Ever since Dancing Queen, ABBA’s connection to the LGBTQ community has been quite strong.
“We found out pretty early on that Dancing Queen had become an anthem and we were very proud to have been chosen by the community,” Björn Ulvaeus tells us of the outpouring of love for ABBA from LGBTQ fans.
“As Swedes, long before most others, we had a much more open society and attitudes. It’s kind of a liberating anthem and it makes me proud. It’s a wonderful thing, really.
Unfortunately, the band went on hiatus in the early 80s, breaking up for a short while. However, it was the outpouring of love and support from the queer community that ended up playing a key role in ABBA’s return to the music business, as Björn explains.
“It was the gay community that supported the comeback,” he reveals. “People started recording, and one of the first bands that did that that was very important to us was Erasure. They took a chance on me.
Björn continues: “Then we felt we had full support, and that made a big difference.”
Here we spend an hour with the legendary music star to discuss bringing Mamma Mia: The Party to London 02, his love for Cher, Freddie Mercury and George Michael, and how the community gay has always been one of ABBA’s biggest supporters.
Where did this idea for Mamma Mia: The Party come from?, a live culinary and theatrical experience, are you coming?
This idea here avoids the stress of having dinner before the show, rushing out with a waiter beforehand, queuing at the theater, queuing in the meantime for a drink at the bar, and then leaving. then try to take a taxi. House. And if you want to go to a club afterwards, you have to queue again. It’s all in one, it’s all here! The moment you enter Mamma Mia: The Party, you sit down with your friends, have a glass of wine, and you all talk. The show begins and it happens here among you in the tavern. As a concept, I thought it was irresistible.
Is this the same story we saw in the movie and musical Mamma Mia, or is this a new idea?
We imagined myself and two other guys who wrote the original story in Sweden, the one in the town of Skopelos, where I was when they filmed the exteriors of Mamma Mia, the first film. I was up there on the edge of a cliff when Meryl Streep did The Winner Takes It All, and there was this little chapel. When the movie was a hit, tourists would come to Mamma Mia Island in Skopelos. We imagined that a guy called Nikos had a tavern, his wife came with the film crew but she stayed and they fell in love, and they had the idea to throw a party for all the tourists – a Mamma Mia party. And then there is a little story that unfolds, an ongoing conflict, and in the end the conflict is resolved. This story takes place with his wife, his daughter, all these people who work here, the waiters, everyone. It is told through spoken dialogue and ABBA songs, in three acts. Then it all came together. Also I would like to say that one of the ideas that made me want to do it was that I had seen so many performances of the musical where they get up towards the end and dance and sing – like they do here – and I always felt like people were in the mood to party.
Isn’t that the best answer to people who just wanted to get up and dance?!
(Laughs) Well yeah, yeah! It’s like prolonging that.
And you can’t help smiling when ABBA music plays.
Yeah, it’s amazing, and it’s a miracle because I don’t know what it was or what we did when we wrote the songs or recorded them. I swear, none of us know why this makes so many people happy. That’s what I call a miracle!
And particularly resonates with the LGBTQ community.
Yes! Mainly the male gay community. We found out early enough that Dancing Queen had become an anthem and we were very proud to have been chosen by the community because as Swedes, long before most others, we had a much more open society and attitudes. It’s kind of a liberating anthem and it makes me proud. It’s a wonderful thing, really.
Someone online described ABBA as “the kings and queens of camp!” ” I loved it.
(Laughs) It’s funny you say that… there’s something about that in this Mamma Mia: The Party story. It’s a good message and etiquette to have, and I love it.
Have you heard of RuPaul’s Drag Race?
Yes, I have heard of it.
Would you allow the drag queens on the show to lip-synch to an ABBA song?
Sure! Absolutely, absolutely. Without a doubt!
Let’s talk about the world of music today. Who on the charts caught your eye?
I think Billie Eilish is very interesting. I love Taylor Swift. The combo of Katy Perry and Max Martin is sometimes very, very good. Everything is pop. I love pop more than anything else, because I’m sure you’ve heard of my picks.
Are there any queer music icons that have inspired you??
