Saturday, October 23, 2021

Knowing Me, Knowing Them; What ABBA have been up to since their breakup

In 1982 the unthinkable occurred. The Swedish pop-powerhouse ABBA – the purveyors of glam-rock flares, chart-topping hits, and endless cheesy nights – announced their disbandment. Mired by internal tension caused by the dissolution of the two marriages the band was built on, ABBA’s dynamics were no longer the same. 

Struggling to find the unity that was once the catalyst of their collective creativity, the quartet cowered under the changing musical tastes of a new decade and strayed increasingly from their characteristic buoyancy into darker introspection. The solution was clear, and in the words of their 1977 hit ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’ – this time we’re through”.

But was being ABBA the best they could do as individuals? How could they top – financially and spiritually – the heights that ABBA reached after their legend-making win at 1974’s Eurovision? What happens if there is no winner to take it all? The answer was to do what you know best, and for each member of ABBA this was to write music that invigorated their audience. Together or apart, they each persevered into new decades and eventually the new millennium.


Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus


Primary songwriters of the group, Benny and Björn are known for being the producers behind the hit musical ‘Mamma Mia!’; however, their involvement in musicals preceded this cult favourite. After the dissolution of group, the duo began work on the musical ‘Chess’ alongside lyricist Tim Rice. The project failed to become a hit, but that did not stop Benny and Björn from pursuing similar ventures. This eventually yielded positive results with the highly successful 1995 musical ‘Kristina från Duvemåla’, written in their native Swedish language and premiering at the Malmö Opera. Despite having a successful 5-year run in Sweden, ‘Kristina’ did not reach the British stage until 2010 – a decade after ‘Mamma Mia!’ had won our collective hearts and minds.


Continuing with sonic experimentation, Benny began to release folk-inspired music on his own label, Mono Music, with ‘Klinga mina klockor’ in 1987 and ‘November 1989’ two years after that. Following the formation of his eponymous band, Benny Anderssons Orkester, Benny released 10 studio albums, some of which featured Björn’s musical and lyrical input. As they wrote and produced music for a score of other artists, such as the Swedish cabaret quartet Ainbusk Singers and Sarah Brightman, the pair’s own working relationship continued to thrive – a credit to the power and resilience of this song-writing duo.


Agnetha Fältskog


Launching straight into a highly successful solo career moments after ABBA’s break up, Agnetha dominated the charts until her sudden hiatus in 1988. From platinum and double platinum successes such as ‘Wrap Your Arms Around Me’ and ‘I Stand Alone’, to children’s albums recorded with her own family, Agnetha continued to prove that she was not just a pretty face. Nevertheless, the intensity of an artist’s lifestyle and a myriad of personal problems forced Agnetha to withdraw to an isolated country house in Ekerö, where she devoted herself to yoga, horse riding, astrology, and the writing of her 1996 autobiography ‘As I Am’.


Never the loser, Agnetha returned in 2004 with her album ‘My Colouring Book’, followed by ‘A’ in 2013. Both albums were widely successful, with the former topping the Swedish charts and finding popularity in Finland and Denmark, while the latter reached the top ten across multiple European countries including the UK and Germany. Despite her success, Agnetha remained cautious about writing and performing music, expressing in multiple interviews that she finds the life of a popstar hard due to her age and personal idiosyncrasies, such as her intense fear of air-travel.


Anni-Frid (Frida) Lyngstad


Like Agnetha, Frida used ABBA’s decline to launch a successful solo career. Having enlisted the help of Genesis’s drummer and vocalist Phil Collins, Frida released a 1982 album ‘Something’s Going On’, which featured the international hit single ‘I Know There’s Something Going On’. This album was followed by ‘Shine’ in 1984 and ‘Djupa andetag’ in 1996, the latter of which reached number one in Sweden. Alongside her solo work, Frida has collaborated with other artists, such as the track ‘The Sun Will Shine Again’ which was written for her by Deep Purple’s Jon Lordand contributing vocals to Georg Wadenius’s 2010 album ‘Reconnection’.


Alongside her musical work, Frida is also a passionate environmental activist. From 1991 until 1995 she was the acting chairperson of Sweden’s Artister För Miljön (Artists for the Environment), recording a cover of Julian Lennon’s ‘Saltwater’ as a statement of her commitment to environmentalismSince 2004, she has been incredibly selective about public appearances and recording opportunities, choosing instead to focus on charitable and political work.




In 2008 Benny and Björn told the Sunday Telegraph that any hopes for ABBA’s reunion were in vain, explaining that “we will never appear on stage again […] we would like people to remember us as we were - young, exuberant, full of energy and ambition”. Although a fully justifiable line of reasoning, it still gave way to moments of wistful and melancholic longing. Speaking in 2014 to The New York Times, Fältskog expressed that “it's always nice to see each other now and then and to talk a little and to be a little nostalgic”, indicating that the group’s dynamic was still alive and well.


The nostalgic meet-ups must have paid off and displaced any apprehension the group may have had about performing together again. On 2nd September 2021 – nearly 40 years after their break-up – ABBA announced that they’re back, armed with a new studio album ‘Voyage’ and a virtual tour of the same name that will kick off in London in May 2022. This is a bitter-sweet experience, as (true to their word) the band will not appear onstage again, instead sending their avatars into this new voyage. These “Abbatars” are “young, exuberant, full of energy and ambition”.


Ultimately, no one knows if the group’s new voyage will hit the same notes as they once did so emphatically. After all they’ve done in the music industry, let’s take a chance on them.


Liza Kupreeva


Image Source: 'Voyage' Official Album Artwork


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