The Guilty Pleasures: “ABBA: The Movie”
You may have noticed that Agnetha’s bottom is mentioned twice in that introductory video. In fact, it isn’t an exaggeration to state that Agnetha’s backside plays an integral part in ABBA: The Movie. Early in the film during a press conference, a reporter inquires about her winning Europe’s “Sexiest Bottom” award for 1977. When he asks if she thinks that her bottom is indeed the sexiest, she responds “How can I answer to that? I don’t know… I haven’t seen it!”. Is it possible not be aware of one’s own bottom? I’ve looked at mine many times, yet Agnetha seems to be saying that she hasn’t seen hers. (NOTE: I haven’t been able to find any information regarding who else was the recipient of the “Sexiest Bottom” award. If someone out there has this information, please pass it along.)
From left to right: Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Anni-Frid “Frida” Lyngstad, Benny Andersson
I’m getting ahead of myself. Before I discuss ABBA: The Movie further, allow me to give you some background as to how I happened upon this “Guilty Pleasure”:
Back in the early 90’s, my musical tastes were somewhere between Thrash Metal, Alternative Pop and Creedence Clearwater Revival. It was not uncommon for me to create mixtapes that began with Slayer and ended with the Pixies (with a song or two by Little Richard thrown in to spice things up). I didn’t have a musical group that I could confidently claim as my true favorite, but rather a collection of bands and performers that I listened to with no particular loyalties.
One evening in 1995, I went with a few people to catch the Australian film Muriel’s Wedding at the theater. Up to that point, the only sorts of Aussie flicks I had seen were along the lines of The Road Warrior and Turkey Shoot. So, a romantic comedy from down-under was a new experience for me. For those unfamiliar, the movie is about the ne’er-do-well character of the title, Muriel (Toni Collette), who fends off the emptiness in her life by listening to ABBA. Before seeing Muriel’s Wedding, I was only vaguely familiar with the group and probably thought I was too sophisticated to give them my attention. But then, about 25-minutes into Muriel’s Wedding, I witnessed what may very well be one of the greatest scenes in the history of cinema. While enjoying some ill-gotten vacation time, Muriel meets up with an old schoolmate, Rhonda (Rachel Griffiths), who shares her love of ABBA. Together, they perform a lip-synch/dance combo to the ABBA masterpiece “Waterloo” at a talent show. I was never the same:
If you haven’t heard ABBA before, an atomic blast of bliss probably detonated in your soul after watching that clip. I’ve been there. I started gorging myself on ABBA’s music almost immediately. But what truly made my ABBA discovery transcendent was when I first set eyes on the Dynamic Duo of Divadom who possessed the miraculous pipes that brought ABBA’s songs to life – Agnetha Fältskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad. Not to say that Collette and Griffiths don’t put on an exceptional show, but once you see the real thing there’s no turning back:
Yeah, I was in love. With the women. With the music. I finally found a group that I could get behind with total, passionate devotion.
SPECIAL NOTE REGARDING THE HELLISH TRAVESTY THAT IS MAMMA MIA!
If you like the film Mamma Mia!, YOU ARE NOT AN ABBA FAN! Agnetha and Anni-Frid sing like angels. Pierce Brosnan sings like his tongue was partially removed and he’s suffering from acute hemorrhoids. Listen to the version of “S.O.S.” above from Mamma Mia!, and then listen to the ABBA version below.
Now that the evidence has been presented, you may feel free to disassociate yourself from Mamma Mia! for however long as you may live.
Here endeth the lesson.
ABBA: The Movie is primarily a concert film documenting the group’s 1977 Australian tour. Mixed in with the concert footage is the fictional story of a country music DJ’s repeated attempts to interview ABBA for his radio station. After failing numerous times, the DJ has a somewhat strange dream (set to the ABBA song “The Name of the Game”) of himself palling around with the group. Maybe I’m reading into it too much, but I think there’s some erotic imagery going on:
Speaking of erotic imagery, allow me to get back to the matter of Agnetha’s backside. Throughout the film, whenever the DJ asks people on the street why they like ABBA, two of the most common responses refer to how “clean-cut” and “tidy” the group members are. However, after one of their concerts there is a newspaper headline declaring “AGNETHA’S BOTTOM TOPS SHOW”. Agnetha, upon hearing about it, asks “Don’t they have bottoms in Australia?”. Anni-Frid just looks disgusted. I found this video on YouTube dedicated to Agnetha’s bottom as it appeared in the film (the music on the video isn’t by ABBA, to the best of my knowledge):
Toward the end of the movie, a cab driver actually complains about Agnetha’s booty shaking on stage as being inappropriate. My belief is that Agnetha most definitely was conscious of the power that her derrière had on the masses. How could she not be?
In this article about hardcore Australian ABBA fans (Australians really like ABBA from what I understand), the author responds to the question “Why were ABBA so popular in Australia?” thusly:
My answer is they were exotic isolated outsiders, a bit awkward, underdogs in the pop scene, had no airs and graces, and were excellent at their craft — traits that Australians can relate or aspire to.
(NOTE: In the event that this article gives you the 70’s Europop bug, here’s a video for “Trojan Horse” by the Dutch group Luv’. They’re a good place to start if you want to explore the genre further.)