Sunday, April 25, 2010

Analysis of Cartoon Heroes by Aqua for Irony

The song “Cartoon Heroes” by Aqua was released on 31st Jan 2000 (SANCHE) and since then has remained popular amongst the public, even school teachers, childrens and youths are enjoying the songs as numerous dances are made for the song (cutiepinay00) (jeje0jess). The youths in International Youth Foundations even said that this dance expresses their dreams to be leaders of the world despite many hardships (Chuson05). In the behind the scene video, Lene Nystrøm said that “I don’t think that it (the music video) is haha like the Barbie girl video”, Søren Rasted then said “It’s ironic” (Pler). This makes for an interesting case of finding if there is irony in the song “Cartoon Heroes” because this may contribute to the reason why the song is so popular. In this paper, the various backgrounds for the analysis will be defined including the use of Nietzsche’s concept that truth is a contruct (Nietzsche), the real and cartoon world are constructed. Then the lyrics of the song cartoon heroes is analysed using the criteria of irony according Mongomery (Montgomery, Durant and Fabb) with the help of the two worlds. Next, the music video is analysed for irony and its parodies. After that, the two different parts are combined to obtain an underlying message common to both and illustrated with the song being a parody of the singer’s famous status. Finally, the usefulness of the tools of irony is briefly mentioned.


Wilson and Sperber said that parody involves both echoic allusion and dissociative attitude. Echoic allusion can be seen as repeating a work of art, resembling it and not nessary identical to it. Dissociative attitude is to dissociate with the original work, ussually in disgust and to make fun of the original. Parody is to direct quotation means that the characters in parody should quote, with echoic allusion, the form of the original work. Irony is to indirect quotation means that irony resembles the meaning instead of just the form of the work. Parody can also be both parody of form and content (Wilson and Sperber).

Nietzsche in his essay, the Birth of Tragedy and Other Writings, questions extensively what truth is. The concepts and words that we use to represent things are removed from the orginal things that they meant. Truths then are a mobile army of metaphors that are widely accepted and agreed upon by humans (Nietzsche). There is no absolute truth then according to him. Therefore the concept of relative truths is used to create a real world and a cartoon world.

The real world is defined as the current world where we live in or at least the world in year 2000 when the song “Cartoon Heroes” was released. In this world, there are no superheroes, but animations, comics and even live action movies of superheroes are made and enjoyed by kids and adults. The normal laws of physics also holds, so nothing with mass can travel at the speed of light and the human body ussually does not survive a fall from sufficient heights. We are certainly aware of the cartoon world and for a brief while, when we are enjoying the movie or comic, we are immersed in it.

The cartoon world is defined by the existance of superheroes in the world, and the necessary bending of the laws of science that allows superpowers, giant monsters and advanced technology. It is in short the world that the people in the superheroes comics, animation, and movies are living in. Examples would include the DC universe where Superman lives or the Marvel universe where Spiderman lives in. Also, depending on the past history of the world, they maybe aware of the existence of our real world or not.

According to Montgomery, there are two main types of irony, verbal and situational. Both involve correctly disbeliving or incorrectly beliving a proposition. In verbal irony, the correctly disbelievers, like the speaker, is the main focus and the incorrect believer is not made explicit but just implied; while in situational irony, the incorrect believer is the main focus and the correct disbeliever is implied. (Montgomery, Durant and Fabb). The basis for judging the truth or falseness of a proposition is the unstated assumptions of the accepted truths, which depend on which world we are working with. For example, the proposition that anything with mass can travel at the speed of light is false in the real world but can be true in the cartoon world.

The group Aqua is composed of Lene Nystrøm, René Dif, Søren Rasted, and Claus Norreen. They are most famous for their song “Barbie girl” that caused a lawsuit against them for parodying the body shape of the dolls as bimbotic sex symbol (Barbie loses battle over bimbo image). Their second album, Aquarius released in year 2000, features “Cartoon Heroes” which, for the purpose of this paper, is divided into two parts, the music video and the lyrics or song.

