U.S. market's a 'different bag' for Sweden's Roxette

November 25, 1992|By J. D. Considine | J. D. Considine,Pop Music Critic

After watching Roxette's current single, "How Do You Do!" climb to the top of the charts in half a dozen countries, you might think Per Gessle -- who, with Marie Fredriksson, fronts the Swedish pop act -- would be expecting a similar level of success in the United States. But Gessle is nothing if not a keen student of the music business, and he knows better than most people that nothing is a given when it comes to the American market.

"I don't think it's going to do that well here," he says over the phone from the New York offices of EMI Records. "It's going to do well, hopefully, but not to the same extent that it's doing in Europe. We're bigger in Europe than we are here.

"It's a different bag here."

Indeed it is. But what makes it especially different for Roxette is that America has provided the group with its greatest victories and its biggest frustrations.

Granted, the group never really counted on Stateside success in the first place. When Gessle and Fredriksson first got together, they were both well-known on the Swedish music scene -- he as a member ofthe group Gyllene Tider, she as a solo -- and felt a European audience was well within their grasp. But America? It would take a miracle, they thought, to crack the U.S. charts.

But as it turned out, a miracle was exactly what they got. A Swedish exchange student happened to get a copy of "The Look" to a radio station in Minneapolis, where it caught on immediately. Within weeks, Roxette had an American distribution deal and a single at the top of the charts.

It didn't stop there. Since "The Look," Roxette has placed seven singles in the Top-20, with six rising to No. 1 or No. 2. Obviously, Gessle and his group knew how to sell a song.

Its image, though, was another matter. "The first time we came to the States, it was crazy," Gessle says, laughing. "People didn't know what to think of us. They thought we were some sort of a Paula Abdul thing, with three dancers and stuff."

Things have gotten better, thanks to TV appearances and a tour behind the second album, "Joyride." Even so, even Gessle admits most American listeners don't really have a handle on who this group is. "It's like, 'Roxette, oh yeah. I remember that one. It's the one with the blond girl singing.' "

Gessle blames bad luck for some of his band's profile problem. "If we had spent as much time here as we did in Europe, 'Joyride' would have been double platinum or more," he says. "As it is, we sold 1.5 [million] 'Joyride' albums here, which is not bad at all. But we did like 18 or 19 shows in the States, and 60 in Europe for the same record. It should have been the opposite, really."

Why didn't the group tour more? "We were supposed to start the tour in America, but then everything got sort of screwed up because of the gulf crisis," Gessle explains. "So we started in Europe, and then the whole album just exploded. So we kept on doing that forever."

Now Roxette has a third album out: "Tourism." Despite the title, though, there are no plans to hit the road behind this album, in part because "Tourism" is a document of the group's last world tour, but mostly because Fredriksson is taking time off to support her latest Swedish solo album.

"She's been working on her album for almost four years now, writing songs and stuff," says Gessle. "She's not writing anything in English -- she doesn't feel comfortable doing that. She prefers writing in Swedish, which I think is great."

So, apparently, do the Swedes. Fredriksson's "Den Standiga Resan" -- which translates as "The Constant Journey" -- has been the best-selling album in Sweden for weeks.

Meanwhile, Gessle says Roxette will release a few more singles from "Tourism," and will begin work on its next album in February. How that one will fare in America is anyone's guess, but Gessle remains optimistic.

"I'm sure that time will be in our favor," he says. "If we continue doing this, sooner or later, the ones who really appreciate it are going to get to know it."

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