ABBA Goes for Gold After 40-Year Hiatus, Rewriting Rules of Pop
(Bloomberg) -- The last time ABBA came out with a new studio album — vinyl, of course — streaming superstars like Ed Sheeran or Billie Eilish weren’t even born, CDs were an alien concept to the masses, and the Walkman was the hottest gadget in music.
Today, ABBA returns from musical hibernation with a new record, “Voyage.” That will be followed by a hybrid live-recorded show in London that seeks to rewrite the rules of how bands interact with their fans and give the billionaire quartet of septuagenarians another commercial jolt.
Fans got a taste of the new 10-track record with a two-song release in September that quickly topped YouTube’s rankings. News of the comeback sent ABBA shooting up global billboard charts, from 104th most streamed artist into the Top 20.
“After a 40-year hiatus, that’s jaw-dropping,” said Will Page, a former Spotify chief economist and author.
In the four decades since the band stopped recording new material, the ABBA juggernaut never really stopped; it only slowed down and changed direction. ABBA’s success endured across multiple formats, be it the “ABBA Gold” greatest-hits album, the Mamma Mia! movie franchise, or the ABBA museum in Stockholm. Even without new material, weekly global music streams of ABBA have topped 16 million. A two-month-old ABBA account on TikTok has pulled in more than 2 million followers.
Money, Money, Money
With combined wealth in excess of $1 billion and almost 400 million records sold worldwide, the four ABBA members -- Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson and Anni-Frid Lyngstad -- could easily have decided to fade away into retirement.
Now the relaunch stands to become one of the biggest musical sensations since the 1992 release of the “ABBA Gold” compilation, the first album to spend 1,000 weeks on the U.K. album chart. ABBA plans a daily concert at a purpose-built, 30 million-pound ($40.5 million), 3,000-seat arena in London that will bend the concept of live performance when it opens next May.
The actual ABBA stars won’t be on stage. Instead, the four have been immortalized as younger, digital versions of themselves using motion-capture technology, the result of a months of work creating the performers’ avatars, or, you guessed it: ABBAtars.
Per Sundin, chief executive officer of Pophouse, the company behind the ABBA museum in Stockholm and now the “Voyage” show, estimates the London event can sell 1 million tickets in the first year. That would mean sales well in excess of $200 million, given that ticket currently sell in a range of about $220 to $1,000.
“Music ages even better than wine,” Sundin said. “The value spikes as more and more people get interested in artists and music catalogs.”
The four band members spent five weeks in a Stockholm studio, where an array of 160 cameras recorded them in eight-hour daily sessions as they laid down the new tracks. The production team turned to Industrial Light & Magic, the technical wizards behind the Star-Wars franchise to make the experience come alive.
“It was only supposed to be a couple of songs, but ABBA loved being in the studio so much, the project snowballed into a whole album,” said Ludvig Andersson, Benny Andersson’s son. “We were basically trying to capture their souls.”
The unorthodox approach has both practical and commercial benefits. As the ABBAtars perform their 100-minute show seven times a week, they will never suffer from aching joints or hoarse voices on stage. The plan is to eventually go on a global tour, much as musical hits on Broadway are exported to other countries.
ABBA’s vast musical legacy would be one of the most prized assets in an industry increasingly being targeted by investors. Universal Music Group NV paid more than $300 million for the song catalog of Bob Dylan, and Warner Music Group just did a deal with Madonna. Blackstone Inc. has launched a $1 billion partnership with Hipgnosis Song Management to buy music rights.
Sweden’s AMF pension fund has jumped on the bandwagon, investing 200 million kronor in Goldonder Investors AB, the company behind the ABBA show.
“We have a good chance of making money if all goes well with the show,” said Anders Oscarsson, head of equities at the fund. “You can’t ignore a strong name like ABBA.”
ABBA’s recognizable, sing-along melodies and scandal-free artists makes the band the world’s most valuable pop brand, said Hakan Olofsson, a lecturer and brand strategist based in Stockholm, who estimates the ABBA song catalog is worth far more than Dylan’s.
“ABBA’s investment in the avatars is the most revolutionary thing to happen in the music industry since Napster,” said Olofsson. “If they want, they can add more cities and keep going as long as there is interest and electricity on the planet.”
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