I hate Abba

Posted: August 6, 2008 in creativity
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While occasionally liking the odd pop tune, even at the best of times I’m not really a fan of that music genre. But there is one group I always despised and always will: Abba. For me they are the lowlife of popular music, and I never understood how even halfway intelligent people could include them under the rubric of their favourites. It also baffled me at first how anyone could be so moronic to write a musical about them, but quick second thoughts let me to the conclusion that this genre too shouldn’t really provide any cause for surprise. Today I finally found someone who shares my disgust: Neil McCormick, whose London Telegraph article was published in the Sydney Morning Herald – I feel almost grateful.

Cheesy disco pop with clod-hopping rhythms – and no style.
Photo: AP

I do, I do, I do, I do, I do not like Abba

August 6, 2008

With the Swedish stars riding high, Neil McCormick has a confession: he loathes them.

It is the greatest hits album that will not die. Abba Gold is riding high in the charts again: No. 1 on the UK album chart and No. 4 in Australia.

This time, it is largely due to Meryl Streep and Pierce Brosnan slumming it with a cast of British thespians in the feelgood (but only because it is braindead) movie Mamma Mia!, adapted from the long-running musical. The film’s soundtrack is No. 1 on the Australian albums chart.

Abba are inescapable. Not content with making my teenage years a misery, this jumped-up Swedish cruise-ship combo are apparently determined to ruin my middle age.

I hate Abba. I hated them first time around, when their cheesy disco pop with its clod-hopping rhythms and banal, repetitive, linguistically challenged choruses made them singalong family favourites. And I hate them even more now, when the flattening effect of nostalgia has lent a spurious retro-credibility to their formulaic Euro drivel.

People talk about Abba as if they were on a par with the Beatles, when all they did was grab one little corner of the Fab Four’s harmonic oeuvre and pillage it for all it was worth. Sure, Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson knew how to craft a pop song. The verses are catchy, the bridges prepare us for lift-off, the choruses are relentless and everything falls neatly in the right place.

But they were musical one-trick ponies: the Ramones for squares, a spandex Status Quo. Just because they created hooklines so insistent it would take invasive surgery to remove them from your cranium does not make them classic songwriters. By that criterion, the folks behind the Crazy Frog ringtone would be geniuses.

Rather than being a Swedish Lennon and McCartney, Bjorn and Benny were just an earlier incarnation of Stock, Aitken and Waterman, making ersatz teenypop unredeemed by wit, emotion or imagination.

Everything that is contrived and corny about pop is to be found in Abba. As song titles such as Money, Money, Money, and (surely you remember this one) I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do suggest, the prosaic appeal of repetition was the most potent weapon in Abba’s limited armoury.

So it is perhaps self-evident that the same musical signatures would be endlessly recycled: perky piano descents, toy-box organ sounds, staccato keyboard hooks and gimmicky backing vocals (a phrase like “Take a Chance” can become “Teka cheka-cha-chance” and “Super Trouper” metamorphose into “Supa-pa True-pa-pa”).

Then there were all those market-expanding, pan-European catchphrase choruses (Voulez-vous, Mamma mia, Chiquitita), cod-American English lyrics (Abba songs are full of unconvincingly pronounced “chicks” and “babys”) and the kind of bizarre phraseology that comes from writing in a foreign tongue (in Winner Takes It All the loser at a metaphorical card game announces that she has “no more ace to play”).

English was not Abba’s first language, but I remain to be convinced it was even their second; their lyrics are full of words included only because they rhyme. Has any song used a reference to “Glasgow” less convincingly than Super Trouper, where it is shoehorned in just to rhyme with “last show”? Bjorn once confessed that he would sit up all night struggling to write, then take whatever scribbles he had managed to note down into the studio, just to prove he had been doing some work.

He expected rejection by his band mates “but actually, they didn’t care”. This was the kind of quality control that led to songs like Bang A Boomerang with its couplet “Dum-be-dum-dum, be-dum-be-dum-dum/Love is a tune you hum-de-hum-hum”.

But you cannot pin Abba’s gaucheness just on lyrical shortcomings. Anyone who still wants to argue their pop genius obviously hasn’t heard Abba’s medley of Pick A Bale of Cotton, On Top Of Old Smokey and Midnight Special. This is the stuff of variety shows, which is where Abba truly belong.

