Swedish humour, as demonstrated by Björn Ulvaeus in ‘The Winner Takes It All’

A few years ago, for some reason, and I honestly can’t imagine what that reason could have been, I watched a documentary called ABBA, The Best Pop Group Ever – THE STORY, which you can see here. But I’m kind of glad I did, because the story of the circumstances surrounding the making of ‘The Winner Takes It All’ was totally nuts, and I’ve never forgotten it.

You may remember, that’s the video when this

turns into this

and there’s some of this

and then this

You may also remember the words, in which poor old Agnetha sings about how she was such a fool:

I was in your arms
Thinking I belonged there
I figured it made sense
Building me a fence
Building me a home
Thinking I’d be strong there
But I was a fool
Playing by the rules

About how she shouldn’t grumble:

The winner takes it all
The loser has to fall
It’s simple and it’s plain
Why should I complain?

She stares accusingly at the camera to ask:

But tell me does she kiss
Like I used to kiss you?
Does it feel the same
When she calls your name?
Somewhere deep inside
You must know I miss you
But what can I say?
Rules must be obeyed

But, ultimately, apologises and confesses to having anxiety and confidence issues.

I don’t wanna talk
If it makes you feel sad
And I understand
You’ve come to shake my hand
I apologise
If it makes you feel bad
Seeing me so tense
No self-confidence

What you may not know is that Björn (the one with the nose, not the one with the beard) wrote those lyrics for his ex-wife to sing.

‘We wrote some of our best stuff after the divorces,” he explains in ABBA, The Best Pop Group Ever – THE STORY. “I think like a divorce can be for songwriters a new experience and something to use in lyrics. I used to write it obviously from my own viewpoint and Agnetha and Frida would sing it. And it rang true, I thought.’

Bjorn from Abba
He has a beard now.

Later on in the documentary Agnetha reveals how much she became to hate touring: ‘Sometimes it was awful. There was fever. There was hysteria. There was sweaty, obsessed crowds. I felt as if they would get hold of me and I’d never get away again.’

Despite being married to her at the time, Björn says he had no idea: ‘I really didn’t know that it was a frightening experience to her. No, I thought it was great.’

With two small children, in the late ’70s Agnetha decided to stop traveling for a while. ‘Many female stars with children have probably had an experience similar to mine when ABBA took off,’ she says. ‘You are torn in two. One half is dying to succeed on the world stage, while the other half is a mother who wants to be at home taking care of her children.’

Björn is still unimpressed, 30 years later: ‘Agnetha really didn’t want to go anywhere. And I thought: “It’s necessary. We have to. We can’t miss this. We must … you know, we’ll regret it for the rest of our lives if we just … don’t bother anymore”. So there was between Agnetha and myself – and I understand her much better today than I did then – um … things were always difficult because I wanted to go, she didn’t want to go.

‘And I’m not talking about tours now, because tours I couldn’t care less about tours,’ he says, generously, before adding in reverent tones: ‘But this was promotion.’

When ABBA, The Best Pop Group Ever – THE STORY was filmed, Agnetha was living ‘almost as a recluse in a quiet suburb in Stockholm’, ‘occasionally taking solitary walks’. She refuses to talk directly to the camera, as her English has deteriorated too much, but agrees to read a prepared speech, which is dubbed over images of herself on one of her excursions.

‘During a 10-year period, I neither played, sang nor listened to music. I didn’t even bother to get a decent stereo system,’ she intones.

‘The silence has been necessary. We had worked so much with ABBA that we had no urge to listen to the music.’

‘This is where the walks have been so important. Because it has perhaps been a way for me to digest everything, a kind of recovery.’

But there is hope of the horizon, thank heavens: ‘Now, again, I feel that I can begin to enjoy both ABBA and some of my own things, as well as other artists. I suddenly feel a desire to listen again.’

Nowadays the airing of dirty laundry on the radio is commonplace, and there seem to be more beefs between popstars than you can shake a stick at. Real artists, poets and the like, have always had a tendency to use their emotional turmoil to create art, but ABBA did it live on TV.

Just so you know, ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’, despite it’s themes of betrayal, predates the ABBA divorces. To see how they did cover the breakups, see ‘When All Is Said And Done’ and ‘One Of Us’, which has a video that surely breaks the record for the greatest number of awkward moments.

It starts with Agnetha unpacking boxes in her new, singleton’s apartment. She even has to hang her own bizarre art, cos there’s no man around to do the banging. The weird editing style puts one in mind of Blue Peter, and once she starts painting the walls yellow, in a matching yellow outfit, you half expect a cut to a completely yellow room with Agnetha saying, in a sing-song voice, ‘and here’s one I made earlier’.

The band wasn’t able to let go of the two-women-on-screen, one-profile-one-head-on motif, but with the two As now enemies they put them each through a duplicator, so that first you see two Agnethas, and then cut to two Anni-Frids. But wait! Then one Anni-Frid morphs into an Agnetha, and we’re back to happier times. But no, the Agnetha morphs back into Anni-Frid. Then we cut to two Agnethas, in close up, and then to Anni-Frid and Benni in an elevator, with some of the most awkward hand-in-pocket dancing and posing ever to be captured on film.

Then the face-morphing starts, with Agnetha morphing into Björn. Soon after we’re back in Agnetha’s apartment, where the books she unpacked and shelved earlier are mysteriously missing. Next there’s more face-morphing, but it’s at this point that Frida’s hair takes centre stage. As the video winds down, the very special special effects go into overdrive. The women’s faces multiply kaleidoscopically, with only the briefest face-morph interruption, until there are no less than 12 Fridas and eight Agnethas fanned out across the screen. After such a busy few minutes, it’s disappointing that the video ends with the cop-out of a visual and aural fade-out.

Author: ProjectJennifer

Project Jennifer was one of the most complex, expensive, and secretive intelligence operations of the Cold War at a cost of about $800 million ($3.6 billion in 2012 dollars).

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