How A Pop Band Tricked 9 Million Americans Into Being Nazis
Whoa, things got pretty crazy last week, huh? If you don't recall, in my last column, I implied that Donald Trump is modeling his entire presidential campaign and policy on how the Nazis took power in Germany. Sorry if that seemed like conspiracy theory nonsense and caught some of you off-guard. Also, here's more of it. In fact, maybe buckle up for the next couple weeks or so.
Anyway, I really can't blame anyone for landing on the side of the argument that Trump's crazy immigration plan, or anything similarly Nazi-like, could never happen here. It really is inconceivable, even moreso than the fact that it ever happened at all. But what if I told you we already kind of bought into it once? Not at all in the "extermination of an entire race" kind of way, thankfully. But a case study of sorts does exist which shows that, under the right circumstances, the American public is capable of completely ignoring or missing obviously hateful messages, provided they're being delivered by someone who gives us something we want desperately enough. We talk about it on this week's Unpopular Opinion podcast ...
... where I'm joined by comic Lahna Turner, Cracked video superstar Katy Stoll, and musician Danger Van Gorder of the band Countless Thousands. Conveniently enough, I'll explain it right here right now as well. OK, here goes nothing.
Do you remember Ace of Base? They were the '90s band from Sweden who cranked out chart-topping hits like "The Sign" ...
... "Don't Turn Around" ...
... and "All That She Wants."
You remember them now, right? Maybe you were a fan. I wasn't, personally, but I do get how hearing those songs again might evoke memories of a simpler time. A time when every food product was EXTREME! and winning a war in the Middle East was a thing we were still capable of as a country. So before you get too ensconced in your nostalgia, I feel like I should tell you something: Ace of Base was probably a bunch of Nazis.
Actually, that they have ties to the neo-Nazi movement isn't in dispute, or at all a secret. A few years ago, Vice music editor Ben Shapiro wrote an article that revealed that Ace of Base founder Ulf Ekberg was once in a Nazi punk band called Commit Suiside. Here's a sample of the band's lyrics, as shared in his article:
Vice covers way more ground in their write-up about Ekberg's past, and I definitely encourage you to give it a read at some point. However, the piece ends with an interesting question: "Did Ekberg use Ace of Base's success as an opportunity to wipe the slate clean and erase his neo-Nazi past?"
I think I can answer that. Ekberg did not use Ace of Base to hide his Nazi past. Quite the contrary. Ace of Base was a Nazi band, too.
For starters, let's talk about that name. It's weird, right? Vaguely militaristic. "Bass" is the word you'd expect to be there, seeing as how it's music-related and all. I think I can explain not only why they went with "base," but also why it sounds so warlike. The name is most likely a reference to the Keroman Submarine Base, a massive U-boat launching and docking facility constructed by the Nazis in the French town of Loriant. It's considered one of the most important and ambitious projects of the entire war for their side. In 1941, the missions that embarked from this facility alone were responsible for taking out more than 500 Allied ships. It was so well-constructed that the Allies built a new bomb specifically to take out this one facility. The bomb was called the "Tall Boy," and it failed miserably. The Allies finally crippled the base, but only by literally flattening the entire city around it and blocking U-boats from accessing the station. We never took it, though. The Germans, despite eventually being completely surrounded by Allied forces, managed to hold onto the bunker through the end of the war.
If it reads like I was glowing with pride while writing all that, it's because I want you to understand that this is exactly the kind of thing a closet Nazi would name his band after if he was trying to be clever. Now guess what they sometimes called Keroman Submarine Base? Because it was the place where Germany's top U-boat captains carried out all of their missions, it was often called the "base of aces."
You sneaky bastard!
Whoa! OK. Surely the band has a reasonable origin story for the name? When asked, the band's answer is usually something about how the studio is a "base" and an ace is "like a master," so the name implies that they are masters of the studio. In other words, they can't even lie about it without using phrasing that brings Nazi ideals to mind. Why not "Base Masters" if that's what you were trying to imply? It doesn't sound any more or less stupid than "Ace of Base."
