Agnetha, Benny, Björn and Anni-Frid. The chart-topping Swedish supergroup have continued to be influential and capture hearts well passed their time. Beyond the glitter and voluntary mullets, there’s more to learn about ABBA than meets the eye.
ABBA were not always known as ABBA
The name ABBA comes from the first initials of the four members – Agnetha Fältskog, Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus and Anni-Frid Lyngstad. They were not always a household name, however. When they first formed, they were named “Festfolk”, which is Swedish for “party people”. It was also similar to fästfolk, the 1970s Swedish slang word for “engaged couples” - perfect since they paired off together, and, in the end, ironic since ABBA didn’t last long once both couples had split up.
One of the member’s fathers was a Nazi
Anni-Frid Lyngstad was, in fact, not Swedish like the rest of her band-mates, but born in Norway. Throughout her childhood she was known as one of the Tyskerbarnas (or "German bastards") because her father, Alfred Haase, was one of the many German soldiers that had a relationship with a Norwegian female to "enrich" the Aryan gene pool.
Tyskerbarnas were often given up for forced adoption, and some were experimented on through LSD usage at a young age and died. Anni-Frid was ostracised and branded a traitor against the Allies, and was forced to move to Sweden with her grandmother following the death of her mother before she turned two.
ABBA did not get into Eurovision that easily
In 1974, ABBA were the Swedish representatives for Eurovision and won the competition. However, it was not always that easy for the pop sensation to get to perform at the song contest. In 1973, they competed in Melodifestivalen, Sweden’s qualifying process to deciding their national representative. They performed their song “Ring Ring” but only came third. Although it didn't do so well in the contest, "Ring Ring", which was recorded in both English and Swedish, ended up being a major hit - although not in Australia until its re-release in 1976.
When ABBA toured Australia, there was a bomb threat at one of their concerts
In 1977, ABBA performed in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth as part of their world tour. Tickets were $9 each (considered expensive compared to the $3.50 cost of seeing AC/DC) and they performed two shows a day.
Future-promoter Michael Chugg was the tour manager and recalls a policeman approaching him backstage on March 10 saying, “Someone’s called and said they’ve put a bomb in the arena." This occurred during the first of two shows the band were performing that night. Chugg had to pause the concert midway through and evacuate the audience within three minutes. After a 45-minute investigation, it was confirmed to be a hoax and ABBA continued with the performance.
ABBA was paid in oil commodities from the Soviet Union
In the late 1970s, ABBA were paid royalties from Soviet states in oil commodities rather than the actual embargoed currency - a smart move and a lucrative deal made my their management. During the 70s, ABBA became one of Sweden’s highest exports, second only to Volvo.
Those crazy costumes were all a part of a tax strategy
Those sequins, platform heels and cut-out jumpsuits weren’t all the rage in 1970s and early '80s - and ABBA had no hopes of starting trends with their stage outfits. In fact, they used their colourful costumes as a tax write-off. During the time ABBA was active, the Swedish Tax Code allowed costumes to be tax deductible if they couldn’t possibly be worn on the street.
In ABBA: The Official Photo Book, Björn Ulvaeus writes: "In my honest opinion we looked like nuts in those years. Nobody can have been as badly dressed on stage as we were."
ABBA is making a comeback – in virtual reality form
ABBA have always refused to regroup, despite offers of millions of dollars to go back on tour. Instead, they announced last year they will be launching a new virtual reality project in 2017. Simon Fuller, known for managing Spice Girls to fame, said, “We are exploring a new technological world that will allow us to create new forms of entertainment and content we couldn’t have previously imagined."
The project has been described as a “time machine” and will capture the essence of ABBA - who they were and still are.
Watch ABBA: In Concert Friday 12 May at 9:30pm on SBS.