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Catching up with the Cardigans' singer about the '90s hit I obsessed over as a teen

A quarter century later, the song that begged to "love me, love me" still grabs my attention like few others can.
The Cardigans
When the Cardigans posed for this photo in July 1996, they were only months away from breaking through the U.S. music scene with their hit song "Lovefool."Gie Knaeps / Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

Recently I walked into a drugstore and I immediately stopped in my tracks when I heard a familiar sound playing over the speakers.

“Doot-doot … doot-doot-doot-doot …”

I felt a wave of excitement, more so than usual when I’m in a CVS.

“Dear, I fear we’re facing a problem …”

It’s funny how certain songs stick with you for years — for decades, even. “Lovefool,” by the Swedish pop-rock band the Cardigans, is one of those songs for me. It takes me back to a very specific time in my life: about 25 years ago, when I was a junior in high school and obsessed with “Lovefool.” I’d sing it in the school hallways, then go home and listen to it on cassette.

"Lovefool" was also at the heart of one of the most cringey moments of my junior year — or any other year of my life, for that matter. It took place at junior prom, when I sang the song in front of my date and a large group of friends in our high school gymnasium. It was quite a spectacle. A friend had requested “Lovefool,” and once the DJ began to play it, my ears perked up. I belted out the words from start to finish, dancing wildly, while standing in the middle of a circle of classmates. It was very much out of character for me — I was introverted and had no musical or dance talent to speak of — and it was not something I would ever do again. Such is the power of "Lovefool."

What can I say? I was in love with “Lovefool,” and I may have acted foolishly because of it.

I clearly wasn’t the only one who was smitten, given the song’s role in not one, but two hit albums released in 1996: the Cardigans’ “First Band on the Moon,” which debuted in the U.S. that September, and the soundtrack to the Leonardo DiCaprio-Claire Danes film “Romeo + Juliet,” which dropped less than two months later. Both albums went platinum (in the case of “Romeo + Juliet,” multiplatinum), in no small part because of the success of “Lovefool.”

Feeling nostalgic for that time in my life, I thought I’d turn back the clock and chat “Lovefool” with the musician who sang it: Cardigans frontwoman Nina Persson, who co-wrote “Lovefool” with bandmate Peter Svensson. She shared why the group initially considered it to be a “freak” of a song, one particular moment when she realized just how popular it had become worldwide, and what she thinks of it a quarter century later.

The story behind ‘Lovefool’

Though “Lovefool” is, without question, the most recognizable song from “First Band on the Moon” — especially in the U.S. — it didn’t exactly capture the vibe the Cardigans were going for at the time. The group was looking to move in a different direction, musically.

“We felt that ‘Lovefool’ was a bit of a freak of a song on that record. We wanted to go more in a rock, kind of a tougher identity,” Persson, 47, explained from Sweden during a conversation on Zoom.

The Cardigans viewed “Lovefool” as an extension of their previous album “Life,” which featured the single “Carnival.” In a way, “Carnival” was “Lovefool” before there was a “Lovefool,” with its chorus of, “Come on and love me now/ Come on and love me now.”

From the start, "Lovefool" was not what one would consider an edgy rock song.

“I remember we were writing it on tour. Peter actually presented the song to us in an airport lounge,” Persson recalled. “And then it was like a very mellow bossa nova — that's before we get the disco beat. So I remember we started to fiddle with it then and starting to sort of come up with some embryos of lyrics and stuff.”

Those lyrics became desperate pleas to “love me, love me,” “fool me, fool me” and “leave me, leave me.” “Lovefool” actually carries a pretty depressing message for a song that’s otherwise so cheery.

“I'd say it really has the thing where at a quick listen to it, it makes you feel really happy. But if you read the lyrics or isolate the lyrics, you would get a different — it's a nice Trojan horse in that way. It's like a sad story captured in a wooden horse of an upbeat, danceable, sunny tune,” Persson said.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes in "Romeo + Juliet"
"Lovefool" was one of the featured tracks on the soundtrack to the Leonardo DiCaprio-Claire Danes film "Romeo + Juliet."Everett Collection

The “Lovefool” title, as you may have guessed, is a play on words inspired by the chorus. To my disappointment, “lovefool” is not an actual word in the Merriam-Webster dictionary. Nevertheless, it still makes for an excellent song title.

“It summed up the character, or how a lot of us act when it comes to romantic love. We become fools,” Persson said.

"It's like a sad story captured in a wooden horse of an upbeat, danceable, sunny tune."

“Lovefool” took the band to new heights, especially after it was included on the “Romeo + Juliet” soundtrack. The Cardigans made the leap from a “successful indie level to being really mainstream,” Persson said.

“I remember going on vacation in the Philippines and I would hear kids out in the water, swimming and singing it. And you know, it just, I'd had several examples of just realizing that it was sort of something that was a little bit beyond our control.”

Nina Persson of The Cardigans
"The main road we wanted to go down was the more sort of rocky songs. We failed at that. Let's face it," Persson said with a laugh while discussing "First Band on the Moon." However, she acknowledges now that without the success of "Lovefool," "we wouldn't have been taken the places we've been."Medios y Media / Getty Images

“Lovefool” peaked at No. 2 on Billboard’s radio songs chart in 1997, and its video was in heavy rotation on MTV. The Cardigans even performed it on an episode of “Beverly Hills, 90210” around the same time I performed it at my junior prom.

The legacy of ‘Lovefool’

“Lovefool” has reentered the pop culture landscape every so often during the past two decades, whether it’s Jim Halpert and Andy Bernard singing it on “The Office,” Justin Bieber sampling it for his song “Love Me,” or Kelly Clarkson covering it for the “Kellyoke” segment on her daytime talk show.

As the Cardigans’ music continued to evolve with the albums that followed “First Band on the Moon,” the band members themselves had reservations about playing “Lovefool” in concert, according to Persson.

“We felt that it was so not representative of how we wanted to sound as a band,” she explained. “And also, we would make new records that sounded differently. And then if we had played that song in that set, we felt like the atmosphere of the set would be completely compromised.”

But the group has come to appreciate what the song means to fans like me.

“I think also with time we get more and more generous about accepting that there's also really a point of playing what people want to hear,” she said.

Persson has also discovered that a new generation has grown to love the song.

“I have an 11-year-old son, and his friends will be really into it and they cannot believe that it's Nils’ mother singing it because they probably have also heard it interpreted by some TikTok people or Justin Bieber's version or something like that,” she said.

She’s grateful for the song’s success — “and, of course, it's still bringing in the butter in a lot of ways,” she noted with a laugh.

Persson at a Cardigans concert. She and her bandmates will celebrate the group's 30th anniversary in 2022.
Persson at a Cardigans concert. She and her bandmates will celebrate the group's 30th anniversary in 2022.Courtesy Nina Persson

One of the items still on my life’s to-do list is to see the Cardigans, and hopefully hear “Lovefool,” in concert. It's been years since they’ve performed a show in the U.S. There are no current plans for the band to come here, though Persson, who has been working on collaborations with other artists and is teaching at the Rhythmic Music Conservatory in Copenhagen, left the door open to the possibility when I asked her about it.

Oh, and if you’re wondering what my junior prom date thought of my singing “Lovefool”: I don’t know. My attempts to reach her on Facebook for this story were unsuccessful, much like my attempt to sing at junior prom was unsuccessful. Hopefully, she didn’t mind.

I should practice just in case I get the chance to sing it again at a Cardigans concert. Or at a drugstore.