The music video describes Aqua in the role of space patrol, saving the Earth from a giant octopus and succeeding in the end with the help of their spaceship/ submarine, Aquarius. The video has a budget of 3.5 million dollars, making it one of the most expensive music video at that time (Pler).

The lyrics or the song describes the four heroes, Aqua singing directly from the cartoon world to the real world as will be shown later.


This section analyses lyrics of the song according to Montgomery’s criteria. To be ironic, the propositions in the lyrics of the song must be false relative to a set of truths.

Before proceeding further, the lyrics, as propositions, has to be analysed in terms of the two worlds, the cartoon world and the real world. The proposition of “We are the Cartoon Heroes” (Cartoon Heroes lyrics) is only true in the cartoon world, thus defining the “we” in the rest of the song to be always interperted to be in the cartoon world. Then the proposition “We are the color symphony” (Cartoon Heroes lyrics) must be interperted in two worlds for it to be true. The “we” existing in the cartoon world, are just colours that sing in the real world. Lines like “We learned to run at speed of light and to fall down from any height” are only true if the whole sentence is interperted in the cartoon world, as the laws of physics in the real world prevents anything with mass to reach the speed of light and the human body generally cannot survive any fall from too high without external equipments. Lines that contain “you” like “What we do is what you wish to do” (Cartoon Heroes lyrics) the “you” refers to the listener. The interpertation of the line is what “we” do in the cartoon world (run at speed of light, fall from any height) is what “you” want to do in the real world, but as the laws of Science constricts “you” from doing them, “What we do is what you just can't do” (Cartoon Heroes lyrics). This proves the statement above in the background section that the singers are singing directly from the cartoon world to the real world.

From the above analysis, the lyrics of the song can be divided into two camps, one to be entirely interperted in the cartoon world, and the other, except for the word “we”, to be interperted in the real world. Let the name of the lines in the first camp to be cartoon lines and the other to be real lines. So examples of real lines are: “We came out of a crazy mind - oh-oh-oh and walked out on a piece of paper” and “All dots and lines that speak and say” (Cartoon Heroes lyrics), reflecting the fact that comics (the traditional media of superheroes) are just printed small dots and lines on papers so that it looks like a complete picture. “Frame by frame, to the extreme” (Cartoon Heroes lyrics) reflects the fact that motion and animated films (the adapted media for many superheroes from which the name cartoon heroes comes from) are just multiple frames per second that creates the illusion of motion.

An example of cartoon lines is “We learned to run at speed of light and to fall down from any height” (Cartoon Heroes lyrics). The following paragraphs will analyse the cartoon lines with respect to the real world, and the real lines with respect the cartoon world to create the basic condition for irony, that the proposition to be false.

Firstly, the case for cartoon lines interperted in the real world is considered, say “We learned to run at speed of light and to fall down from any height” (Cartoon Heroes lyrics). The above proposition is known to be false in the real world as mentioned. Now that a false propostition is identified, all that is needed for irony is to identify the singers as either incorrect believers or correct disbelievers. This strongly depends upon which roles the “singers” are interperted to be, real life people living in the real world, or characters playing superheroes in the cartoon world. Note that cartoon lines are true in the cartoon world and so any analysis for irony must steer clear from that world.

Examining first the case of incorrect believers, this is only possible if the singers as real people living in the real world still believe that they have superpowers! Obviously this is not the case as the singers know that they are just singing for that particular song. This is clear from the fact that they keep on producing songs like “Around the world”, “Bumble Bee”, and “We belong to the sea” (SANCHE) without the delusion of thinking that they are superheroes. Thus the case for situational irony according to Montgomery fails to hold in the real world for the lines “We learned to run at speed of light and to fall down from any height” (Cartoon Heroes lyrics).

