Covid created the climate for ABBA's triumphant comeback - the perfect antidote to a global pandemic
Yes, ABBA are back - bigger, bolder and better than ever before. During their sensational comeback announcement, Bjorn Ulvaeus joked, “There’s an old saying in the music business: never wait more than 40 years to make your next album.” The Swedish pop legends also premiered two new singles and launched spectacular virtual versions of themselves as digital ABBAtars. They may have waited four decades, but the timing of Bjorn, Benny, Agnetha and Frida’s surprise reunion is spot on.
As the world slowly and cautiously emerges from lockdown, ABBA could provide the perfect antidote to a global pandemic. While social distancing, mask mandates, quarantine and the horror of homeschooling have fuelled emotional stress, anxiety and depression, the effect of music on the brain has long been scientifically proven to trigger feelings of happiness, improve heart rate and increase overall wellbeing. What greater tonic then than a 21st century shot of ABBA to help us all get better again.
Across the globe, social media has been deluged with outpouring of reactions such as, “ABBA just saved 2021”. US rocker Gene Simmons of Kiss, a long avowed fan, shared the announcement of new ABBA music on Twitter with a simple, "Yay!!!", while veteran movie director and composer John Carpenter (aka The Horror Master) tweeted: “They sound incredible. The new songs are pure ABBA." But of them all, my favourite celebrity reaction was British comedian and writer Matt Lucas’ declaration on Twitter: “Changing my name by deed poll to Abba Voyage”.
As a huge ABBA fan myself since childhood, this is a joyous and emotional time for me. I never dreamed my idols would ever record even one song, yet alone a whole album, again (they famously refused $1 billion to reform in 1999). But while the reunion of the band who vowed they’d never get back together is arguably the biggest surprise in pop music history, it’s the stunning quality of ABBA’s 3D animations that is really wowing the world right now. These performing avatars are creatively groundbreaking, as the group’s official statement attempts to explain, “We’re truly sailing in uncharted waters. With the help of our younger selves, we travel into the future”.
The ABBAtar project in development
When the ABBAtar project was first mentioned four years ago, concert audiences may have been sceptical and reluctant to interact with digital holograms lip-syncing to Dancing Queen.However, the subsequent delay (part pandemic-related, part tech-related) has no doubt worked to ABBA’s advantage. During Covid, the dependence on technology to keep us connected to each other has unwittingly paved the way for this revolutionary reinvention of musical performance. Lockdown thrust everyone head-first into digital existence, forcing us to accept virtual experiences far sooner than we may have ever wanted. Seventeen months on Zoom, being there while not really being there, has adjusted our perspective on reality. The prospect of avatar pop is a “natural” progression that most people seem willing to embrace now, even if we still crave the nostalgia of a simpler, safer, pre-Covid time. ABBA’s comeback combines all this perfectly - with their music and digital images, it feels like 1977 all over again while a shiny new soundtrack and a visionary reincarnation blends the past, present and future. As the super Swedes sing on their new track Don’t Shut me Down, “And now you see another me, I'm like a dream within a dream that's been decoded ... I'm now and then combined, and I'm asking you to have an open mind”.
The new music still has that familiar, distinctive ABBA sound, although Frida and Agnetha’s voices have become deeper in tone over the years, and the lyrics are suitably reflective for four people now in their 70s. They are older, wiser, more mature and changed by life’s experiences - just like the rest of us. I still have Faith in You is a song about everlasting friendship: “We’re in this together, passion and courage is everything … we stand on a summit, humble and grateful to have survived”. That’s something we can all relate to.
Digital versions of Agnetha & Frida performing
The super troupers have always known how to raise our spirits when times are tough, and their first new songs in 40 years are as catchy and uplifting as ever. Covid may have created the climate for their triumphant comeback, butthere really is reason to say thank you for the music when doctors agree that listening to a great tune helps form antibodies and boost immunity against infection. So turn up the two new tracks, dance along as those gorgeous avatars sing “love and hope is why I am here now”, and unleash your life-enhancing endorphins. A long-awaited new dose of ABBA really can make us all feel stronger, happier, healthier and so much better.