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‘Abba. Against all odds’: When the Swedes demonstrated against Abba and the press declared them “the enemy” | Television

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Nobody is a prophet in their own land. The members of Abba say they did not at all expect to win the Eurovision Song Contest in Brighton, England, in 1974, where they won with Waterloo, the most remembered song of all those that have competed before and after. Much less would they expect that this victory would provoke a furious reaction in their country, Sweden. To the extent that a large demonstration took place in the streets of Stockholm against the following year’s festival being held there: it is said that 200,000 people attended!, some with violins and flutes. The 1975 contest finally took place in the Swedish capital, but an alternative festival (with folk, rock, jazz and other genres) was organized in parallel to denounce the commercialization of music by the industry, and it had a notable impact. Faced with this tide, in 1976 Sweden renounced participating in Eurovision and did not broadcast it either.

Like the Eurovision Song Contest itself, Abba’s music was “commercial,” which was the worst it could be in the 1970s, a time when rock (Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, the Stones) boasted of its artistic superiority. and social relevance, although that hegemony was already threatened, because disco music would begin to take off in the United States. Committed singer-songwriters were also respected in that decade: there was a lot to protest about. And punk was about to appear with its rawness and its anti-establishment message. Abba’s fresh, hedonistic and unpretentious pop was irritating to mainstream thinking. The Swedish press lashed out at them: “Their tradition is that of commercial music”; “They make shit, but bright shit”; “They are the enemy.”

The story is told well in the BBC documentary Abba. Against all odds (ABBA: Against the Odds), which premiered La 1 on the eve of Eurovision and is available on RTVE Play. A very shocking story of the troubles of such a successful band. Directed by James Rogan, the film analyzes in detail and with overwhelming archive material a short period, just over five years, from Brighton to the early eighties, on the eve of their separation, which was never made official: they simply stopped recording and performing.

Before Eurovision, the members of Abba were well-known, but not stars, in Sweden. They, Björn and Benny, had been part of folk bands; They, Agnetha and Frida, had some albums as solo artists. But seeing them on TV with those colorful clothes, those sequins and those platforms singing simple and attractive pop, their country ignored them. And not just Sweden: Waterloo was a single very successful, which went to number one in the United Kingdom, but radio stations avoided playing it. It was the stigma of Eurovision and that image kitsch in a Europe very different from today.

In the beginning they found refuge in Australia. They performed there for the New Year’s Eve program in 1975 and became a lasting phenomenon glocal (global and local); This may explain the recent invitations to such a remote country to participate in Eurovision. On that great island they had number one hits until October (42 weeks!) and did their first big tour. Then they tried other paths, even on the other side of the Iron Curtain: they managed to have their concert in Warsaw televised throughout Poland. They added countries to their creed. In the US it cost them more, although they also had their stellar night with Olivia Newton-John on television. They were connecting with the disco music fever, but this too was dying out and met with furious opposition (from the Disco Demolition Night in Chicago in July 1979, when a mass destruction of vinyl of the genre was organized). The United Kingdom finally surrendered to them: they filled Wembley Stadium for six consecutive nights in November 1979.

Abba en 1974: desde la izquierda, Benny Andersson, Frida Lyngstad, Agnetha Fältskog and Björn Ulvaeus.Getty

The band had survived the bad reviews, the weight of fame and the pressure of having become bait for the gossip press. Agnetha was the one who had it the worst. In the interviews recovered here it is seen that they were asked little about their music (only them) and a lot about their marriages (only them), about motherhood and even about their ass (Agnetha’s). The picture of two perfect couples was broken when Agnetha took the two children and abandoned Björn after participating in a BBC Christmas special in 1978. The quartet continued despite everything, but did not survive more than a few months at the time. second divorce, that of Frida and Benny in 1981.

This is no longer told in the documentary, which ends there, but the abbamania was a growing phenomenon in the decades following the quartet’s breakup. His best-selling album is the compilation Gold, which was published in 1992; seven years later the musical premiered in London Oh mama!, based on his songs (not on his career), which reached many more cities and was made into a film in 2008 with Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan. In the new century it is more common for his songs to be played on the radio than when they were active. They met again to record an album in 2021: Voyage, more than worthy although it did not contribute anything to his repertoire.

In a way, they were ahead of their time, because their extravagance was very accepted in the pop scene of the eighties, more free of prejudices, and continues to be so today. They had another point in their favor: the children of their time, who are the adults of today, really liked them, which perhaps explains their incredible validity. If they did not expect to win the 1974 contest, much less would they think that half a century later they would be honored, and recreated using artificial intelligence, at the Eurovision gala in Malmö. Nobody protested against them, this time in their country (there was a lot of protest in Gaza).

In its glory days, those six nights at Wembley, some members of Led Zeppelin and The Who, the rock aristocracy, appeared in the VIP area of ​​the London stadium. It is said in the documentary that even the Sex Pistols, who represented their stylistic and aesthetic antipodes, played the cassette tape of Dancing Queen. In the end it turned out that the hardest rockers, at that time when rock was taken so seriously, secretly listened to Abba songs.

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