Along with IKEA furniture, ABBA is probably Sweden’s greatest export. Even considering the amount of cheap press board furniture that I personally have purchased, I’d still have to wonder if it was the pop group or the furniture behemoth that has raked in more money over the years. ABBA are, after The Beatles, the #2 best-selling pop group of all time. And don’t forget Mama Mia! That alone has generated approx $2.7 billion dollars since its West End debut in 1999.
Consider how much money these four people, especially the two songwriters, have generated for their country in tax revues. It’s extraordinary. I recall watching one ABBA documentary—it was years ago, I don’t remember which one—where Benny Andersson was asked (by an American interviewer, natch) about all the money they were making. The young man smiled politely and acknowledged his great wealth and then the guy turned into a smartass and asked him about being overtaxed in a socialist country. Andersson’s eyes flashed in anger—to a certain degree, this jerk was implying he was a sucker to live in the country of his birth!—and he replied something along the lines of being proud to be able to pay that much in taxes to Sweden because it allowed him to live in a just society. And besides that, how much money does he need? Seen from the perspective of a Swede, I would imagine ABBA are more than just musical heroes, they’re the folks who personally picked up the tab for a hell of a lot of stuff.
In any case, I started to poke around YouTube looking for some ABBA to listen to—I’ve been in an ABBA mood lately, you?—and I noticed that ABBA must’ve made a TV special just about every damned time they got off a plane during their career. There is a seemingly endless number of ABBA specials taped in Japan, Switzerland, Germany, Japan, America, England, etc, etc, etc.
They often follow a formula that seems particularly smart when viewed from a manager’s perspective of wringing the most from his charges, but with a minimal effort from them. Many of the shows start off with a jet landing in ____, looking out the window of a taxi or limo footage, a press event of some sort and then on to the show. Every itch is scratched with continuous and very strategic motion. They are moved from place to place and camera crews follow them. (One program saw them lip-syncing on the plane!) Aside from the really spectacular ones taped in the US or Britain, this is what they did and they did it in Poland and in Paris and they did it, like I was saying, in every darned place. And it was pretty formulaic. “The group is going to be going from here to here at this time. You can tag along. They will lip-sync in your studio for no more than five hours starting at this time. The concert is happening then.” Take what you get and get whatever you can seems to be the implied agreement. ABBA touch down, do their thing, whoosh, they’re gone. On to the next jet, next tarmac, next limo, next TV special. Back then no one had to worry about the Japanese TV special being too much like the Swiss one, but comparing them on YouTube today it seems pretty obvious how many of them came to be so similar.
ABBA worked hard for their money. That much is pretty clear.
ABBA in Switzerland, 1979
This one is simply fantastic (and so awkward!) ABBA in Poland, October 1976
Another one that’s off the scale in the Amaze-o-meter, ABBA in Japan.
ABBA special on French TV in 1978.
ABBA at Wembley Arena in 1982