Now, be completely honest with yourself while answering this question. What is more likely: That a confirmed former(?) Nazi just randomly threw two words together when coming up with a band name and landed on the perfect inverse of the nickname of one of the most impressive structures ever produced by the Nazi war machine by coincidence? Or that he knew exactly what his band name implied the entire time?
Why would someone use such an obvious Nazi reference as a band name if they were trying to put distance between themselves and their Nazi past, though? Because it's not an obvious reference, that's why. Like I said earlier, if you're trying to fly under the radar while also paying homage to your Nazi leanings, "Ace of Base," or anything based on the "base of aces" nickname, is a great way to be sneaky about it. See, it's not a common nickname. I only know about it because there's a series on Netflix right now called Nazi Mega Weapons. The second episode of the first season is about the Keroman facility.
That's where I first heard it referred to as the "base of aces" and thought, "Ha, what if the name of that '90s band is actually a Nazi reference?" From there, I found plenty of sources that suggested Ace of Base might have Nazi ties, but very few that referred to Keroman as the "base of aces," although I did eventually see it in this passage from the 2003 book Hitler's U-boat Fortresses. My point is, as far as Nazi references go, it's kind of obscure. If some piece of shit Nazi started a pop band with the intent of spreading Nazi propaganda subliminally to the masses and thought he was so much smarter than everyone else that he could slip a Nazi reference right into his band's name without anyone noticing, "Ace of Base" is close to an ideal choice. After all, it's worked this long, right?
But wait, there's more!
Let's talk about Ace of Base's debut album, 1993's Happy Nation. Given everything you've read so far, does seeing the word "nation" in the title make you feel uneasy at all? Because it totally should, as you'll note when you hear the album's title track.
The lyrics are suspicious enough without any extra help, and I will get to that. But before they even start, there's a chant kind of thing that, because it seems to be a weird mishmash of Latin and Hebrew, hasn't ever really been translated with 100 percent certainty by anyone. Those who've tried suggest that it's some variation of this:
"On the wings of the eagle, with God's help, I was there before everyone, in the meantime I will kill you, I was there before everyone."
On the wings of the eagle, you say? Well hi there, blatant Nazi symbolism! Also, not to state the obvious, but it also says "I will kill you," which is almost never good to hear. So that's pretty ominous, I suppose. However, those cryptic lines don't do nearly as much to make this song seem like obvious neo-Nazi propaganda as the actual lyrics. Here's the first verse, as interpreted by a popular Internet database:
A nation that dreams of the perfect man? And then you cap that verse off with the word "brotherhood"? You're right, I'm completely crazy for suggesting this might be a love song to Adolf Hitler. Let's look at the next verse:
Is this the theme song to Mein Kampf?
Oh goddammit! This is totally a love song to Hitler. Even better, before they get to that part, the creep who does the chants at the beginning says this:
Planning to see anyone in particular?
Hitler comes up, at most, like five minutes into any conversation about time travel. Oh, and that line about how the man will die, but his ideas won't? Look what happens in the official video for this song, at the exact moment she sings that line:
Classic Ace of Base!
Ohhhh, so that explains it then, right? This is just a song about Charles Darwin! He's the man who's ideas will never die! Not so fast. Keep in mind that this is the full title of that book:
On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life
Preservation of favored races, you say? Well hello there again, very obvious reference to Nazis! One of the unfortunate side effects of Darwin's theories is that they've been used as the basis for a number of different hate groups' philosophies over the years, with Hitler and the Nazis very much being one of them.
Convinced yet? If not, good, because there's more. Take the video for one of their biggest singles, the aforementioned "All That She Wants." Right off the bat, a quick scan of the lyrics reveals that it's basically about a woman who leeches off society by tricking men into getting her pregnant so she doesn't have to work.
I feel like they might have said "going" instead of "goning," but looks accurate otherwise.
That alone is pretty telling, because who among us but the most right-wing fringe types think that kind of woman even exists? More alarming, though, is that within the first 15 seconds of the video, the subject of the song, the leech whom the band is directing all of their hate toward, is shown stroking a necklace that's just a bunch of six-pointed stars ...
"Is this too blurry to make it clear we're singing about a Jew?"
