What Is Love

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"What Is Love"
HaddawayWhatIsLoveMaxiCDCover.jpg
Single by Haddaway
from the album The Album
B-side"Sing About Love"
Released
  • 8 May 1993 (Europe)
  • August 1993 (US)
GenreEurodance[1][2]
Length4:29
LabelCoconut
Songwriter(s)
Producer(s)
  • Dee Dee Halligan
  • Junior Torello
Haddaway singles chronology
"What Is Love"
(1993)
"Life"
(1993)
Music video
"What Is Love" on YouTube

"What Is Love" is a song recorded by Trinidadian-German Eurodance artist Haddaway for his debut album, The Album. The song was released on 8 May 1993 as the album's lead single. It was a massive hit in Europe, becoming a number-one hit in at least 13 countries and reaching number two in Germany, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. Outside Europe, the single was moderately successful, reaching number 11 in the United States, number 12 in Australia, number 17 in Canada, and number 48 in New Zealand. The song earned Haddaway two awards at the German 1994 Echo Award, in the categories "Best National Single" and "Best National Dance Single".

Background[edit]

"What Is Love" was written and produced by German music producer and composer Dee Dee Halligan (Dieter Lünstedt a.k.a. Tony Hendrik) and Junior Torello (Karin Hartmann-Eisenblätter a.k.a. Karin van Haaren) of Coconut Records in Hennef (Sieg) near Cologne. They were waiting for the right singer for the song. Trinidadian-born singer Nestor Alexander Haddaway was then chosen to sing it. He used to work as a producer, dancer and choreographer before he was signed to Coconut Records.[3] In a 2012 interview Haddaway said about the making of "What Is Love":

We just used ideas that were fresh at that time and tried to make something that nobody else had, (...) The song came really fast. I had the idea for the melodies in about 45 minutes and the total structure of the song was done in a day and a half.[4]

Release and legacy[edit]

"What Is Love" was released in Europe in May 1993 and in the US in August 1993. It hit number one in 13 countries : Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Switzerland and Zimbabwe. In Sweden, Germany and the United Kingdom, it peaked at number 2. In the latter, the song reached that position on the UK Singles Chart in its fift week on the chart, on June 27, 1993.[5] Additionally, "What Is Love" was a number 3 hit in Iceland, and it managed to climb up to the top spot also on the Eurochart Hot 100. Debuting at number 87 on 28 August 1993, the song reached number 11 on the Billboard Hot 100 in the United States. The song also peaked at number 12 in Australia. By March 1994, worldwide sales of "What Is Love" had already reached 2.6 million.[6]

When asked about the meaning of "What Is Love" in a 2015 interview, Haddaway said:

People always ask me about what I meant, (...) I meant that 'what is love' needs to be defined by everyone by his own definition. It's unique and individual. For me, it has to do with trust, honesty, and dedication.[7]

Critical reception[edit]

AllMusic editor Jose F. Promis called "What Is Love" "one of the 1990s' quintessential dance tunes".[8] Victor Beigelman from The A.V. Club deemed it a "Europop banger that more than 20 years later remains relentlessly catchy and far more profound than it ever had any right to be."[9] Larry Flick from Billboard described it as a "glorious pop/house ditty" and stated that "wildly catchy chorus is complemented by a slick, synth-happy arrangement. Haddaway will conjure up images of Seal and Sydney Youngblood with his worldly baritone delivery. A sure-fire dance hit that has the muscle to push its way onto pop formats with ease."[10] Milo Miles from The Boston Globe wrote, "He pours such delicacy and anguish into the short phrases they become loud whispers that stay in the ear. With perfectly lubricated synthesizers bouncing away behind him, Haddaway gets precious mileage out of minimal lyrics."[11] Columbia Daily Spectator said it "will transport you instantly to the golden age of house music."[12] Jim Farber from Daily News noted that "What Is Love" "uses every sound it has to punch the beat: a stabbing synth line, a tense bass, an uplifting lead vocal and an encouragingly frantic female voice to back it up. It's a sound at once insinuating and insistent, sensual and wild." He also deemed it "the world's natural followup" to Robin S.' "Show Me Love".[13] Dave Sholin from the Gavin Report commented, "Try sitting still seconds after this upbeat entry kicks in." He also noted that Haddaway's style is "reminscent of the Fine Young Cannibals and just as exciting."[14] Mike Wood from Idolator called it a "catchy" anthem that "permeated our collective consciousness given the heavily-repeated airplay".[15] Music & Media said it has a "fast house beat augmented by Nestor Haddaway's deeply soulful vocals. This is definitely on par with anything that has come out of Chicago's deep house scene for quite some time."[16] Wendi Cermak from The Network Forty described the track as "splendiferous" and noted that "the eargasmic synth stabs in the extended mix are pulling even odds in Vegas for dance-floor-filling capability and the edit screams for radio airplay..."[17] Luke Turner from The Quietus wrote that "What Is Love" "bangs because it manages to be two things—a terrific soul tune but also rather stern as well, with infernally naggy synth lines and drilled repetition in the rhythms."[18]

