After ABBA, still no Waterloo – Agnetha Fältskog on the eve of a new era
This article appeared in one of Holland’s biggest newspapers, around the time that Agnetha’s book ‘As I Am’ was published.
In Sweden, she is compared, to her annoyance, to the legendary movie star Greta Garbo. It is one of the many misconceptions that ABBA-singer Agnetha Fältskog wants to rectify in her memoirs ‘As I Am: ABBA Before & Beyond’.
At ABBA’s peak (the end of the seventies, the beginning of the eighties), people tended to chuckle about the pop group. But in the meantime, the four band members have developed into a genuine cult. Especially the blonde singer Agnetha is the centre of the ABBA-revival. Not only their middle of the road music, of which no less than 250 million records have been sold, is completely back in the picture. Also their satin disco costumes, decorated with shiny sequins, their platform boots, the fake animal prints, the gypsy skirts, the wide slacks, the tight slipovers and catsuits and the fake furs are totally hip again. At least, Agnetha has a good sense of timing.
The rumour that she would have been sown into the tight blue satin costume, that she wore during the performance of ‘Waterloo’ with ABBA, which gave Sweden the victory at the Eurovision Song Contest in Brighton in 1974, is strongly denied in her book. It’s one of the deceptions that she wants to rectify, together with her friend and journalist Brita Åhman in ‘As I Am’, that has just been published by Virgin Publishing. But in that respect, the memoirs of the singer are disappointing. Ultimately, Agnetha doesn’t want to share a whole lot and Brita is overly cautious in this 160 page picture book.
The blonde has had many doubts whether she even wanted to participate. “How far do I want to go? How honest shall I be?” she’s asking herself. “I’m well aware of the fact that your words can be misinterpreted. But I’m tired of the image that has been attached to me through the years. The title ‘As I Am’, which comes from one of my early solo albums, can be explained in two ways. You might think that I’m going to reveal everything, but I’m a rather reserved type of person. On the other hand, I’m showing a glimpse of my reality, of my thoughts.”
And that’s how we find out that Agnetha (47) is definitely not as difficult as she is often described. “She has both feet planted firmly on the ground, and she is absolutely not a tragic person. She is a perfectionist and on top of that, very professional. But in the end, she couldn’t cope with the long working days, the world tours, the long separations from her children,” Brita thinks. “That was the source of the conflict. It made people uneasy and they tagged her with the label ‘difficult’. There was just a lot of jealousy.” And Agnetha herself: “If we had slowed down a bit, we could have lasted for years to come.”
Because one thing is certain, Agnetha loves to sing. She grows up in a loving family with her younger sister Mona. At the age of five, little Agnetha crawls behind a piano, finds her own melody and sings the legendary words ‘Two Small Trolls’. The next two years, she has to turn to the neighbour upstairs to make music, but at the age of seven she gets her own piano and piano lessons. Around the time when she turns fourteen, her piano teacher thinks she has nothing left to teach Agnetha. Meanwhile, she has formed the girl group The Cambers together with two girlfriends, with whom she performs. Her biggest idol is Connie Francis. At the age of fifteen, she is taking her final exam and starts working as a telephonist at a car dealer.
“I have endured the combination of working and performing for a couple of years. I was busy because I was composing my own songs as well. Until one day, I heard that a band was looking for a singer,” Agnetha says about that time.
Against her parents’ wishes, she quits her job and commits herself to music fulltime. Eventually, a lost love is the basis of her breakthrough. While being sad, she writes ‘Jag Var Så Kär’ or ‘I Was So In Love’, which gives her national fame. Soon, she becomes one of the most popular singers in Sweden. Agnetha has the fondest memories of this period.
“He had a charming voice and was an artist, just like me,” the singer says about her encounter with Björn Ulvaeus. She doesn’t want to share very much else about him, although she rapidly marries Björn, and divorces him eight years later. But between the lines, you can read that the divorce has been everything but friendly. Björn introduces Benny and Anni-Frid into her life. At first, they perform together under the name Festfolket, which means something like the Partyhoppers, but the acronym of their joint initials first appears on the album ‘Waterloo’: ABBA is born and thereby the biggest export article that Sweden has ever known, after Volvo. The ABBA-fever strikes from Russia to Japan, from Australia to America.
It’s the start of an insanely busy period that Agnetha, meanwhile the mother of daughter Linda (now 24) and son Christian (now 20), not always agrees with. “Either way, I prefer working in the studio to performing on stage. I can work in silence there,” Agnetha says. “My strength is not showing myself, but my talent.”
Agnetha contradicts the rumour that the dark-haired and blonde singers can’t stand each other. “Pure nonsense. We really wouldn’t have been able to perform together for ten years, if that had been true. We always supported each other on stage. If one of us wasn’t in the mood, the other took over. But I have to admit that there was some kind of competition between us. That was something positive. We both wanted the attention of the audience and that gave an extra kick to the concerts,” according to Agnetha, whose behind was proclaimed ‘the sexiest bottom in pop music’ in Australia, again to her annoyance. It doesn’t stop her from regularly turning her back to the delighted audience.
The two singers have totally different personalities. Frida, still childless, loves to go out, while Agnetha rushes to her hotel room to call home. She thinks parties are a waste of time. “Afterwards, I always ask myself what use it has been. All those heartfelt compliments only make me feel empty.”
Her mother’s heart is put to the test constantly, but she doesn’t take the blame for ABBA’s break-up. “We had a silent agreement that we would quit when it wasn’t fun anymore. In 1983, that time had come. For that matter, it was a very emotional year. I got my first movie part, recorded a solo album again, did a promotional tour abroad and I started my own production company.”
It was also the year of her bus accident. After that accident – the singer is scared of flying after a near plane crash and travels by bus since then – the media write, among other things, that she has had a miscarriage. All of it is pure nonsense. Either way, she already thinks that the media aren’t very friendly to her and are asking silly questions, such as ‘What did you have for breakfast’ and ‘Do you have pets?’. They very rarely ask her about her music. Together with her children, she decides to retreat into loneliness on her own island in the vicinity of Stockholm where she takes long, solitary walks. This gives Agnetha the nickname of the new Greta Garbo.
For ten long years, the singer isn’t able to listen to music at all, let alone her own music. She prefers the silence. In a short period of time, both her parents die, she gets married and gets divorced a second time. But now, Agnetha is on the verge of a different era. She is ready to take on new challenges. She has started composing again. Where the blonde, blue-eyed singer is concerned, there’s not a personal ‘Waterloo’ in store for her.