Pop music has always been about style as much as content – and Abba had no style at all. The girls were not without their charms, but behind them lurked Tweedledum and Tweedledee, two plump, beardy guys in dungarees. Even as a hormonal teen- age boy, I figured any woman attracted to a buffoon in a romper suit deserved pity, not admiration.

The one thing I have been able to begrudgingly admire about Abba has been their refusal to re-form. No amount of money could lure them back into the dressing-up box. But it turns out there is no need for them to embarrass themselves – for their evil work is being carried on by others.

And so we end up with Mamma Mia!, the laziest kind of musical entertainment ever devised: take a bunch of pop hits and cobble a spurious story around them.

It is not a musical at all – it is a karaoke event, a place for people to revel shamelessly in the bad taste of their youth. Abba are the perfect band for such a cynically contrived misadventure: trite and simplistic, and with a musical range that goes all the way from A to B and back again. To paraphrase the lyrics of a well-known Eurovision song, it is like history repeating itself.

Telegraph, London

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Comments
  1. Heathen says:

    You know, I have read much crap in my life, but this one has exceeded all the limits. The only explanation for this is ENVY. The author can’t put up with the fact that a foreign group from a non-English speaking country managed to conquer the English-speaking world to the extent Anglo-American band can’t even dream of.

  2. bratt pid says:

    it’s not only cultural racism but sexism also
    only female singers that look like men are considered like great singers in rock and pop
    just like you have an opinion on abba ,i’ll tell you mine
    it’s a matter of envy
    britain have never produce a descent composer in all the history
    did it have smetana or dvorak ? or someone like grieg ? or even gershwin !!!
    i can tell you britain have been the best in almost every corner of life ,in science and litterature but never on music and actually it’s just a matter of marketing and many americans and europeans have learned the lesson since the nineties !
    it’s been 15 years or so that no british act have been on top of the world chart and don’t tell ‘us chart ‘,the home of pop chart is nederland!
    it’s just in the mid sixties and the eighties that they used to ‘fill up’ american charts but even the beatles ,have never been successfull world wide as abba ,but if you consider that many poor countries don’t have an impact on pop music then you’re right!

  3. Natalia says:

    I don’t know which of you is more stupid: if the one who wrote this crap or the one who quoted it. OK, you both don’t like them, but we can tell that you both spent a lot of time doing research about them and their songs, didn’t you? And why do you spend so much time learning about a group you DON’T like?

    Tell me, what is a classic song for you? Because, in my opinion, when a song like “Chiquitita”, for example, keeps touching you and you keep singing it after like 30 years, IT IS a classic song.

    Abba is GREAT! If they don’t come back, maybe it’s because they keep selling (whether you like it or not) just as they are now. I don’t think they need to come back, but if they want to, you can be sure that they won’t ask you if they can come back or not. So this is very simple: they are successful, they are nice, people like them… just swallow your envy and LIVE WITH IT!

  4. Dave says:

    Finally, someone who is not a sheep. I can’t stand ABBA, musicals, or musicals made into movies. No one has ever argued that ABBA was not successful, they just aren’t very creative nor unique. They are just one of many pop groups that have crafted inane pop songs and sold them for, what I imagine, loads of cash. Big deal, ABBA is another successful pop band. Is it not beyond the realm of reason that there are individuals who do not like the music of the unthinking, popular masses?
    It is apparent that if you do not like ABBA, you are a xenophobic sexist. That’s quite a leap of logic. Would this be the wrong time to admit my dislike of Ace of Base, but I kind of liked that one song, “Here We Go” from Stakka Bo a few years back. Whale had an odd and unique song that I thought was good a number of years back. Not all music from Sweden is bad, just ABBA (and Ace of Base).

    • Luke says:

      excuse me but listen to the winner takes it all or fernando or chuicitita. unlike justin bieber or one direction, they do it for the music not the fame. they just so happened to have dancing queen as thier 1 song but they have loads of other songs!!! i mean could you just imagine if the beatles only had one hit and it was twist and shout? it would be just like abba.

  5. Ditzen says:

    This is a joke, right? All the reasons listed for hating ABBA are reasons everyone should LOVE them. This has to be a joke.

