The Swedish group has two new songs wowing the music world, almost 40 years after they decided to take a ‘short break’. The appeal of ABBA hasn’t dimmed and, for ABBAheads, the best place to engage with the band is to stay at the themed hotel and explore the ABBA museum in Stockholm.
A museum usually implies your admiring a collection of artefacts — perhaps thematic. Rarely does it mean recording your fav song — preferably in your shiny best — with ALL the members of ABBA as your fellow performers. Welcome to ABBA The Museum, where ABBAfans can live out their dreams, right from the distinctive yellow bulb signage.
No less a shrine than of any other calling, even on usual days, the lines to enter this temple to Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus, Anni-Frid Lyngstad and Agnetha Fältskog and their times are long. But, once inside, ABBAphiles can, not just admire memorabilia of their favourite music group, but also sing, dance and remix their way through the museum.
Why do people still want to be part of a band that had their last joint performance nearly four decades ago? Well, in their heydays ABBA rewrote music history by not only becoming one of the first non-English bands to get a global fan following, but their songs have literally become an anthem for those born in the late 1970s and 1980s. With about 400 million albums sold, they enjoyed a second run of success when a film based on their song Mamma Mia! went on to become the top grossing musical film of all time (besides the long-running musical that ran on New York’s Broadway and London’s West End among many other prestigious venues for many years.
The museum, and the attached Pop House Hotel, which occupies the upper levels of the same building — is today a tribute to those heady times, reproducing many of the highlights of their chart-busting careers. As befitting the band itself, the museum is at once Swedish at its core, and flamboyantly global in its touch points.
A huge highlight for ABBAvars is the Polar Studio, a replica of the original studios where many of the songs were recorded. Visitors can be on stage as a ‘fifth member’ of ABBA and can sing and gyrate to the best of their lissomness at the dance floor next to dancing silhouettes of the bands! Not that ABBAsters would throw away their tickets to this hallowed portal, but if you retain the entry ticket, the corresponding number allows YOUR recording to be downloaded for up to a month after the visit! If you fancy yourself a music-mixerist, well, original songs are there to be remixed in custom made studios. Create your own chart-topper! ABBA’s stage costumes in shiny splendiferousness are not just on display, you can even don some of them.
I found the exhibit room depicting dressmaking to be particularly engrossing. Yes, a huge number of their costumes are on display, still glittering in their kitschy best. ABBAfanatics can pose with the actual helicopter from the cover of Abba’s 1976 album Arrival. You can even help Donna in Mamma Mia! to paint her house before the wedding — something few visitors seem to be able to resist!
The famous phone, of which reputedly only the four band members have the number (I am pretty sure the museum staff have it too) is tantalisingly on display. No Ring Ring when I was there, but ABBAn legend says the phone does ring. ABBA fanatics Benny’s Piano, which also holds out the promise of playing any time as it is linked to a piano at his house. ‘Arrival | The Experience’ offers a virtual helicopter ride from the museum to the island of Viggsö in the Stockholm archipelago, where all the music magic started. A replica of the summerhouse on Viggsö, where many songs were written, is also here.
Of course, the history of the band, complete with numerous films, recordings, many personal items — from dresses to guitars, posters, numerous platinum and gold discs (the Gold Room has a large collection of album covers) to cars (don’t miss Benny’s baby blue GMC from his Hep Stars era) are all displayed to their exuberant advantage. There are seemingly endless vintage black and white photos to satisfy the hearts of even the most ardent fans. Catch moments of glory from Waterloo at Eurovision 1974, which brought them their first global fame. Quieter (remember, they are all Scandinavian — a region known for its understated aesthetic) moments such as workstations are also reproduced, complete with books, notes and notations or personal touches, such as a moment in the life of Linda — Agnetha and Björn’s daughter — with a note from her father…
Photo opportunities abound. From life-size statues of the ABBA members for the de rigueur selfies, to a bench where you can be clicked with uncannily real replicas of the band members, to a bright red heart-shaped photo booth — ABBAbuffs can have the time of their life. A surfeit of glamour, overdoses of colour, dollops of nostalgia, exciting interactivity and kitsch-made-cool make this experience one of a kind, and utterly memorable.
To really up the experience, a stay at the chic and memorabilia strewn Pop House Hotel, which occupies the upper three levels of the same building, can be magical. The 49-key hotel offers stylishly done up hotel rooms — again, read soothing combos of white, grey, and beige with splashes of colour added by plants, books, cushions. While each room has ABBA memorabilia, the most ardent ABBAtists aim for themed rooms such as ‘Mamma Mia!’, ‘The Party Room’ and the ‘ABBA Gold Suite’. For me, just being able to access the museum as a hotel guest was a huge bonus, as was magical February snowfall on the room’s balcony. Yep, the coldest month in Stockholm.
With Björn’s announcement of two new songs earlier this month (I Still Have Faith in You and Don’t Shut Me Down) a fresh 10-track album — The Voyage — out on November 5, and a ‘tour’ in May 2022 with all four members appearing as avatars, excitement in the museum is expected to peak. Located in leafy Djurgården, the museum is next to many of the city’s attractions. Audio guides, available in English as well, have the members of ABBA narrating stories about their lives themselves. A must for ABBAtics. Book, and plan your visit in advance, the museum website offers useful tips. As with many attractions in Sweden, the museum does not accept cash at the counter. If you aren’t an ABBAtee, budget about a couple of hours for the visit. ABBAaficionados make their own rules of course.