Agnetha: Abba and After (BBC Special)

Often when you read articles about today’s female pop stars, they’ll say they spent their childhoods standing in front of a mirror (with a hairbrush as a microphone) singing along to songs by ABBA. In the latest “ABBA Special” (Agnetha: ABBA and After), Agnetha Fältskog summons up some similar imagery, describing how, as a young girl living in a small town in Sweden during the 1960s, she would sit and lip-sync songs by Connie Francis. I knew she was a fan of the legendary American singer, but I’d never thought of her devotion in these terms before.

A few years later, and already composing her own songs, and performing with a local band, Agnetha was “discovered” and her career was given a boost by Little Gerhard who was described in the special as “Sweden’s answer to Elvis”. He’s still alive (and appears in the special) which surprised me, because I thought he was a much older man, and may not still be with us. To set the scene, the documentary features lots of great outdoor shots of Stockholm from the late 1960s, which I enjoyed very much.

The documentary then goes on to detail some of Agnetha’s early solo career, before very quickly transforming itself into the story of ABBA, as seen through the prism of Agnetha. The singer, Gary Barlow describes Agnetha’s voice as being “the sound of ABBA”, and Bjorn all but says they gave all of the good songs to Agnetha until Frida started to complain. Benny is more circumspect saying they sounded best when both women sang today. Nonetheless, the documentary re-inforces the view sometimes expressed that ABBA was Agnetha, and that Frida, Bjorn and Benny were merely there to support her career. There’s a joke in ABBA circles that ABBA stands for “Agnetha backed by Anni-Frid”. I can see the humour, but also feel a bit of pain because Anni-Frid (Frida) is actually my favourite member of the group.

Frida doesn’t appear in the documentary, though explanation is given as to why, since both Bjorn and Benny are there. In ABBA fan circles there’s been a discussion about this, with some people justifying the absence of Frida by saying it’s a documentary about Agnetha, and Frida’s presence would have taken away from the central focus on Agnetha. I don’t buy that argument for one obvious reason: the greatest amount of the documentary is focussed on ABBA, not Agnetha. After the earlier mentions of Agnetha’s solo career, it’s not until 46 minutes into the documentary (after discussing ABBA for most of the program) that it returns to Agnetha’s new solo album. In the remaining ten minutes or so they skip over the next twenty or thirty years of her life rather quickly.

Memorable quotes from the program include the narrator’s description of Australia as being “optimistic, beautiful and yet conservative” and Ingmarie Halling (from the ABBA Museum) who says (without any sense of irony), “the media made her into a Garbo, but Agnetha just wanted to be alone”. Also memorable is the uncomfortable shocked look on her face when Gary Barlow asks her if she would perform their duet together live on stage.

A lot of the documentary features lots of repeated, staged quotes and cliches. Oddly enough, Bjorn who usually the most guilty of that shows some honesty around the relationship breakup. Previously he’s been on the record saying he couldn’t understand why Agnetha wanted to stay at home with their children, at the same time they were being asked to travel for promotional visits. “Why not? We have a nanny” he said in one previous documentary. In this program he says he understands her point of view now, and that that brings you to the obvious conclusion about what was the right thing to do, though he doesn’t explicitly say as much.

As I watched the documentary yesterday afternoon I thought it was a nice program, though nothing special.

  1. Great to see (and hear) her back.

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