I’m afraid of using names like a-ha in my opening sentence in case I lose a few readers, so if you’re afraid reading further might endlessly loop “Take on Me” in your head, you might want to check out now. But I’m less prone to judge musical outfits based on country of origin (in fact, one of my favorite bands is Swedish and I think we can all agree that “Velkommen til Medina” is catchy) and after hearing their debut single, the song you really won’t stop humming is Donkeyboy’s “Ambitions.” It’s the type of song ABBA would have written if Benny and Bjorn were actually Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe: purposeful pop, with hints of regret before the decisive act even takes place. It’s a stunning debut single made loopy by the fact that it stayed at #1 on the Norwegian charts for twelve consecutive weeks while the band remains irritatingly low-key before the release of their album. It makes me wonder if they’re riding the wave out as long as they can before we find out the rest of their repertoire consists entirely of Smiths covers.
There’s nothing inherently different about “Ambitions,” though I’m compelled to voice a sidebar for personal situations; like any teen anthem, it’s both acutely hopeless and poignantly anticipating. The music video features a cast of characters from different age groups who suffer from a disease that occurs when one gives up his or her ambitions, but the party in the woods for the social drifters who are wilting faster than their rashes can cover them is reminiscent of preteen escapades and rowdy dorm parties. Losing one’s ambition can occur at any age, but the video seems to illicit more sadness towards the young, who never got a chance at all.
The text of the song is a bit deceiving: there seems to be two “yous” in question and both sort of flip-flop during the chorus. The “you” can either be a sarcastic look at the ability one has versus the motivation to utilize it, or a call to let someone more deserving step in. Though a sort of trite homage to 80s Euro-pop, the song itself denotes none of the earnest enthusiasm of the decade. It’s more miasmatic than merry, setting the droning, repetitive beat to a future of repetitive days like all the ones before and after it: sparse, simple, increasingly empty. It’s the kind of troubling, scratchy one-liners you stumble upon in a teenager’s diary that continue to haunt you after you’ve shrugged it off. After all, maybe you just settled, too.