Music video[edit]

The music video of "What Is Love" was directed by German music video director Volker Hannwacker.[19] The video was uploaded to YouTube in June 2014. As of April 2021, it has more than 130 million views.[20]

Accolades[edit]

Year Publisher Country Accolade Rank
1994 Echo Award Germany "Best National Single"[21] 1
1994 Echo Award Germany "Best National Dance Single"[21] 1
2005 Bruce Pollock United States "The 7,500 Most Important Songs of 1944-2000"[22] *
2011 Paste United States "Awesome One-Hit Wonders of the 1990s"[23] 6
2011 MTV Dance United Kingdom "The 100 Biggest 90's Dance Anthems of All Time"[24] 57
2012 Porcys Poland "100 Singli 1990-1999"[25] 77
2013 Complex United States "10 Essential Eurodance Classics"[26] *
2013 Max Australia "1000 Greatest Songs of All Time"[27] 189
2013 Vibe United States "Before EDM: 30 Dance Tracks from the '90s That Changed the Game"[28] 4
2014 Idolator United States "The 50 Best Pop Singles of 1994"[15] 5
2017 BuzzFeed United States "The 101 Greatest Dance Songs of the '90s"[29] 11
2019 Elle United States "52 Best 1990s Pop Songs"[30] 39
2019 Insider United States "The 57 best one-hit wonders of all time"[31] *

(*) indicates the list is unordered.

In popular culture[edit]

"What is Love" experienced a revival as the song from the Saturday Night Live "Roxbury Guys" sketches later expanded into the 1998 feature film A Night at the Roxbury, where two brothers (played by Chris Kattan and Will Ferrell) frequently went to dance clubs with a third person (including actors such as Sylvester Stallone and Jim Carrey), credited as "Barhop". It was also used in the 2013 video game Saints Row IV and included as one of the tracks in Just Dance 2017.[32][33] The song was also sung by Ulysses Klaue (played by Andy Serkis) while being interrogated by Everett K. Ross (played by Martin Freeman) in the 2018 film Black Panther.[34]

Formats and track listings[edit]

Charts[edit]

Weekly charts[edit]

Cover versions and sampling[edit]

  • In 2007, the song was covered by indie band The Gossip, with lead singer Beth Ditto changing the lyrics to "When Is Lunch?, Baby I'm Hungry, I'm Hungry, For More".[89]
  • In 2009, singer and songwriter Diane Birch completely rearranged the song,[90][91] that later was featured on Billboard magazine's Mashup Monday in 2010.[92]
  • In 2010, Swedish boy band E.M.D. released a piano ballad version of "What Is Love" as the second single from their sophomore studio album Rewind.[93]
  • In 2010, American rappers Eminem and Lil Wayne sampled the song for the single "No Love" from Eminem's seventh studio album, Recovery.[2]
  • In 2014, Canadian singer Kiesza did a "piano-and-synth cover" of the song.[94]

Klaas version[edit]

"Klaas meets Haddaway – What Is Love 2K9"
What-Is-Love-2k9.jpg
Single by Klaas
Released2009
LabelMostiko
Songwriter(s)
Producer(s)Klaas
Music video
"What is Love 2K9" on YouTube

In 2009, German DJ Klaas remixed the song under the title "Klaas meets Haddaway – What Is Love 2K9". This remix charted in several European countries.

