movies that went before them, an essential part of transposing the spirit of the age onto the big screen is in getting the soundtrack finely tuned.
Music is a shortcut to a time and place for all of us in a mental sense. A song can almost literally transport you back to a scene in the diegesis of your life like an ex’s perfume or cologne. This memory conjuring knack is a crutch that movies can lean on gladly and bring moments of the past back to life. While crystalising the present is somewhat trickier, it can still be done with enough fortuitous alchemy. This feat is perfectly embodied by the involvement of ‘Lovefool’ in Baz Luhrmann’s William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet.
Although ‘Lovefool’ was released in 1996, it wasn’t until Luhrmann’s modern-day reinvention of the Bard that the song gained serious international traction outside of The Cardigans native Sweden. While no doubt having the fresh-faced Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes helped to launch it towards stardom, it also just seemed to have found its time and place in the film. For the likes of Vampire Weekend’s Ezra Koenig, the songs hand in glove moment in the movie helped to open a new bohemian window into the world of happening music scenes. The following year, Cruel Intentions would once more drop the song amongst teenage melodrama with stirring effect for 15-year-olds the world over.
Even the origin of the track captures the poster-clad bedroom feel of the era. As The Cardigans Peter Svensson explains: “To me, that song is still that moment when I wrote it in a small room, sitting on my bed in our home town. It was supposed to be some kind of a bossa nova: a totally different song, slow and mellow and sad. The production on it, though, and the disco drums made it all shinier.” This is a notion mimicked by Lead singer Nina Persson who penned the song while waiting in an airport and remarked: “I do find that the biggest hits are the ones that are the easiest to write.”
The second element that I have not yet afford the song when discussing its era-defining ways is the simple pop-perfection of the songwriting itself. It’s a piece of Swedish honeyed belle that would brisk any movie along with its purring guitar tones, after all, you’d be hard pushed being a paradigm of the zeitgeist if you were condemned to the ash heap of history.
In short, the bittersweet bop is wrapped up in all kinds of coming of age millennial miasma and as such movies of the era saw fit to use it as a perfect vehicle to uphold the atmosphere of the times in their picture. For me, as for many of a certain generation, ‘Lovefool’ and the two huge movies that housed it will forever be woven into the tapestry of youth, like little wormholes to a time when your main focus was how to achieve tightly curled hair.