Long before the Internet wired the planet, the easiest way for Americans to hear Swedish pop music was to visit the country.
That’s what exchange student Dean Cushman of Minneapolis was doing when he saw one of Sweden’s top acts, Roxette — duo Per Gessle and Marie Fredriksson, then 29 and 30, respectively — in concert. Impressed, he brought a copy of the pair’s second album, Look Sharp!, back to the United States and made his local top 40 station, KDWB, aware of it.
KDWB’s program director, Brian Phillips, began spinning album track “The Look,” powered by its crunchy guitar riffs and a “na-na, na-na-na” hook. He also sent tapes of it to other stations, and its airplay spurred EMI, Roxette’s label in Sweden, to sign the duo to an American deal.
By the time official promotion began, the song had already soared onto the Feb. 11, 1989-dated Billboard Hot 100 at No. 50. Eight weeks later, on the April 8 ranking, it was No. 1.
“I consider it to be one of my best songs,” Gessle told Billboard of “The Look” in 2015. “It still sounds special and different. It’s got great production. It makes you smile. It sounds like a hit record, doesn’t it? Looking back on 35 years of professional songwriting, I know how hard it is to write uptempo catchy hits without following a formula, so I’m really proud of it.”
As for the song’s serendipitous start, “You have to have the goods to get going, but life would be quite different without ‘The Look’ happening,” Gessle said. “Fate came our way.”
Roxette ruled the Hot 100 three more times through 1991, with “Listen to Your Heart,” the Pretty Woman smash soundtrack single “It Must Have Been Love” and “Joyride,” the title cut from the follow-up to Look Sharp!
On Dec. 9, 2019, Fredriksson died at age 61 following a 17-year battle with cancer.
Said Gessle in 2018 on Billboard‘s Chart Beat Podcast: “The whole idea with Roxette to begin with was very much that I was the writer and Marie was the singer. She always made my songs better than they were. I think that’s one of the tricks: you have to find people who make you stand on your toes. Marie’s capability of singing triggered me to write even better songs, because suddenly I had someone who could sing them.”
As for Cushman, the exchange student who helped kickstart Roxette’s U.S. launch? He subsequently befriended the pair, who autographed the very CD that propelled Roxette to international stardom.