The 50 Best Pop Singles Of 1994 (Featuring New Interviews With Ace Of Base, TLC, Lisa Loeb, Real McCoy & Haddaway)
5. HADDAWAY, “WHAT IS LOVE”
You can see the heads bobbing now, can’t you? Club-goers took over dancefloors en masse to this ditty, and even electro-music novices could keep up with the song’s catchy, repetitive “what is love, baby don’t hurt me” refrain.
Yes, it permeated our collective consciousness given the heavily-repeated airplay, but “What Is Love” also took on a life of its own thanks, in no small part, to the recurring mid-’90s Saturday Night Live skit with Will Ferrell and Chris Kattan that embraced the anthem’s big Eurodance beats while simultaneously poking fun at them.
Haddaway wasn’t particularly surprised by how massive “What Is Love” became, not only in Germany 1993, where he began his musical career in earnest, but across Europe and eventually in the States, in 1994. With the song placing so high on our roundup of 1994’s best pop singles, Idolator decided to reach out to Nestor Alexander Haddaway to assess his thoughts on the song’s success and the lasting effects of his trend-setting tune.
“I really believed that I had a special song with a special message,” Haddaway tells us, “and ‘what is love’ is a worldwide theme. You can see that today it still has value and it proves [itself] to be one of the best records from that time period.”
There were many German dance acts making strides in charts across the world in the 1990s — including Snap (“Rhythm Is A Dancer”), Real McCoy (“Another Night,” “Runaway”), Culture Beat (“Mr. Vain”) and Captain Hollywood Project (“More And More”) — not to mention artists from other corners of Europe.
Haddaway says, “I had great relationships with a lot of them, and I still do concerts with some of them — my friend Dr. Alban, or Turbo B, Right Said Fred, Lionel Richie, Ace of Base…and on and on.”
Here in the America, “What Is Love” peaked at #11 on the Billboard Hot 100. It’s huge impact wasn’t limited to the States, though; Haddaway’s massive hit clocked in at #1 in France, Italy, Norway, Finland and Spain, and peaked at #2 in Canada, the UK, Germany and Sweden.
“It just came so fast and keeps me going until this day,” Haddaway, 49, recalls, when asked about his initial success. “I remember the crazy travel that happened from one day to the next, [as well as] the fans all over the world. I have good memories.”
SNL‘s dance club-obsessed Butabi brothers may have been mocking the pseudo-suave, pimped-out club gigolos of the era, but when the skit spawned 1998 full-length film A Night At The Roxbury, the one-note joke kept “What Is Love” on the radar well into the end of the decade. As for the original the Eurodance craze of the early-’90s, it may be over, but that sound’s influence can easily be heard today. In particular, the synthesized riffs of “What Is Love” are detectable in Katy Perry‘s Prism track “Walking On Air.” Haddaway, who was touring in Europe when we contacted him, thinks his song has had such a lasting impact for so many people, and has endured through the years, because of its message.
“I believe that the ‘what is love’ subject will always be around as a human quest,” he tells us. “I would love to do an updated version for Saturday Night Live, maybe with even Jimmy Fallon. My song has been covered by everyone from Eminem to Lil Wayne. I even did a rock version with the German hard rock band Emergency Gate, and and I am just in process of doing a collaboration with Jason DeRulo. The song just has a message for lovers all over the world.”
As for how he personally remembers the year 1994, Haddaway affirms, “It was a hell of a ride — and I am a Harley rider!” — MIKE WOOD