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Music

ABBA’s comeback is set to make money, money, money

With the Voyage shows, ABBA will gross tens of millions without having to so much as pull on a platform shoe. The band’s comeback is a music business masterstroke, writes Malcolm Jack.

I’ve gathered many rubbish celebrity anecdotes over the years but my favourite and most repeated is this. In 2006, while on a ski holiday in Sweden – my first and last ski holiday, being that I am awful at skiing (I crashed into a tree moments after the following events transpired) – I was alone in a snowy forest teetering at the top of a moderately steep slope on the cross-country track, drumming up the courage to give my tired body over to gravity and fate.

Huffing his way up the slope towards me was a bearded and sprightly looking senior gentleman in silver ski boots. This man I quickly recognised as Björn Ulvaeus from ABBA, whom I had spied in a hotel bar the night before.

As is customary on the Swedish ski tracks, he muttered a begrudging “hej” as he passed me by, to which I splutteringly responded in kind. 

I have spoken with an actual ABBA, and despite the one-word brevity of the exchange, I will never let the world forget it.

I mention this, again, because I recall wondering at the time – what was one of history’s most wildly successful pop stars doing at an unfashionable and inexpensive ski resort such as I could afford?

The only answer I’ve been able to come up with, other than the possibility that Ulvaeus might just be a thrifty kind of guy, is that money, money, money may have been too tight to mention at the time. Ulvaeus was then in the middle of a much-publicised £10m legal tussle with the Swedish tax authorities; perhaps he was girding his loins, financially speaking, with a cheaper-than-usual winter break? He won that tax battle, by the way. My dignity, meanwhile, never recovered from crashing into that tree.

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ABBA will gross tens of millions without having to so much as pull on a platform shoe

I thought about this brief encounter with Ulvaeus a few weeks ago while watching the live online broadcast triumphantly announcing ABBA’s reunion for a new album and new live experience, both titled Voyage.

Specifically, the bit when his bandmate and songwriting partner Benny Andersson, sat next to him during an interview with Zoe Ball, candidly revealed his favourite thing about being in ABBA: “Not having to worry about the money.” 

The odd tax wrangle aside, it’s true that ABBA haven’t had to worry about the money over the years – and not only because ABBA Gold continues to sell like it contains the elixir of life.

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Beyond massively monetising ABBA’s brand through musicals, movies, museums and more, they’ve been savvy investors of their riches, in all from a Swedish bicycle factory to Soviet crude oil and British tech start-ups (Ulvaeus recently backed Audoo, a company promising to revolutionise the way public performance royalties are tracked).

For all that Björn and Benny will be remembered as some of the greatest ever songwriters, they should perhaps be remembered as even better businesspeople. With ABBA Voyage, they may have pulled off their greatest masterstroke yet.

In London’s freshly constructed ABBA Arena – where Björn, Benny, Agnetha and Anni-Frid’s de-aged VR avatars (‘ABBAtars’) will strut their stuff nightly with a live band – ABBA have created a giant money-printing machine.

There are seven ABBA Voyage shows a week currently scheduled at the 3,000-capacity arena from next spring through to autumn, many of them already sold out or well on the way.

Tickets range in price from £21 for the cheapest seats to around £200 for a spot in one of the deluxe “dance booths” (re-sale tickets for the premiere are said to be trading for up to £1,000).

The highest-grossing concert tour of all time by Ed Sheeran made around £570m, but it took two years and more than 260 dates globally to do it. ABBA Voyage will gross tens of millions in a few months, all in one place, without one member of the band having to so much as pull on a platform shoe. And it may continue to do so for a long time to come.

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It’s rumoured that ABBA have turned down conventional reunion tour offers worth up to a billion pounds over the years, because they simply can’t face all the touring it would entail.

Notwithstanding the bizarre indignity of having to dress up like futuristic sex robots and parade around in front of a green screen surrounded by cameras for weeks on end, with ABBA Voyage, ABBA have bent the music business to their will, at vast profit. 

Will the music business ever be the same again? Possibly not. Is the legacy artist VR arena residency set to become the music experience of the future? Maybe. Will Ulvaeus be going on a more upscale ski holiday this winter? Almost certainly. 

ABBA Voyage will open in London on May 27, 2022. The album Voyage is out now. Visit abbavoyage.com
@MBJack

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