The Meaning of The Look by Roxette
The Resounding Success and Entertaining Creation of Roxette’s “The Look”
Few songs in the pantheon of 1980s pop music capture the ethos of the era’s addictive energy like Roxette‘s “The Look.” The track, released as the fourth single from their album “Look Sharp!” on January 12, 1989, not only established Roxette’s sound but also cemented their place in music history.
“The Look,” written by Swedish pop duo Roxette’s Per Gessle and Marie Fredriksson, is an expressive declaration of attraction and devotion expressed through its bouncy tempo and enticing lyrics. It surged to the top of the charts upon its debut, capturing the number one place in 25 countries, including the Billboard Hot 100 and European Hot 100, as well as platinum certification in Australia.
The song’s origins are as unusual as its tone. “The Look” was written by Gessle as a synthesizer exercise, with a rhythmic foundation inspired by ZZ Top. The first verses, which he saw as guiding lyrics designed to be transient, ended up becoming permanent fixtures. “Walking like a man, hitting like a hammer…” these seemingly incoherent phrases contributed to the song’s characteristic groove, which Gessle found “impossible” to replace.
The song was originally titled “He’s Got the Look” and was intended for Fredriksson’s vocals, but Gessle recognized that it suited his voice better. This pivot was a departure from the idea to spotlight Fredriksson as the lead vocalist, as well as a stroke of luck that resulted in a memorable vocal performance by Gessle.
“The Look” deviated even further from Roxette’s previous work by foregoing a “live band” feel in favor of an electronic orchestration, with Anders Herrlin’s programming of multiple snare drums and effects. Jonas Isacsson’s introduction of a characteristic guitar riff reminiscent of George Harrison’s technique enhanced the song’s dynamic sound.
“The Look” attained virtually mythological status in the United States in terms of cultural effect, spreading virally even before its formal release. According to legend, an American student who was attracted by the song while in Sweden brought a copy back to the United States, resulting in its underground spread across American radio stations—a grassroots explosion that marked Roxette’s “big break”.
Gessle’s thoughts on the song’s conception and success are tinted with pride and awe. Despite the song’s apparent ease of catchiness, he acknowledges the difficulty of creating a hit that sticks out without following a formula. Looking back, he has a strong feeling of pride in the music, which, even decades later, “sounds special and different”.
“The Look” exemplifies the unpredictability of composition, where a synthesizer experiment can blossom into a global phenomenon. Its lyrics, while not always coherently related to a single tale, build a vivid picture of a captivating woman who captivates the narrator. This portrayal, paired with the song’s vibrant tune, evokes the essence of an era when music was as much about evoking feelings as it was about telling stories.
Looking back on “The Look,” it’s evident that the song’s enduring appeal stems from its ability to connect with listeners of all ages. Roxette’s combination of electronic sounds, appealing lyrics, and lively melodies resulted in a music that resonates as much today as it did when it was first released. This song is more than just a piece of pop music history; it’s a celebration of the unforeseen twists that lead to eternal beauty.