How about the case of correct disbelievers? The song (and perhaps combined with the music video) must focus on the singers as real people with clear ironic intention that “we are just singing this” instead of focusing on the singers as superheroes saying that “these are what we can do in the cartoon world”. A review on the music video shows that they are about to enter warp speed (faster than light travel) (YouTube Aqua - Cartoon Heroes (Full Version)) when the lines are sung, so it can be seen that the song and music video wants to be serious and retain the cartoon world where they are singing the song. And yet, there is a slight hint of verbal irony from the movement of the eyes of Lene in the video. So, in conclusion, there is a slight irony intended and yet it is not the main attraction. The video seems to be serious (in staying in the cartoon world) overall, as Søren Rasted said, “We want to make a little bit more serious kind of video not the kind of slap-stick kind of videos that we did in the beginning (in the first album like Barbie girl).” (Pler)

To complete the analysis of ironic interpertation, the interpertation of the real lines like “We came out of a crazy mind - oh-oh-oh, and walked out on a piece of paper” in the cartoon world is done. In the cartoon world, the proposition above is false as the superheroes in the cartoon world would have to be created via radioactivity, biotechnology, freak accidents, aliens, almost anything except being created by a writer in another world. They are real, in the flesh, living, and not existing in dots and lines, frame by frame, or in a piece of paper. Now the question is: Are the singers Aqua incorrect believers or correct disbelievers as seen by people in the cartoon world, say Superman?

To answer this question, one must enter the boots of Aqua in the cartoon world to understand what they are thinking. They are just singing to people in the real world from the cartoon world. This indicates that they are aware of the real world and its truths. Correspondigly, they are also aware that the truths in the real world are not true in the cartoon world, so they cannot be, as cartoon world entities, truly believe in what they sing. That is, if Superman comes and ask them the meaning of the song, they will say that it is not meant for the cartoon world people. So this rules out them as incorrect believers as they know which world to apply this song to.

To qualify as them as correct disbelievers, the attitude of dissociation must be there to show that they do not believe what they are singing (Wilson and Sperber). However, since the singers are singing to the people in the real world, where most of the song will make sense, there is no need for the dissociative attitude. They need not disbelieve the fact that, “It's all an orchestra of strings doing unbelievable things” And indeed, by the fervor that they show while singing in the music video, one can see that they are serious in bringing the message across, the most notable line being “What we do is what you just can't do” which is repeated six times in total.

The music video

The music video made by Aqua on their song “Cartoon Heroes” is easily seen as a parody of science fiction horror movies such as Godzilla, featuring a world in need of help calling and reanimating Aqua, the heroes from outer space to battle against a big octopus (

The music video is a parody of many science fiction movies and related event. Firstly, the radio broadcast of the War of the Worlds in 1938 which caused wide spread panic from a fictitious radio show in the format of news bulletin is echoed from the way that the news reporter in the television reports how one by one the major cities of the world are attacked (19s). The fact that the television used is in black and white reinforces the idea of the 1950s or earlier. Secondly, the movie Godzilla has a scene where Godzilla’s eye is as big as an average human (m0ds 1m 40s) is parodied by the big eye of the octopus looking into the living room of a family (52s). Thirdly, the popular image of aliens being “little green man” is used in the design of the aliens at the UFO gas station where they refueled their spaceship (2m 38s). Next, Star Wars uses hyper drive to travel faster than the speed of light (Lucas) and this is also parodied by the warp speed of the spaceship Aquarius (3m 21s). After that, Sphere, a 1998 film featuring a team of scientist going underwater to investigate an alien object contains a scene where the scientist are all in diving suits underwater (Levinson). Aqua walking underwater with full diving suit on closely parallels this image (4m). Lastly, Moby Dick features fighting scenes between a whale and humans (Melville), which is parodied by Aqua fighting a giant octopus with guns (4m 22s).

Other than the parodies, there is also some blue comedy in the video. Blue comedy is comedy involving profanity (blue) which is shown on (2m 43s) by René holding a Playalien magazine, parody of Playboy, a magazine for adults. This scene last only for a second and is easy to miss, thus it is also barely noticeable like the verbal irony by Lene earlier.

