Mamma Mia! 'ABBA: Against the Odds' Gives the '70s Pop Titans Their Just Due | Features | LIVING LIFE FEARLESS

Mamma Mia! ‘ABBA: Against the Odds’ Gives the ’70s Pop Titans Their Just Due

If you only know ABBA from Mamma Mia, in its Broadway and movie versions, the new documentary ABBA: Against the Odds offers an in-depth examination of their 1970s heyday. 

The Swedish band came out of nowhere in 1974 to win the Eurovision Song Contest with their song “Waterloo.” This song kicked off a run of massive pop hits (“Dancing Queen,” “Take a Chance on Me,” “Waterloo”) throughout the rest of the 1970s. The documentary is timed for the 50th anniversary of that win. 

The Story of ABBA

The band consisted of four people—Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson, and Anni-Frid Lyngstad. The men were the songwriters, and the women were the front-facing singers. The four of them split into romantic couples. While there wasn’t as much drama as in their fellow ‘70s supergroup Fleetwood Mac, the group withstood the first divorce but not the second. 

ABBA: Against the Odds, directed by James Rogan, produced by the BBC and debuting in the U.S. on The CW, of all places, earlier this month, features most of the group’s biggest hits and a well-assembled amount of archival footage. It gets at something pretty major: While ABBA was huge back in those day, they weren’t really cool, and the type of earnest pop they played fell more out of favor the longer the 1970s went on. 

Therefore, the group was often treated with snobbery. Also, while they were huge in unlikely parts of the world, like Australia, their act was slow to catch on in the United States and even drew backlash in their own country. 

Disco came along, and ABBA incorporated much of that into their music for a time, which folded ABBA into the “Disco Demolition Night” era backlash. ABBA’s music never concerned itself with politics or anything else serious, and once punk was ascendant, it was pretty much the antithesis of what ABBA was, putting them further out of time. 

Ends in the ’80s

The narrative of the 80-minute documentary ends in the early 1980s, after the group stopped working together, so we don’t get the story of how ABBA gained esteem in absentia following their 1982 breakup, the success of Mamma Mia on the stage and screen, their Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame induction, and ultimately their limited reunion that started in 2016. This has consisted of a new album in 2021, but no live performance, although there is a “digital experience” show in London that features “avatars” of the performers. 

Also unmentioned is their legacy and influence, with Swedish songwriters like Max Martin writing a lot of big pop hits by Britney Spears and other stars of the ‘90s, as well as the rise of the ABBA-like band Ace of Base. 

ABBA: Against the Odds is a must for both longtime ABBA fans and those who know the music but not the backstory. 

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