December 30, 1994 at 05:00 AM EST

While knife-edged rap and alternative rock acts scratched the patina of stardom, 1994’s best-selling album belonged to Swedish bland-merchants Ace of Base, whose sextuple-platinum The Sign spawned three top 10 singles in the U.S. and sold more than 15 million copies worldwide. ”All record companies in the U.S. turned us down because this sounded too much European,” says Jonas ”Joker” Berggren (right), 28, who with sisters Jenny (second from right), 22, and Malin (”Linn”), 24, and ex-skinhead chum Ulf ”Buddha” Ekberg, 24, formed Ace of Base four years ago. The quartet’s album of Casio-fueled IKEA soul hit No. 1 in 10 European countries before Arista signed the band in summer ’93, adding three songs (including No. 1 single ”The Sign”) and promoting the ABBA clones as easy-to-swallow cross-format darlings — an alternative to alternative. ”I don’t think the lyrics are the best in the world,” Berggren admits, ”but they’re not about ‘I shot them down,’ or ‘I’ll kill that or that or that.’ It’s not all the gangsta rap, driving-killing thing. Happy messages, happy tunes, yeah.”

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