Super Swedish pop group ABBA was big in North America, huge in Japan and colossal in Europe. Yet nowhere more were Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Anni-Frid (the first initials of their names became the acronym “ABBA”) more popular than Australia. So, what better place to take in the interactive exhibit ABBAWorld, currently on its world tour stop in Melbourne, to try to figure out why.
Unlike Americans, Australians follow the Eurovision song contest almost as passionately as Europeans do. When I asked my first Australian on the street why ABBA was so popular here, she pointed out that ABBA won the Eurovision song contest for “Waterloo” in 1974. What was so remarkable about the delivery of this factoid was that the Aussie who told me this with a matter-of-fact shrug wasn’t even born yet when this occurred. She said it like an American might report that everybody knows George Washington once chopped down a cherry tree. In Australia, everybody also knows that the ABBA single “Fernando” topped the charts here for 14 solid weeks. The only other song with such staying power before or since was “Hey Jude” by some group called the Beatles.
ABBA has probably earned its place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame more for being pioneers of the music video than giving the world “Dancing Queen.” It was an ingenious move by the group and its producer Stig Anderson to take ABBA global in the years before MTV. But while Americans were watching Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert (taped live performances of groups like the Allman Brothers), Australia aired a TV show featuring ABBA videos for “I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do” and “Mamma Mia” – a show that scored more viewers than the moon landing.
The intense popularity of the group had nowhere to go but up after that – leading to an ABBA tour of Australia in 1977. Eleven dates – 160,000 Aussies packing into arenas in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth. If America had Woodstock, Australia had the “Arrival” tour – captured on film by Lasse Hallström and simply called “ABBA: The Movie”.
ABBA split up in the early ’80s and has never reunited – but Australia worked its way around that small inconvenience by using its music in two 1994 films that did for Australian movies what ABBA did for Swedish pop: put it on the map. Muriel’s Wedding and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert used ABBA on their soundtracks to underscore characters’ commitment to being happy even when they’re sad, distressed or in some kind of trouble causing them to flee from one town in the Outback to another, or from Porpoise Spit to Sydney.
So, take a lesson from the Aussies and learn to love ABBA. It’s never too late to become a fan and download a little “S.O.S”. If you’re visiting Melbourne in the next two months, ABBAWorld is on until October 31. Click here for tickets and more info.
Source: The ABBA entry on Wikipedia was used to confirm dates, facts and other ABBA trivia in this blog post.