George Michael and Freddie Mercury both absolutely, absolutely have it! We were suitors for Queen. I know we did a TV show together in Manchester around 1975 and I remember, there was a bit of a rivalry, and it was a huge studio. They were on a stage and we were across from the side of the room. We never really said “hello” to each other, but just looked at each other. They were awesome and a hell of an inspiration. Just like George Michael. There’s no one who sings more lightly and bounces off the beats that way. It’s so easy for him… it’s nothing! I love this kind of deceptively. Of course, it’s not easy and only he could do it.
Have you ever tried to work together musically?
No, we never tried to work with anyone else. The way we worked would have been difficult. Benny Andersson and I sat together in a room with a guitar and a piano all day, the next day, and the day after. It wasn’t like writing a song in a day, it was getting a snippet of a song with something that you thought, ‘That’s good!’ It could be a bridge, part of it, then trying to build on it but not succeeding, then keeping that in the back of your head while moving on. Weeks and months and then all of a sudden it’s, ‘Do you remember that little thing?’ And then, ‘God, yes!’. And having a third person or someone else not used to this route wouldn’t have worked.
Do you have a favorite ABBA song you wrote?
No. I think back to different periods of our career with songs that come from different parts that I’m proud of. We tried to develop from album to album all the time, which means I don’t have a favorite. I really do not know !
What was it like hearing Cher sing your songs on Mamma Mia 2?
Well, I enjoyed it and that makes me humble. She was made for Fernando and has a dark and mysterious quality to it, not only the woman herself, but her voice is raspy as well. I said to one of her team members, “She has to record Chiquitita in Spanish,” because they would go crazy. I don’t know if she has already, but I think she will.
Like the first musical, could we see a Mamma Mia 2 musical?
No no. I think if there was going to be a sequel to a musical, it would have to be something completely different. I wouldn’t like to tell the same story, it’s a bit uninteresting and it wouldn’t be fun. I’m only driven by curiosity and the things I love to see what they can become. Another musical, I don’t think there will be, but you never know. That would be a whole different story.
Could a third Mamma Mia film be possible? Do you have any songs left to include?
(laughs) That’s the problem with songs, isn’t it? You’ll hear songs in Mamma Mia: The Party that aren’t in the movies or the musical. There are songs, but it’s very difficult to weave stories around them.
Your career, the musical, the movies. Tell me about a moment that stands out as a personal highlight…
What stands out is obviously when we won Eurovision because it completely changed my life. I don’t remember much of the evening itself because it was so chaotic and I was so nervous. I didn’t look at the numbers there, then someone said, “You won!” We were wanted on stage as songwriters because they took songwriters first, before artists. Benny was already there, but me, they thought I had misunderstood and security at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the stage told me to wait. “No, I am a songwriter! He didn’t believe me but I was finally released on stage with the girls too. Then it was chaos after that. I remember waking up very early the next day thinking, ‘My God, what happened?!’ And also the enormity of it struck me. We were basically unknown outside of Scandinavia and now the whole world knows us. It was so, completely strange. I must say that in my professional life, this is the moment when I have to choose one.
How has the LGBTQ community supported your career at ABBA?
Many, certainly. Although we don’t know or feel it until much later. We didn’t feel it in the 70s. Later, because in the 80s, especially the first half – we parted ways in 1982 – it was like ABBA had been forgotten. We thought that was it, we go on and do other things and ABBA will be forgotten. Then it was the gay community that supported the comeback. People started recording, and one of the first bands that did that that was very important to us was Erasure. They took a chance on me. They were the ones who started and there had been a movie before, but with the gay community supporting the comeback. I think Erasure was the beginning of when we started feeling it, and people were saying Dancing Queen was a gay anthem. Then we felt we had all the support, and that made a big difference.
Being here, as I said at the start, is exciting. Why should people come and experience this new version of ABBA and the story of Mamma Mia?
It’s about making people happy and relaxing. This is the kind of escape that is allowed. Three or four hours to forget everything else. Sing as you please. Here you are free and can party and have fun. It is what it is ! And I think that’s so important. Sandi Toksvig told me the other was saying, ‘Do you understand how important this is?’ I did not do it. “People are so happy and delirious and that’s something very precious.” I tend to agree with her.
More information about Mamma Mia: The Party can be found here.