Before you go assuming this is some embarrassing atrocity from the band's dark past, please remember that Happy Nation was THE Ace of Base album. It's the one that all of those songs I referenced in the beginning of this article are from. It was massively popular. It's one of the fastest-selling debut albums of all time. It sold nine million copies in the United States alone -- 23 million worldwide. It reached the #1 spot on the album charts in 14 different countries.
Except it wasn't called Happy Nation in this country. Everywhere else, even after it was re-released with "The Sign" on it (that song wasn't even on the album when it was first released in Sweden), the album was still called Happy Nation. But not here. The album was re-titled The Sign in the United States. I wonder what that was all about? It's almost as if someone knew this album was laden with neo-Nazi propaganda, and just wanted to see what would happen if it was released here. Maybe someone who has a history of spreading the kind of "immigrants are bad" type of message that a song like "Living In Danger," also from that album ...
Or, you know, maybe it's a meaningless pop song.
... could be interpreted as delivering.
Maybe someone like ... Rupert Murdoch? You know, the guy who owns almost as much of the media as one man can own without coming off as a complete and total movie villain? His newspapers spread anti-immigration hatred all over Europe and Australia, and his cable television network, Fox News, does the same here. So it should come as no surprise that the record label responsible for bringing Happy Nation to the United States from Sweden, Festival Records, was owned by Rupert Murdoch. Yes, that album was released by Arista Records here, but that's because Festival Records set up an overseas distribution deal with Arista way back in the '70s.
What's most interesting is that this isn't just an example of a pop band slipping obvious Nazi references and symbolism past the music-buying public. It's a case study in exactly how a movement like that takes hold in the first place. As I mentioned last week, when you bring up the parallels between Trump's plans and Nazi Germany, people are quick to reassure you that things aren't bad enough in this country for people to be desperate enough to vote for deporting Mexican immigrants to fix the economy. But those people aren't thinking in terms of inner-city communities that have been hit particularly hard by poverty and gun violence. Along those same lines, the United States as a whole wasn't down and depressed enough to consider a vote for the Nazis at the polls back when Ace of Base stormed the airwaves, but the state of radio itself was pretty fucking sad.
Where's the party at?!?!?!
To be clear, I don't mean there was a ton of bad music on the radio at the time. It's quite the opposite, really. It wasn't that the radio was overrun with bad music -- it was just overrun with "grunge" music. A lot of quality songs came out of that era. What it didn't produce was a lot of reasons to smile or be happy. It wasn't music you could dance to. You wouldn't put it on first thing Monday morning to whip yourself into a good enough mood to face the work day.
That shit was depressing. Eventually, people got so sad that they were willing to latch onto the first thing that came along and promised to give them a reason to feel good. Ace of Base was one of the first groups to offer that, and people went for it in a huge way with no questions asked. It might seem like a minor thing, but it says a lot about our capacity to overlook very obviously hateful messages if it means we finally get something that we've been deprived of for a long time. Apparently, that's especially true if those messages arrive under the guise of something seemingly silly and unimportant. You know, the kind of thing you don't have to worry about.
After all, it's not like this is secret information. That one of the founding members of the band was also in a Nazi band was information that could've been found. That there might have been something ugly at work in the meaning behind their songs doesn't take much effort to uncover. It's all pretty blatant imagery, but because it comes in the form of radio-friendly dance music, no one even considered examining it any further, not even after the news of the band's past Nazi ties became public knowledge.
In this case, the only real consequence was that nine million Americans unknowingly paid money for an album full of Nazi dance tracks. It's hard to tell how much worse it could be if we let something like that happen again. I do have some idea, though, and it has as much to do with Rupert Murdoch as it does Donald Trump. In the interest of keeping this particular column under the 6,000-word mark (give or take), I'll stop here for now. Come back next week, though, and I'll tell you all about.
Adam wants to talk to all of you on Twitter. Go be his friend there @adamtodbrown.
Nazism in America isn't the most palatable thought. However, there are some compelling cases to be made for why it could happen in 5 Reasons You're Picturing Nazis Wrong. And if doesn't happen in America, then don't count out Hitler-crazed Asia, as evidenced in 4 Baffling Ways The Continent Of Asia Loves Hitler.
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