  6. notachance says:

    You,the writer of this rant are a complete moron. The musical Mamma Mia is NOT about ABBA. At least check your facts before you write such crap.

  7. eveliina says:

    Fuck you!!!

  8. eveliina says:

    Sorry…

  9. Wyatt says:

    We can’t all like the same things. That’s the best part of being human. Can you imagine if we all liked the exact same music? There would be one insanely successful band and no one else need bother.

    It’s pretty obvious that ABBA is pretty special. With practically no effort on their part, they are still celebrated and beloved (and selling records) decades after they stopped being an entity.

    That doesn’t happen by accident. You don’t get “lucky” and have that happen. There is something there. One listen to something like “The Name of the Game” makes it clear these aren’t just “empty pop songs”. They have staying power. (obviously)

    I’m sure all this is bothering those who were sure ABBA was worthless and would be forgotten. Sorry about that…events are not unfolding the way you think they should. History doesn’t care about the elite critics who seek to define what is “classic” for the rest of us.

  10. Solveigh says:

    Omg ._.
    Why you are so mean ?
    Abba is great , ABBA is wonderful ._.
    I mean , everyone has her or his own opinion , but why you make a blog about ” I HATE ABBA ” ?
    Nobody is interisted in your opinion , lol .

  11. Nina. says:

    Fickt euch doch ihr seid alle scheiße,ausehr ABBA. ♥

  12. Walker says:

    Stupid Isiria when the dog don’t know what to do he lick his balls. you should do the same. crap

  13. bob says:

    We can’t let ABBA into the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame

  14. bazultra says:

    I cant believe this rubbish myself! ABBA are not just a group they are a super group. They are one of the biggest groups of all time. Now you may not like them but millions of people worldwide do. And forget letting ABBA into the hall of fame they are already there!

  15. I love ABBA, for me they are the greatest Pop/Rock band there was. (Although for me Beethoven is my personal god of Music.) I think that Mr. McCormick person is a bit misguided in a few areas – I can personally rebuttal many aspects of his article if people so wish me to do so.

  16. Rick Madden says:

    I couldn’t agree more with this article. To add insult to injury they have been inducted to the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Shame. They play repetitive disco crap that will play in your head for hours if you are not quick enough to change the radio station when a song begins. I hated them in the 70s and hate them even more today with the Mama Mia morons playing it all the time again. I would say they deserve to be publicly flogged for the noise polution they have caused but a more fitting punishment would be to strap them down and have them listen to hours of the mindless drivel they produce!

    • Luke says:

      listen to the winner takes it all and then come back to me. and by the way if you researched a little bit more you would know that abba made sad song spanish songs and slow songs. so no they didnt just make disco crap you insipid twat

  17. Inwe says:

    I have no problem if you don´t like ABBA, you could think what you want. But why so much people (me too) like them? Are other songs better language? If you say anything against them, because they can´t write perfect songs in the language, which is not their first, you have to say something against me, I´m from Germany and my English is not good in fact. ;-) If you know the songs you hate so good, than say from whose “in fact” was^^.

  18. Brian says:

    They like them because repetitive drivel has staying power. It has staying power because 99% of the population are a bunch of hedonistic, shallow, and stupid numbskulls.

  19. Rick Madden says:

    I saw my comments above. Sorry about the typos I shouldn’t type so late at night. I never pass up an opportunity to say ABBA sucks.

    • Luke says:

      tell me one good reason they suck and it cant be about their music. listen to the winner takes it all and then youll see they dont just make meaningless poppy and catchy songs

  20. Fernando says:

    There is a story by HCA called “the emperors new clothes” wherein a child has the courage to say “he’s not wearing anything”. ABBA had/has lots of fawning, musically-challanged fans (I too remember hearing their drivel in the background at the mall or on the AM radio in their heyday and wondered “when will it stop?”), and this article simply points out that, no fellas, ABBA really sucks, and explains exactly why.

  21. Krzych says:

    I do do do do love Abba!!!

  22. Martin Walsh says:

    ABBA a joke to serious music fans. Rubbish band.

  23. Dylan Franks says:

    Although in my opinion Abba is AMAZING!!! I think everyone has the right to have their own opinion.

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