Now that both the music video and the lyrics are analysed, it is time to combine them.

The combination

The lyrics of the song show various departures from the music video, for example, the music video shows real live humans as heroes even through they are singing “Cartoon Heroes”, meaning heroes in animation. Furthermore, there is no mention of spaceship or the giant octopus in the lyrics of the song. The song seems to have no relation to the music video on the surface level. If they have no relationship, then why put them together in the first place?

Søren Rasted said, on the music video, “It is a good story. We are four super heroes who save the world – but not four super heroes who take themselves too seriously. The universe is futuristic yet old-fashioned, a mixture of past and present to make everything a bit corny in a funny way” (SANCHE). And from the lyrics of the song “you think we're so mysterious (from the unconventional use of the real lines in the song) - don't take us all too serious (which is why this paper only appears ten years after year 2000)” along with the overall tone of the song, the music video and the song share the same message “Have fun folks” (Stuart)! This presents an interesting case where the song and the music video do not need to be matching, just as long as the central message is brought across.

The claim that they are not taking themselves too seriously is strengthen by the hint of verbal irony from Lene and the Playalien scene with René. Lene did the eye movement to convey her dissociative attitude towards the line “and to fall down from any height” (Cartoon Heroes lyrics), indicating her disbelieve in the line and showing that she is actually a singer in the video. René’s Playalien scene in a song called “Cartoon Heroes” is a daring and playful insertion as many kids will definitely be watching the music videos. This shows that they are indeed as in the words of René Dif that, “We have to look serious (as the argument in the lyric section relies upon), still funny, can’t be that serious (not taking themselves too seriously), not serious (reference to their playful and good natured attitude in general).” (Pler)

The not so serious attitude implies that they may put their real live characters into their song. In fact at various points in the song, there are possible interpertations that seems like they are parodying themselves. The opening sequence of the music video, where the singers are waking up, is a symbolism of the coming back of Aqua with the second album (Pler). The line “We are what we're supposed to be, illusions of your fantasy” can be taken to imply that the band Aqua is what it is supposed to be, famous and rich, which is the fantasy of many people. The line “We are the ones who're gonna last forever” also reflects the fame of the group that will make them be remembered for a very long time. “What we do is what you just can't do” then means that the singing, touring and money making of the singers Aqua are not what an average human can do. It can also mean, along with the line “Be original”, that the other musical bands should and could not copy or borrow the style and lyrics of their songs.

The fact that the video does not show Aqua as having superpowers, and most of the shots are on the singers themselves, seems to highlight that the video is about them. This supports the notion that they are parodying themselves.

Looking at the song in this light, then it is situationally ironic for the many fans of Aqua to like the song if the singers had meant to parody themselves and singing with this in mind, they are producing verbal irony. For the verbal irony, the proposition here is that the song “Cartoon Heroes” is just to pass the message of “Have fun folks”. In reality, the song is meant as a parody of the band Aqua themselves. The correct disbelievers would be Aqua and the incorrect believers are the listeners who are unaware of the parody. The situational irony is then seen via the same proposition, just switching the focus to the audience. They would be incorrect believers that Aqua is just paying tribute to the superheroes in the cartoon world, and the correct disbelievers are those who can see the parody of the song. Perhaps this is why they said not to take the song too seriously.


We have seen that there is largely no irony present via direct interpertation of the song “Cartoon Heroes” save for a little verbal irony from Lene, the music video does indeed parody many science fiction works and the combination of both gives the message of do not take the song too seriously, just have fun! And this maybe the main reason for its popularity. Then a possible alternate interpertation of the song as parody of the singers Aqua themselves leads directly to both verbal and situational irony. In conclusion, the tools for analysing irony and parody are capable of opening up and give deeper meaning to an otherwise simple song that no one will take seriously.

