Explore Issue 01 of LOOP Magazine

Featuring Sam Tompkins and Victor Ray as our cover stars, as well as internal spreads from Girli, Jords, Mysie, Finn Askew, Kara Marni and Master Peace

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ABBA Is Back … With A Twist

Gimme gimme gimme (more ABBA). This has been the reaction among fans who received the first taste of the Swedish pop group’s new music after a 40-year hiatus, which ended with the release of the songs “I Still Have Faith In You” and “Don’t Shut Me Down” on Sept. 2. While pop culture classics’ comebacks are not always met with the same fanfare that the original source material earned, the preview for ABBA’s upcoming album isn’t being treated like some sort of half-hearted rebooted TV series. In a poll that Billboard published on Sept. 3, ABBA edged out modern icons like Lady Gaga, Kanye West and Charli XCX when readers were asked, “What’s your favorite music release this week?”

It’s easy to see why the success (so far) of ABBA’s second era isn’t riding on the power of nostalgia alone. That’s actually an ironic observation, considering that the new singles’ loyalty to the trademark sound in ABBA hits like “Dancing Queen” and “Fernando” is what earned 21st  century listeners’ respect all over again. Instead of doing a complete rebrand, the four-member group — made up of Agneta Åse Fältskog, Anni-Frid “Frida” Lyngstad, Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson — stuck to the bittersweet lyrics and Europop instrumentation (synths, melodic pianos, harps, tambourines and all that jazz) that launched them to fame in the 1970s. The music video for one of the songs — “I Still Have Faith In You”  — even plays a montage of video clips and photos documenting their glory days.

While ABBA isn’t reinventing themselves to the point of unfamiliarity, they’re also not stuck in the past. The name of the group’s forthcoming album, coming out on Nov. 5 — “Voyage” — uses a clear sci-fi metaphor to reflect this new journey they’re taking into the future. “We simply call it ‘Voyage’ and we’re truly sailing in uncharted waters. With the help of our younger selves, we travel into the future. It’s not easy to explain but then it hasn’t been done before,” Benny said in a news release, per Umusic.

If the title doesn’t drive that point home, ABBA’s “digital avatars” do. Also endearingly being called their “ABBAtars,” these computer-engineered recreations of Agneta, Frida, Björn and Benny wear neon-lit suits that look straight out of Ready Player One and were designed by Industrial Light and Magic, the visual effects company that George Lucas founded. However, the faces of these “avatars” haven’t aged a day since 1982, the year ABBA went on a “break.” The blend of old and new is an intentional metaphor that fans will see come to life with a digital concert in May of 2022. Yes, ABBA is pulling a Hatsune Miku on us.

“See ABBA’s avatars accompanied by a 10-piece live band, in a custom-built arena at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, London,” the concert’s website reads, which also includes this statement: “Join us for a concert 40 years in the making. A concert that combines the old and new, the young and not-so-young. A concert that has brought all four of us together again.” Don’t be mistaken; the avatars are still very much Agneta, Frida, Björn and Benny — who are all in their 70s now — as they were filmed performing over a five-week period via motion capture technology.

So, why is ABBA basically saying, “Mamma mia, here we go again”? There was no big epiphany — at least, not one stated in the grand announcement, per NPR: “We took a break in the spring of 1982, and now we’ve decided it’s time to end it. They say it’s foolhardy to wait more than 40 years between albums, so we’ve recorded a follow-up to The Visitors.” Like ABBA sings in one of its new singles, fans do indeed “still have faith” that the four Swedish pop legends can deliver the same magic they did nearly half a century ago.

Words by Jade Boren

Posted On 4 October, 2022