Marie Fredriksson, one half of the enormously popular Swedish pop duo Roxette, has died. CNN reports that Fredriksson passed away yesterday of cancer, 17 years after she was first diagnosed with a brain tumor. Fredriksson was 61.
Fredriksson came from the Swedish town Össjö. She started singing musical theatre as a teenager, and she formed a punk band called Strul in 1978, when she was 20. (Her future Roxette partner Per Gessle was in the group for a little while.) Strul launched their own music festival, which ran for three years, though they only released one single. Fredriksson’s next group MaMas Barn released one album in 1982, and then she embarked on a successful solo career. Over her entire career, Fredriksson released eight solo albums, all of which charted high in Sweden. That career has been ongoing; Fredriksson’s one solo #1 single was the 2008 ballad “Där Du Andas.”
In 1984, Fredriksson sang backup vocals on The Heartland Café, and album from the popular Swedish band Gyllene Tider. The album was in English, and soon after, EMI released some of those songs as an EP in English-speaking countries under a new name: Roxette, named after a song from the pre-punk British pub-rock band Dr. Feelgood. Soon afterward, Gyllene Tider broke up. An EMI exec suggested that Fredriksson record with Gyllene Tider’s frontman, her old bandmate Per Gessle. They kept the Roxette name and released their debut single “Neverending Love” in 1986.
Roxette’s early records did well in Sweden, but they didn’t break out internationally until an American exchange student bought their single “The Look” and brought it home with him to Minneapolis, giving it to a local radio station. That Minneapolis station started playing “The Look,” and the song took off in late 1988. “The Look” got an American release and went to #1 in the US in April of 1989. “Dressed For Success” and “Dangerous,” their follow-up singles, also became international hits. The monster ballad “Listen To Your Heart” followed and also went to #1 in the US.
In 1990, a re-recorded version of the two-year-old Roxette ballad “It Must Have Been Love” was used in a key scene of the romantic-comedy hit Pretty Woman, and that song became their third American #1. Look Sharp!, the duo’s 1988 sophomore album, eventually went platinum in America and sold more than nine million copies worldwide. The title track of Roxette’s third album, 1991’s Joyride, also went to #1 in the US, but the band’s bright, polished, precision-tooled pop-rock fell out of favor once grunge and rap conquered the American popular imagination. The 1991 single “Fading Like a Flower (Every Time You Leave),” which peaked at #2, would be Roxette’s final American top-10 hit.
But even as Roxette’s commercial power in the US dimmed, they remained huge around the rest of the world. In 1995, they became one of the first Western groups to play China. After Joyride, they released four more albums before going on hiatus, and those albums did well around Europe. In 2002, Fredriksson was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and she recorded her 2004 solo album The Change while recovering. Roxette went on hiatus while Fredriksson recuperated.
Roxette reunited in 2010, and they released the album Charm School in 2011. They continued to tour and record until 2016, when Fredriksson’s illness forced them to cancel the final leg of a world tour. They released their final album Good Karma in 2016, and Fredriksson released her final solo single “Sing Me A Song” last year.
Roxette’s sound, a towering a bulletproof take on ’80s new wave, never got the respect it deserved. Like fellow Swedes ABBA, Roxette had a way with a sharp, mathematical hook. You could always tell that English was not their first language, and yet the way they used it — “Hello! You fool! I love you!” — was always giddily charming, and their hits have never stopped sounding good. Below, check out the videos for a few of them.