ABBA will be releasing new music and performing (sort-of) for the first time in 40 years. The new album Voyage, and announcement of a 2022 digital concert is eliciting reactions, from horror to delight: Horror for those who shudder at the thought of a performance by ABBA-tars (yes, that’s what they’re called); and delight for the multiple generations of fans who fell in love with the music of ABBA, whether it was on the radio in the ’70s, or on TikTok over the past few years.
Though the group has been dormant since 1982, their songs have been as ubiquitous in pop culture as if they were still making music, by means of movies, musicals, and viral videos. Here we’ll look at the cultural touchpoints that have brought ABBA to releasing their new album Voyage in November 2021, and their new interactive concert coming to London this May.
First we’ll start with the members who make up the group. ABBA is an acronym for the first names of the four members: Agnetha Faltskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson, and Anni-Frid Lyngstad. The band comprised two sets of couples: Agnetha married Björn in 1969, and Benny married Anni-Frid in 1978. Both couples divorced in the early ’80s, which contributed to the breakup of ABBA, but also inspired heart-wrenching classics like “The Winner Takes It All.”
Each ABBA member went on to have a solo career (especially Andersson and Ulvaeus whose musical theater careers you will read about further down). ABBA had opportunities to reunite in the early 2000s, but declined to do so until now, even turning down million-dollar deals along the way.
ABBA and Eurovision
Undoubtedly one of the most prominent acts to win Eurovision, ABBA claimed first place victory for Sweden at the 1974 competition, launching their global success. Eurovision is an international song contest that has been running since 1956. ABBA dazzled Europe with their song “Waterloo,” draped in their signature ornate outfits, which were actually a way to save on Swedish taxes, because they could claim they were wearing costumes that did not serve a purpose in everyday life.
ABBA and Pop Superstardom
After Eurovision, ABBA became one of the most successful acts in pop history. Nine of their songs reached No. 1 in the UK during their most active years, with nearly a dozen more charting hits. They’ve also released a number of gold and platinum-selling compilation albums.
The group’s only No. 1 hit in the US was “Dancing Queen,” which arrived just in time for the height of disco in 1976. Rolling Stone magazine included the track on its list of “500 Greatest Songs of All Time.” Lyngstad was moved to tears when then-fiancee Andersson first played the song for her.
“What I found is the beauty of this melody isn’t based on what you’d expect—it’s a limited amount of repetitive notes and phrases (easy to sing along to!)—but the chord progression supports these notes so skillfully that it feels more complicated than it really is,” writes Slade.
The song also maintained relevance through the decades courtesy of unlikely covers by U2 and Metallica, as well as faithful tribute from Miley Cyrus and Maren Morris, to say nothing of MGMT admitting they used the song as a rhythmic blueprint for one of their biggest hits.
ABBA Breakup and Dormancy
Though ABBA have not been active as a group for nearly 40 years, they never actually broke up or made an official announcement. They did, however, stop performing and touring together as ABBA in 1982, saying that it was difficult to be in a band together after the divorces, for obvious reasons.
ABBA in Australian Film
The 1990s is considered a bright decade for Australian film, with movies like Muriel’s Wedding and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, both of which feature the music of ABBA. Both films have stood the test of time and have become cult favorites. They depict characters who are treated as outcasts and show how they find acceptance by being themselves and trusting in friendship. Their love for and performance of ABBA songs reinforce these themes.
‘Priscilla, Queen of the Desert’
‘Mamma Mia!’ The Musical and Movies
Shortly after ABBA went on hiatus in the ’80s, Andersson and Ulvaeus started writing music for theater together, in collaboration with lyricist and author, Tim Rice. Together they wrote the musical Chess, which premiered in 1984. After 10 years of persuasion, the producer of Chess convinced Andersson and Ulvaeus to help adapt the music of ABBA for stage in the jukebox musical Mamma Mia! Both were heavily involved in the production, which premiered in London in 1999 and went on to have a 14-year run on Broadway.
In 2008, the musical was turned into a movie starring Meryl Streep and Amanda Seyfried. A decade later the cast returned with the addition of Cher in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. Between the musical and two movies, the music of ABBA was alive and well at the start of the twenty-first century.
ABBA and TikTok
First there was the #DancingQueenChallenge, then there were songs like “Slipping Through My Fingers” and “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)” featured in thousands of videos.
Since landing on TikTok, Andersson and Ulvaeus have been sharing old videos and duet challenges, where they invite users to record themselves singing over Andersson playing the piano part to an ABBA song. It’s also where they ultimately revealed that ABBA would be making a comeback, and detailed info about their live show and new album.
ABBA and ‘Voyage’
In early September, ABBA shared two singles from the new album Voyage, which will be released November 5, 2021. Already the album has broken pre-sale records in the UK. The two new songs will be a part of a 22-song setlist in the digital show of the same name. The band has been preparing for the reunion for the past few years, but COVID had delayed the announcement. The show is made in collaboration with Industrial Light & Magic and will feature a 10-piece band at the new ABBA Arena at London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.
Whether you’ll be streaming the new album this November, booking a flight to London this May, or neither, there is something for musicians to learn from ABBA’s ability to maintain and gain fans through their 40-year dormancy. The hype surrounding their long-awaited comeback was nurtured by years of diversifying their work through sync licensing and adapting to social media platforms like TikTok, as well as exploring new technologies like digital concerts.
For those who are horrified by ABBA-tars, just look at the numbers of listens and views these two new songs have brought in: nearly 21 million on Spotify, and 30 million on YouTube. So if you change your mind and take a chance on the new ABBA, you definitely won’t be the first in line.