A Visit to Stockholm’s ABBA Museum

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ABBA in wax (Photo: Mark Brown)

These guys were clearly rock ‘n’ roll dudes—the leather, the hair, the shades, the attitude. Still, they completely lost it when they arrived at their mecca: the ABBA Museum in Stockholm.

They were downright giddy as they got their picture snapped repeatedly in front of the giant ABBA logo—you know, the one made up of spotlights with the signature backward B. Selfies were taken, memories were made, but they had somewhere to be.

A couple of hours later, the guys went to work, emerging on the stage at the Tivoli down the street to back up KISS’ God of Thunder, Gene Simmons, and plowing through classics like “Calling Dr. Love” and “Christine Sixteen.”

KISS and ABBA, converging? It makes sense. Besides the stylized logos, the bands had a lot in common: four members each, both bands churning out overwrought chart-topping hits for a decade starting in the early ’70s. It’s just as easy for “Beth” to become an earworm as it is “Dancing Queen.”

(Simmons declined to be interviewed about his band, and his publicist declined to provide the names of the band members.)

Full disclosure: I can’t stand ABBA, but it’s not their fault.

I can look at their catalog of perfectly crafted pop songs and admire the talent, especially considering it was all done in the days when you couldn’t fix a vocal with the touch of a mouse. Brilliant work. But growing up in a small city with only three pop stations—all of them ABBA-obsessed—tends to change a person, much like prison does. To me, ABBA’s greatest contribution was being recognized in a hilarious scene from Malcolm in the Middle.

In 2018, ABBA is as popular as ever; the sequel Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is hitting theaters a decade after the Meryl Streep musical Mamma Mia! caused a sensation. Even more important for ABBA fans, the band promises two new songs coming later this year, as well as an “avatar” tour.

As fate would have it, a trip to Stockholm put me within walking distance of the ABBA Museum, Sweden’s equivalent of Graceland (slogan: “Walk in, Dance Out”). Just like ABBA’s signature hits, it was pristine perfection.

Related: ABBA’s U.S. success: the inside story

The usual stuff was there: the gold records, the handwritten lyrics, the video displays, the guitars that songs were written on. The costumes worn in classic videos are a great touch and a hoot to see. Great stuff for the ABBA-obsessed.

ABBA costumes at Stockholm’s ABBA Museum (Photo: Mark Brown)

Given that the museum is officially sanctioned (and owned) by the band, it is able to go a bit further; a planned drive-by visit turned into 90 minutes of exploring the minutiae of the band. Dressing rooms were recreated, including riders and other paperwork. The band’s famed Polar Studios, which they built to serve their own needs, was recreated as well. It included the original mixing board upon which they recorded their music. I’d forgotten that the final Led Zeppelin album, In Through the Out Door, was recorded there as well, so here were the mixers that Jimmy Page used to record that classic.

Nearby are the four puppets used in the last video for “Take a Chance on Me”—quite the study in contrasts.

It’s the interactive displays that are the stars of the museum, and you can take them home with you. The mini-copter seen on the cover of Arrival is there, waiting for visitors to hop in and take a picture recreating the album cover.

Pop into another room and you can add yourself to the official video for “Dancing Queen.” Once you’ve filmed your star turn, the museum will send you a link to keep it forever. The same goes with the remixes you can make of ABBA hits; they’ll send you a link to download them after you get home.

A recreation of Polar Studios (Photo: Mark Brown)

A phone bank sat silently in the exhibit. None of the lines rang during my visit, but they do randomly, and you’ll pick it up to find Benny, Bjorn, Agnetha or Anni-Frid on the line, just checking in.

The coolest exhibit by far is the stage where a fan can walk up and perform next to life-size holograms of the band and, yes, keep the video clip for posterity.

Despite my ABBA PTSD, this is a place that treats the fans right. It’s best to take the advice that Anni-Frid Lynsgstad gave to ABC News several years ago: “It’s better to have a positive attitude, because there is no way of escaping ABBA.”

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Mark Brown

Mark Brown

Mark Brown's misguided youth and decision to buy music instead of food in college led to a life covering the music industry. His work has appeared in Newsweek, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, Orange County Register, Rocky Mountain News, San Francisco Chronicle, Trouser Press, Addicted to Noise, MSN Entertainment, Harp and countless newspapers worldwide.
Mark Brown
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