Chart (2009) Peak
position
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[95] 37
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[96] 41
Belgium (Ultratip Wallonia)[97] 9
France (SNEP)[98] 5
Germany (Official German Charts)[99] 60
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan)[100] 49

Lost Frequencies version[edit]

"What Is Love 2016"
What-Is-Love-2016-Lost-Frequencies.jpg
Single by Lost Frequencies
from the album Less Is More
Released7 October 2016
Length2:52
Label
Songwriter(s)
Producer(s)
Lost Frequencies singles chronology
"Beautiful Life"
(2016)
"What Is Love 2016"
(2016)
"All or Nothing"
(2017)
Music video
"What Is Love 2016" on YouTube

In 2016, Belgian DJ Lost Frequencies released a cover titled "What Is Love 2016", as a single from his debut album Less Is More.[101] It was actually already produced back in 2014 as a remix for Jaymes Young's cover version of "What is Love". This version was remade for the album and became a hit on a number of European singles charts and topped the Belgian Ultratop Official Singles Chart.

Music video[edit]

An official music video was released directed by Soulvizion. It features the Dutch professional basketball player Don Rigters[102] who plays the role of David Rose, a basketball player who is severely injured trying to make a comeback to the game with encouragement from his girlfriend, (played by Melissa Kanza), his three teammates, (Alkenah Wansing, Jeroen Jansen and Lindy Chippendel) and by his basketball coach (played by J E Rigters).

Track listing[edit]

  • Armada / Mostiko, 7 October 2016
  1. "What Is Love 2016" – 2:52
  • Armada / Mostiko, 28 October 2016
  1. What Is Love 2016" (Regi & Lester Williams Remix) – 4:21
  • Lost & Cie / Armada, 11 November 2016
  1. "What Is Love 2016" (Regi & Lester Williams Remix) – 3:08
  2. "What Is Love 2016" (Regi & Lester Williams Extended Remix) – 4:10
  • Armada / Mostiko, 6 January 2017
  1. "What Is Love 2016" (Mike Mago Remix) – 3:29
  2. "What Is Love 2016" (Zonderling Remix) – 3:11
  3. "What Is Love 2016" (Galactic Marvl Remix) – 2:54
  4. "What Is Love 2016" (Rose Remix) – 3:08
  5. "What Is Love 2016" (Mike Mago Extended Remix) – 5:49
  6. "What Is Love 2016" (Zonderling Extended Remix) – 4:27
  7. "What Is Love 2016" (Rose Extended Remix) – 4:08
  8. "What Is Love 2016" (Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike Remix) – 3:29

Weekly charts[edit]

Chart (2016–2017) Peak
position
Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)[103] 20
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[104] 1
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Wallonia)[105] 12
France (SNEP)[106] 92
Germany (Official German Charts)[107] 24
Germany (Airplay Chart)[108] 2
Hungary (Rádiós Top 40)[109] 40
Netherlands (Single Top 100)[110] 73
Poland (Polish Airplay Top 100)[111] 29
Slovakia (Rádio Top 100)[112] 38
Slovenia (SloTop50)[113] 20
Sweden (Sverigetopplistan)[114] 99
Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)[115] 52

Year-end charts[edit]

Chart (2016) Peak
position
Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)[116] 41

Certifications[edit]

Region Certification Certified units/sales
Belgium (BEA)[117] 2× Platinum 80,000double-dagger
Germany (BVMI)[118] Gold 200,000double-dagger

* Sales figures based on certification alone.
^ Shipments figures based on certification alone.
double-dagger Sales+streaming figures based on certification alone.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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  118. ^ "Gold-/Platin-Datenbank (Lost Frequencies; 'What Is Love 2016')" (in German). Bundesverband Musikindustrie. Retrieved 8 September 2017.

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