ABBA 1974: The Birth of Swedish Modernity?
by Christian Christensen — Karlstad University — Sweden
November 05, 2007 – 04:01
For me, this clip of ABBA’s winning performance at the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest is more than three minutes of kitsch, nostalgia, irony and misogynist commentary. ABBA’s victory in 1974 was a moment in popular culture that played a part in shifting the image of Sweden as, “a country full of mountains, lakes and forests” (to borrow the words of the announcer) toward a conception of the nation as modern, culturally pro-active and urban-sexy. Sweden was not invisible on the global stage before ABBA: companies such as Volvo and Saab had put Sweden on the industrial map; the country had a long tradition of political activism with figures such as Raoul Wallenberg, Dag Hammarskjöld and Olof Palme; science and the arts had been influenced by the Nobel prize: and, in media, Ingmar Bergman was a “giant” on the global highbrow film circuit. While successful and well-known, however, these companies and individuals represented the dour side of the Swedish Lutheran ethic: safe but boring cars, holier-than-thou social democracy, pain-staking academic achievement and melancholy introspection (all in black and white, of course). ABBA were not alone in helping this shift along. Tennis star Björn Borg played an important (though different) role in re-packaging Sweden. While Björn and Benny of (the B and B of ABBA) were the nice Nordic guys you could be friends with, and Anni-Frid and Agnetha (the A and A) were the Swedish girls boys could take home to their mothers (after a quick swim in the lake), Borg was the ice-man who made “cool” cool through his long hair, headband, and inability to crack a smile. Both ABBA (with 370 million records sold) and Borg laid the groundwork for the subsequent industrialization of Swedishness. Perhaps the most famous contemporary example of this is the Swedish furniture outlet IKEA: bright, fun (but with an undercurrent of seriousness), functional and globally successful. If ABBA and Björn Borg had had a child together in the 1970s, it would have grown up to become IKEA.