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The Reconsideration of ABBA, a Band Beyond Taste

The elusive prospect of an ABBA reunion, now finally realized, has always defied the usual logic of revivalism. Where most reforming legends bank on fans made hungry by their absence, ABBA are physically incapable of going away. In 1992, their singles collection Gold kickstarted a one-album nostalgia industry, selling millions and commanding a wholesale critical rethink that predated poptimism by a decade. Their songs are now so iconic that “pop” is too local a term. But ABBA in the modern era? It seems a categorical mistake, demystifying them as a group beyond taste and time.

Everybody knows how they feel about ABBA: You love it, you hate it, you tolerate it, you require it only sometimes and then demand it, you drink it like champagne (only at parties), or you breathe it in privately, like old perfume on left-behind clothing. But there is no doubt that you get it. Where taste is generally understood to help us form a cultural identity, the act of loving or hating ABBA signifies little, and comes so naturally that it barely counts as an opinion. At an irresponsibly young age, we make the call on whether or not we are ABBA people and so, one way or another, we take them for granted. In adulthood, the only way to reassess ABBA is by a kind of reinvention, to reckon with yourself in such a way that other previously held beliefs become suspect, too.

My first ABBA memory is seeing “Dancing Queen” induce euphoria at a golden wedding anniversary party, a conventionally tacky event that struck me then as the only right place for ABBA, whose music was otherwise unfeasible. It’s tempting to say that this flimsy sound, to my 6- or 7-year-old ears, was simply archaic, but that would be too kind. Like any child with a music-adoring parent, I was aware of an “old stuff” pantheon—the Doors, Bob Marley, the sound of long drives and lazy Sundays—and begrudgingly respected it. But those were curious antiques, whereas ABBA were practically dust, old curtains boxed up in the attic.

To attend the party, we’d driven out to a massive function hall in the suburbs of a small English city. It was the kind of evening where harried hosts direct you toward bounteous “nibbles,” where you must try the Greek dip, and where, once a child is nibbled out, there is little else to do but observe septuagenarians dance, and eventually sell mom on the idea of a swift escape. When “Dancing Queen” kicked in, my response was not active resistance but ambient distaste. Sounds like a classic, I thought, instantly forgetting it existed.

For years this was ABBA’s presumed domain: bunting-clad banquet halls bathed in multicolor disco beams, inhabited by tipsy strangers looking foolish. What was then my taste—if the term can be applied to a palate exclusively reserved for Robbie Williams—would broaden in the coming years, then grow niche and extremely precise, and later more forgiving, until finally, in my later teens, it would encompass not just cult classics and oddities but the Beatles and Beyoncé, too. In all of this exploration, ABBA remained pop non grata, wallpaper plastered over the museum walls.

It is mysterious even now, this unacknowledged dismissal of the Great Pop Band, but the explanation has something to do with cultural orthodoxy. When it comes to art, there’s what you don’t like and what you would never. The former is a product of taste, because it’s consciously chosen. When Spotify suggests a track based on your listening history, you measure it by the yardstick of whatever shares its DNA. But there is also the art you couldn’t like, the conversation killer—not even irredeemable, just beyond consideration—and that belongs to a different order of subjectivity.

If your likes and dislikes represent taste, which ages with you, then what you could never is a matter of ideology. Once merged into your reality, ideology evades detection. Speak to an opera enthusiast and they’ll likely accept the possibility their taste will one day skew in one or another direction. But could they be found, a year from now, raising hell at a DIY noise-rock show? For most, that seems out of the question, a different faith altogether.

This is how ideology works: by presenting a convincing, sometimes disingenuous account of your culture and identity. Yet one raised eyebrow can bring the whole facade tumbling down. Sociologists propose that when the Iron Curtain fell, it changed not just the present but the past: Now that it is over, we always knew it was doomed. It’s in this way that I came to love ABBA. It became possible that they might be great, and so I knew it at once, had known it all along.

Loving ABBA was then a personal cornerstone. “Dancing Queen,” a perfect musical distillation of the interplay between ego and nostalgia, hit me like a revelation, the way others find truth in a Charlie Kaufman movie or a 9/11 conspiracy theory. These songs were a site of passion: arguments declared, playbacks initiated, inebriated friends counseled and finally persuaded, sober friends bewildered and still bewildered, partners sympathetic or euphorically in agreement, house-party attendees bored or furious, snatching back the aux. What was perplexing was not my love of the music so much as its suddenness. Having considered myself reasonably astute, privy to pop’s secret cellars and hidden corridors, it was alarming to find the very best hiding in plain sight.

One explanation is that ubiquity is an excellent disguise for perfection. This is why you rarely appreciate nature’s day-to-day phenomena—clouds, the sun—unless you’re on a plane or on drugs. Another is that ABBA’s music lacks obvious idiosyncrasy: Like a pop Mona Lisa, it is characterized by a formal exactitude that can seem dull or simply functional, unlikely to rewire neural passages and trigger spiritual awakenings.

Besides, even ignoring the cries of early rock critics, emboldened by machismo, there was always some forgivable distrust of these ridiculously efficient Swedes. For one, they wrote emotionally precise songs that lack authorial detail, which is to say they ask much of you while investing little of themselves. For another, they became enormously popular very quickly—via Eurovision, no less—which makes them an easy target for those who mistake loud, persistent rejection of pop culture for discernment.

But I don’t want to oversimplify. In fact, there was always a sense of sneakier machinations at play, namely that songs like “The Winner Takes It All,” so delicately attuned to the uneven devastation of a breakup, are anathema to those of us over-sensitive to the ugliness in beauty. This is the most compelling argument: For somebody inclined to chaos, they were simply too perfect to love. (Given their crafty, unorthodox melodies, it strikes me now that this was more a matter of presentation than content.) What I had assumed for my whole life to be indifference was actually a subconscious resistance to the most generous songwriting on the planet. It must have been exhausting, but at least now I’m on the other side.

Now, the danger of an ABBA reunion, more than any other, is that New ABBA will be judged on the merits of the new, rather than of ABBA. It is likely, though, that nobody actually cares how it is judged. Yes, ABBA’s new songs will enter a world more receptive to shameless, emotional songwriting, where critics now recognize that the artifice of pop is its own kind of authenticity. But it will also enter a post-ABBA world, one where ABBA has ceased to be a band and is now a belief system, independent of the real-world mythology that other icons require. Agnetha, Björn, Benny, and Anni-Frid may be back, but their modern music will be unmoored from whatever sustains them in our imaginations, the international network of ABBA memories that’s bound to outlive us all.

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The world famous Red Rose Mafia girls international online magazine. Hand picked with the latest music, news, fashion, tech, health and more for their viewers. Originally created in East Los Angeles- Hollywood the Red Rose Mafia sisterhood/ membership has grown from a local sisterhood to a worldwide sisterhood. Founder Adela Delgado and members of RRM has been responsible in influencing southern Californias street trends and today's generation worldwide.

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