Works Cited 21 April 2010 .
"Barbie loses battle over bimbo image." 25 July 2002. BBC News. 13 March 2010 .
"blue." Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online. 23 April 2010 .
"Cartoon Heroes lyrics." 15 March 2010 .
Chuson05. "Cartoon Heroes ." 1 July 2009. YouTube. 18 April 2010 .
cutiepinay00. "Aqua- Cartoon Heroes." 19 December 2009. YouTube. 18 April 2010 .
jeje0jess. "Cartoon Heroes 2001 Dancing." 12 July 2009. YouTube. 18 April 2010 .
m0ds. "Godzilla teaser trailer #2." YouTube. 23 April 2010 .
Melville, Herman. Moby Dick. Richard Bentley, 1851.
Montgomery, Martin, et al. "Irony." Montgomery, Martin, et al. Ways of Reading. London, New York: Routledge, 1992. 161-169.
Nietzsche, Friedrich. "OfTruth and Lying in a Non-Moral Sense." Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Birth of Tragedy and Other Writings. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999. 141-153.
Pler, Lleonard. "Aqua-Cartoon Heroes Videography." 23 April 2010 .
SANCHE, Karine. "Aqua - Cartoon Heroes." Eurodance Encyclopaedia. 18 April 2010 .
Sphere . Dir. Barry Levinson. 1998.
Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. Dir. George Lucas. 1977.
Stuart, Alan J. The A to Z of Aqua. 30 November 2000. 21 April 2010 .
Wilson, Deirdre and Dan Sperber. "On Verbal Irony." Weber, Jean Jacques. The Stylistic Reader. London and New York: Arnold, 1996. 260-279.
YouTube Aqua - Cartoon Heroes (Full Version). 14 March 2010 .

Brief summary of the music video

In the music video, the earth is threatened by giant octopus which is destroying the major cities of the world. A distress signal is sent to a spaceship to wake up the four heroes, played by the band Aqua. They then travel towards earth, stopping midway to refuel at an alien gas station. The spaceship turns into a submarine and they came out in diving suits to search under the sea for the giant octopus. They encountered the octopus and does battle, just as the situation seems dire for them, the spaceship/submarine sends out an electrical attack that made the giant octopus explode. The heroes then celebrate the victory. (YouTube Aqua - Cartoon Heroes (Full Version))

Cartoon Heroes lyrics

We are what we're supposed to be
Illusions of your fantasy
All dots and lines that speak and say
What we do is what you wish to do

We are the color symphony
We do the things you wanna see
Frame by frame, to the extreme

Our friends are so unreasonable
They do the unpredictable
All dots lines that speak and say
What we do is what you wish to do

It's all an orchestra of strings
Doin' unbelievable things
Frame by frame, to the extreme
One by one, we're makin' it fun

We are the Cartoon Heroes - oh-oh-oh
We are the ones who're gonna last forever
We came out of a crazy mind - oh-oh-oh
And walked out on a piece of paper

Here comes Spiderman, arachnophobian
Welcome to the toon town party
Here comes Superman, from never-neverland
Welcome to the toon town party

We learned to run at speed of light
And to fall down from any height
It's true, but just remember that
What we do is what you just can't do

And all the worlds of craziness
A bunch of stars that's chasing us
Frame by frame, to the extreme
One by one, we're makin' it fun

We are the Cartoon Heroes - oh-oh-oh
We are the ones who're gonna last forever
We came out of a crazy mind - oh-oh-oh
And walked out on a piece of paper

Here comes Spiderman, arachnophobian
Welcome to the toon town party
Here comes Superman, from never-neverland
Welcome to the toon town party

You think we're so mysterious
Don't take us all too serious
Be original, and remember that
What we do is what you just can't do

What we do is what you just can't do
What we do is what you just can't do
What we do is what you just can't do
What we do is what you just can't do

We are the Cartoon Heroes - oh-oh-oh
We are the ones who're gonna last forever
We came out of a crazy mind - oh-oh-oh
And walked out on a piece of paper

There's still more to come
And everyone will be
Welcomed at the
Toon – Toon Town - Town
Party (Cartoon Heroes lyrics)

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