By now, ABBA owns the number 17, just like Taylor Swift’s association with 13 and 22. But their chokehold on the music industry is more than the resurgence of “Dancing Queen” on birthdays. No other act comes close to ABBA’s role in shaping the pop music we know and love today, and it’s not hard to think that their legacy will continue for decades to come.
When the group originally formed in 1972, they were dead set on making English pop music, a difficult debut genre in their home country Sweden. After winning Eurovision just two years later, their overnight fame catapulted their status to a mainstream enigma. Following their victory, ABBA’s success with their music never stopped, even in current pop culture. They spawned multiple hits such as “Waterloo” and “Money, Money, Money,” and international tours were sold out.
At a time when rock and roll was at its peak following the breakout of The Beatles, ABBA stood out by focusing on albums as complete bodies of work. Each song spoke to the citizens of Sweden, Europe, and the world. In the midst of global conflict, ABBA’s music represented the hopeful dreams that could someday come true. The lyrics were also extremely relevant to the time period, such as The Visitors' title track's focus on life in Soviet societies. Their dedication to theatrical and dramatic productions paved the way for the hugely popular “Mamma Mia,” which is based on their discography. Finally, ABBA was able to uncover the secret to the perfect pop song by using repetition and simple yet catchy hooks.
Even when ABBA disbanded in the '80s, their achievements paved the way for Swedish dominance in music. Out of the entirety of Europe, Sweden remains disproportionately represented in the pop landscape. Robyn, Ace of Base, Avicii, Lykke Li, Tove Lo, and Max Martin have all found success as songwriters, producers, and performers. Their accomplishments are partly thanks to ABBA’s initial popularity and the Swedes’ growing interest in music.
Voyage, the group’s ninth album, is their first new release in 40 years. The surprise announcement came in late August when ABBA posted a cryptic tweet on their newly created account. Instead of continuing to relish in their dominant past, the group has continued to adapt and innovate in today’s age. Their TikTok account boasts over two million followers, and their website dedicated to Voyage is headlined by the four members in futuristic outfits. These ABBAtars will also perform virtually in the ABBA Voyage concert in a custom arena. Even though the pandemic forced the release of digital concerts like Dua Lipa’s “Studio 2054” and Billie Eilish’s performance of her debut album, ABBA’s tour is still incredibly ambitious. Indie artists have explored the intersection of sci–fi and music such as Grimes’ Miss Anthropocene, but ABBA is one of the first major artists to fully immerse themselves in the future of the universe. For such a legacy act, ABBA is more than up to date.
Most of ABBA’s album rollout is adapted to modern times, but the singles of Voyage still keep ABBA’s signature glittering optimism. Some tracks on Voyage were written in the '70s but weren't released until now, such as “Just a Notion.” It was originally written for their sixth album Voulez–Vous, but it didn’t fit in with the rest of the tracklist. However, even their more recently written work such as “I Still Have Faith In You” retains the magical nostalgia of the twentieth century. The singers’ angelic voices are complemented by electric guitars, bright synths, and glittery piano notes that are distinctly sentimental. From just the song’s title, it’s clear that ABBA hasn’t lost their knack for positivity. Anni–Frid Lyngstad, one of the members of ABBA, is confident that even “through all these years,” she and her partner “have a story” where “passion and courage / is everything.” She is determined to be “in this together” after a “new spirit has arrived,” and if there’s a temporary conflict, “it all comes down to love.” While “I Still Have Faith In You” isn’t meant to be a tear–jerker, its wistful atmosphere attracts evocative memories of a challenging but dynamic relationship.
Upbeat tracks like “Don’t Shut Me Down” bring out the carefree energy of the '80s in an old–fashioned style unlike the synth–pop hits of today. Agnetha Fältskog talks about learning "to cope” after changing into a new “shape and form,” and this newfound inspiration matches the track’s airy strings and soft, sparkling electronics. Even when she feels that she’s "fired up” and asks others not to “shut [her] down,” she’s able to recognize the power of “love and hope” as well. These adjustments to her personality when necessary apply not only to her love life but also to ABBA’s history. The band has never shed their core musical identity, but their adaptation to the modern era is nothing short of legendary. The shapeshifters of pop have completed their reign, with Voyage as a fitting conclusion to their global conquest.
Flutes and xylophones on “Bumblebee” mimic nature’s most pleasing qualities. However, “Bumblebee” is much darker than it sounds. While Fältskog and Lyngstad are fixated on a bee who “likes the lilacs” and is “just a tiny, fuzzy ball,” they are also worried about our "world where all is changing” and uninhabitable for bees in the future. For now, they’re “watching clouds sail with the breeze,” but the thought that some could never hear “the hum of bumblebees” disturbs them. Some listeners might be turned off by the unrelenting happiness exuded from most of Voyage, but “Bumblebee” is a reminder that ABBA also touches on important topics such as climate change throughout their work.
ABBA’s role in the music industry is a coveted one that very few can boast. The quality and success of Voyage don’t matter. Their triumphant, modernized return makes it clear that this is just a victory lap. The band has already staked their claim as legends, joining the ranks of Prince and Michael Jackson. Even for an international group, their global reach has no bounds. And with their transition to the digital age, their story will live on forever past the old–fashioned CDs and cassettes.
ABBA announced that after the release of Voyage, their time as a quartet will be complete. While they said the same thing 40 years ago, Voyage truly sounds like one last victorious get–together. Their reunion is already a rarity when other high–profile groups who formed this century, such as Little Mix, Fifth Harmony, and One Direction, have either disbanded or gotten smaller. How has ABBA managed to stay so successful? In the music industry, metamorphosis is the key to triumph. ABBA has maintained their relevance by constantly transforming. Voyage and its tour is the synthesis of everything that makes ABBA so special and remembered.