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ABBA, legendary winner of Eurovision 1974 and pioneer of Swedish pop

For pop fans, their destiny resembles a mythology: “It was love at first sight!”, 50 years after ABBA's victory at Eurovision, Claudine J.

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ABBA, legendary winner of Eurovision 1974 and pioneer of Swedish pop

For pop fans, their destiny resembles a mythology: “It was love at first sight!”, 50 years after ABBA's victory at Eurovision, Claudine J., a Belgian fan from the start, always remembers the joyful magnificence of this group, precursor of the worldwide successes of Swedish pop. With their sparkling platform shoes and shimmering costumes, Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Anni-Frid “created magic”. Before adding, “And they had a style different from everyone else. I’ve never felt like that again at Eurovision,” confides this enthusiastic 76-year-old retiree.

She is not the only one to retain an infectious nostalgia. “They had decided to be both seen and heard. No one should forget their sound and their appearance,” says Ingmarie Halling, the curator of the ABBA museum in Stockholm, who worked for a long time as the group’s costume designer.

Also read Do you want to see Abba like in 1977?

In May, Sweden hosts the competition for the seventh time, in Malmö, in the south of the country, the opportunity to celebrate the jubilee of the victory of the group which nevertheless assured that it would not be present. With a unique style and catchy melodies, the four artists of ABBA (their initials) personified the disco years until their separation in 1982. Their prolificacy, with eight albums released in as many active years, and their accessibility - they opened their bedroom doors to journalists - giving them a special place in the pantheon of Swedish music.

ABBA's Waterloo triumph at Eurovision 1974

“Before Eurovision, there were those who thought ABBA was a commercial thing for the trash and others who thought it was great,” says Ms Halling. With the victory in Brighton on April 6, 1974, “the enthusiasts took over, (...) they became a source of inspiration for many artists and musicians, showing that it is possible to break through abroad even when you come from little Sweden,” she continues. Coincidence of the calendar, at the same time, the small pop group Blue Swede ranks at the top of sales in the United States with the cover of “Hooked on a feeling”. “1974 became a benchmark year marking the start of international success for Swedish music,” confirms Christel Valsinger, editor-in-chief of Musikindustrin.se, a publication specializing in the Swedish music industry.

Ace of Base, great heirs of ABBA

After ABBA, will come notably Roxette, Ace of Base, The Cardigans, Robyn, Avicii and Zara Larsson but also less known to the general public, composers and producers such as Oscar winner Ludwig Göransson, awarded for Oppenheimer, or Max Martin, who collaborated with the majority of Anglo-Saxon stars from Britney Spears to The Weeknd. Since the end of the 90s, this very discreet musician has accumulated the first places on the coveted American Billboard (the ranking of the most popular songs) with 26 titles as a composer - as well as John Lennon - and 24 as a producer. Although he very rarely speaks in public, he said he owes his career to the Swedish system of municipal conservatories. In these music schools, young people can, for a small fee, learn the basics of music as well as an instrument. Coming from the same humanist and civic philosophy, the network of popular education establishments also offers study circles, courses and workshops which allow broad access to music throughout the country, underlines Christel Valsinger. In addition, “Sweden has shown itself to be open to new technologies,” she adds. “This created favorable conditions for Swedish music producers to quickly adopt new methods of music production.”

Fernando by ABBA

Today, the Scandinavian country of 10.5 million inhabitants, birthplace of the world's number one audio platform Spotify, is the third net exporter of music, just behind the United States and Great Britain. “This is thanks in part to the enduring and exceptional popularity of ABBA and Roxette and the number of Swedish songwriters who work with major international artists,” noted a 2020 report from Export Music Sweden. First revived by the Mamma Mia films which introduced ABBA's music to new generations, the group's popularity has seen a resurgence with ABBA Voyage, a permanent show in London in which the quartet is represented by digital avatars broadcast in hologram, and an eponymous album. They swore it would be their last collaboration. According to Ingmarie Halling, however, the epic is perhaps not over. “With Björn and Benny, I exclude nothing!” she says with a smile. In 2022, the turnover of the Swedish music sector reached 2.03 billion crowns (176 million euros).

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