The illuminated sign outside the ABBA Museum in Stockholm invites visitors to WALK IN, DANCE OUT. It fails to mention you might have to be dragged out, because it’s such a fun-filled experience that nobody wants to leave. With the group’s universally-loved hits playing non-stop, a visit to the interactive ABBA Museum means you can dance, you can jive, and you’ll definitely be having the time of your life.
There’s a 1970s-style red plastic telephone in the ABBA Museum that will sometimes Ring, Ring. If you’re nearest to it when the bell trills and pick it up, you’ll find yourself speaking with Agnetha Faltskog, Bjorn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson or Anni-Frid (Frida) Lyngstad.
They’re the only people in the world who know the number, and now and then one of them will call and chat with whoever answers. Knowing my luck, if I had answered it would have been a fraudster looking for some Money, Money, Money. Then again, it might have been a member of one of the world’s most successful pop groups of all time – calling to complain about my singing.
The thing is, there are three booths in the museum where visitors can warble along, karaoke-style, to an ABBA song of their choice. By swiping the bar code on their entrance ticket, would-be chart stars are recorded and the result can be downloaded online. I couldn’t resist, and launched into what I thought was a rousing rendition of Dancing Queen. My friends, who can be very cruel, thought otherwise. When they heard the recording later, they said: “Thank You (but No Thank You) for the Music.”
An electronic scoreboard awards points while you sing. The better you sound, the more points you accumulate. Anyone with half-a-note in their head can expect to score around 2,500. A good singer will get between 5,000 and 8,000. A really good singer is in the 10,000-plus club. I got 744. They’ll have to get a technician in.
Undeterred, I jumped at the chance to “become the fifth member of ABBA”. This is where visitors, one at a time, can get up on a stage and sing along with animated holograms of Agnetha, Bjorn, Benny and Frida.
There’s a choice of songs, and not wishing to fall victim to another computer glitch I chose Super Trouper. The lights came up, the ghostly band appeared either side of me, the music began – and so did the abuse.
It’s not easy trying to dance, read lyrics from a monitor and sing at the same time when, on the other side of the glass that separates performer from audience, people you thought were your pals are laughing their heads off.
They were sticking their thumbs in their ears and wiggling their fingers, poking their tongues out, pulling grotesque faces and making rude gestures. Gimme, Gimme, Gimme a break, I thought.
Mind you, when I downloaded the video later (swipe your ticket before going on stage for another unique souvenir) I could see their point. It was comedy gold.
Every one of the thousands of exhibits in the museum is the real thing – there are no replicas. The band recorded most of their singles and albums in the Polar Studios in Stockholm, and the ABBA studio has been installed in the museum.
It contains the original mixing console, instruments and other gear, but best of all, there’s a piano that occasionally springs into life. It’s hooked up to another one in Benny’s studio on nearby Skeppsholmen – one of Stockholm’s 14 islands – and when he plays there, the piano in the museum plays too.
Turn a corner and there’s the helicopter from the cover of the 1976 Arrival album. Hop in, grab the joystick and have your picture taken. Close by is the green park bench from the Greatest Hits album (also 1976), with a backdrop of Benny and Frida eating the faces off each other.
Next to them, Agnetha sits looking miserable and Bjorn reads a pharmaceuticals brochure promoting antibiotics (the photographer was supposed to bring a copy of Time magazine but forgot, and the brochure was all he had in his bag).
Continue wandering and you’ll see the white upright piano from Benny and Bjorn’s songwriting hut on the island of Viggso, band manager Stig Anderson’s office and ABBA’s on-tour dressing room.
The most photographed exhibits, though, are the costumes ABBA wore and the star-shaped guitar Bjorn played when they won the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest in Brighton, England, with Waterloo (the Wombles were the interval act, God love us). There are many more costumes from the band’s world tours displayed in glass cases, each vying for the gold medal for gaudiness.
Album covers in umpteen languages cover every inch of wall space, along with concert posters, programmes and tickets. There are gold discs, platinum discs and the real danger of slipped discs if you overdo the dancing in the museum’s disco.
If you have more than a passing interest in the band, there are several touchscreens on your journey through the museum on which you can test your ABBA knowledge with quiz questions ranging from easy-peasy to nerdishly knowledgeable.
Just inside the museum entrance is the giant sign with ‘ABBA’ picked out in light bulbs that was used as a stage prop on the group’s 1979 tour of Europe and America. Four years later, they went their separate ways and ABBA was no more. Or rather, ABBA the band and ABBA the two married couples – Bjorn/Agnetha and Benny/Frida – were no more. ABBA the brand, however, lives on.
Since 1974, fans have bought 380 million albums and singles, which still sell by the truckload. Mamma Mia!, the ABBA stage musical which debuted in London in April 1999, has been seen by 50 million people worldwide and grossed more than $2 billion. Mamma Mia! the movie, starring Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan and Colin Firth, which cost $52 million to make, has grossed $602 million since its release in July 2008. The sequel, Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again (2018), was made for $75 million and has so far taken $395 million at the worldwide box office.
My taxi driver home from Dublin airport was convinced that if ABBA were to re-form tomorrow and announce a world tour, the tickets would sell out in minutes. It’s a nice thought, but sadly – or maybe fortunately, given the members are now all in their 70s – it won’t happen. However, we can still be grateful for their songs.
So, ABBA, thank you for the music – and thank you for the museum. For two laughter-filled hours I made an absolute fool of myself and enjoyed every second. It was Funny, Funny, Funny.
The ABBA Museum (Djurgardsvagen 68, Djurgarden) is part of the Swedish Music Hall of Fame and is open from 10am to 6pm from Saturday to Tuesday and 10am to 8pm from Wednesday to Friday. Tickets (buy online) are for pre-selected time slots to avoid overcrowding and so visitors can avoid queues.
A fascinating audio guide narrated in English by the members of ABBA (it was written by Catherine Johnson, who scripted the Mamma Mia! movie) is available to rent.