In Appreciation of Roxette’s Marie Fredriksson

The late singer left behind scores of songs and decades of memories.

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Roxette’s Marie Fredriksson performs in Sydney in 2012 (Photo: Eva Rinaldi/flickr)

When I think about the Swedish pop duo Roxette, I think about so many things.

I think about the late ’80s and early ’90s, those happy golden University of Florida college years.

I think about “Joyride” and singing it at the top of my lungs while riding in a car with my friend Chip.

I think about “It Must Have Been Love” from the Pretty Woman soundtrack and how it was one of my sister’s favorite songs at the time.

I think about “Spending My Time” and its quietly devastating video, especially the moment lead singer Marie Fredriksson throws back her head in resignation as the long outro begins.

I think about Crash! Boom! Bang! — one of the great forgotten albums of the 1990s. It came in 1994, a few years after the duo’s pop heyday, but it contained some of Marie and her musical partner Per Gessle’s best work.

Last, but certainly not least, I think of Marie and her unbelievable strength — as a singer, as a performer, as a woman. Sadly, Marie passed away on December 9 in Sweden at age 61. Her management team gave no cause of death, but she’d battled cancer since being diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2002. I’m thankful for the music she left behind, and I’m thankful that I got to see her perform it at least once during both of our lifetimes.

It was in February of 2015, and my friend Dov invited me to go with him to Roxette’s concert outside of the Sydney Opera House after he scored complimentary tickets. As she entered the stage, I remember him saying she looked like Robyn’s mom and thinking: She’s so Robyn’s mom.

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Marie in Sydney in 2015 (Photo by the author)

That was a compliment to them both, and it had more to do with the 21-year age gap between them than Marie’s appearance. Her ripped jeans and trademark short, platinum coif were hardly matronly, and I was glad to see that Marie, who was 56 at the time, was still as spunky and punky as I’d remembered her being, despite the lingering effects of the brain tumor, for which she’d been treated in 2002.

Marie, looking like she was itching to rock, spent the entire hour-plus show seated, and she sometimes struggled to hit those stratospheric highs she once effortlessly scaled. Usually, though, and to her credit, she didn’t even try. Clearly she was mindful of her new limitations and had made her peace with them.

It wasn’t like she could no longer sing — the vocal-and-piano-only segment was a concert highlight — but her anthems for beautiful losers (always my favorite side of Roxette) had to be completely stripped down in order to play to her strengths and overcome her weaknesses.

Like, say, Marianne Faithfull, Marie had become a character singer, not the fierce wailing diva of decades past. That might have somewhat contradicted the musical ethic of classic Roxette, which was always about pop bombast and show(wo)manship, but I had to give her an A (as in “awesome”) for effort.

No one would have blamed Marie had she chosen to retreat permanently offstage due to her health problems, so her mere presence onstage beside her still-fit-at-56 musical partner Per Gessle was a testament to her undiminished resilience. The crowd loved her for it.

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Roxette lights up Sydney’s Opera House in 2015 (Photo by the author)

Even seated, she remained the star of Roxette. Before the show, I was talking to someone who wasn’t aware of her medical situation, and he said he couldn’t wait to see her because she doesn’t age. Well, getting older is tricky for any performer, but it can be even harder for a pop or rock star than it is for an actor/actress because those music genres, for the most part, revolve around youth.

You can make it work in your fifties and sixties if, like, say, Madonna, the point is “Look how much I haven’t aged,” or if, like, say, Sade, your emphasis has always been on elegance. Roxette may not have made time seem irrelevant that night (a life-threatening illness can do that to a once age-defying star), but even in their fifties, they excelled at bringing us back to a time when it still was.

I can think of few ’90s anthems as shamelessly and jubilantly youthful as “Joyride,” and when the band arrived at “Joyride” near the end of the main set, it felt like 1991 all over again. I was enjoying myself too much to think, “I’m way too old for this,” which brings me to my first and perhaps biggest surprise of the night.

1. Roxette’s back catalogue really holds up.

Crash Boom Bang was one of my favorite pop albums of the ’90s, a fact I’d nearly forgotten until the band offered the title track early in the show. In the ’90s I would have paid to see them perform that entire album in concert. As recently as February 8, I still would have.

2. Despite Marie’s vocal limitations in Sydney, Roxette still sounded as sharp as they once demanded we look.

While watching Roxette live, I marveled at the band’s tight muscianship. I didn’t know how many of the players were with Marie and Per in the ’80s and ’90s, but they made me wish I’d bothered to check out Roxette live back then. It must have been, if not love, one hell of a blazing show.

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Marie, unplugged and seated (Photo by the author)

3. Roxette fans spanned multiple demographics.

I was expecting to see a crowd of aging Gen X-ers but instead got a perfect mix of gay and straight, male and female, twentysomething, thirtysomething, fortysomething and above, and at least one baby.

4. Roxette fans were ride or die.

I heard there was a lot of crying up front over Marie, but from where I was sitting, the audience didn’t even seem to notice that it wasn’t 1990. They were too busy singing every lyric, something that wasn’t lost on Per and Marie, who let the crowd do the heavy lifting on vocals for large chunks of fan favorites “It Must Have Been Love” and “Every Time You Leave (Fading Like a Flower).”

5. I would have been up for another joyride with Roxette.

Maybe it was the setting — every pop concert in Sydney should be on the steps of the Opera House forecourt — but if Roxette had been coming back the following week, I would have done it all over again.

Written by

Brother Son Husband Friend Loner Minimalist World Traveler. Author of “Is It True What They Say About Black Men?” and “Storms in Africa”

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