The longest-awaited reunion in pop history is finally underway, with ABBA confirming what they have in store for us after first teasing new music and an intriguing live experience for fans three years ago.
On Wednesday afternoon, ABBA stars Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus invited a host of journalists to a top-secret location (later revealed to be the ArcelorMittal Orbit, that giant spiral slide you might have seen next to West Ham’s grounds) to announce what the band has lined up.
We were lucky enough to be there when the songwriters confirmed their reunion plans, which include a high-tech concert experience and their first new music - a whole album’s worth - in over 40 years.
But when can we hear this much-discussed new ABBA album? How did it all come about? And what’s this about them going on tour with a load of holograms?
Here’s everything we learned when Benny and Björn sat down to let us in on what’s next for ABBA….
1. First of all, the band is “back together officially”
After weeks of teasing us with their cryptic ABBA Voyage project, presenter Zoe Ball got things going by confirming what we had long suspected but dared not let ourselves get excited about lest we be disappointed: “ABBA are back together officially.”
Obviously that’s all very exciting... but what does that mean, exactly?
2. Well, the original purpose of this new reunion was the much-teased ABBAtar shows
Way back in 2018, Benny and Björn confirmed that fans could look forward to a new type of ABBA live experience, which would see digital versions of the group dubbed “ABBAtars” putting on a show.
Originally, the duo had hoped that this could tour the world, but it later transpired that this would be impossible, so they made the decision to have it be a residency instead – at a purpose-built arena in Stratford, East London, which was previously home to the 2012 Olympics.
Recent reports claimed that this custom venue could potentially also be dismantled and taken to other destinations around the world for those who couldn’t travel to the UK for the ABBA Voyage shows.
3. What’s the deal with these ABBAtars then?
Unlike previous controversial holograms of stars like Tupac Shakur and Whitney Houston, these ABBAtars were put together with the consent of all four band members who actually helped with their creation in person.
Producer Ludvig Andersson explained in a pre-recorded video: “Agnetha, Frida, Benny and Björn got on a stage in front of 160 cameras and almost as many VFX geniuses and they performed every song in this show to perfection over five weeks, capturing every mannerism, every emotion.
“When you see this show it is not a ‘version of’, or a ‘copy of’, it is actually them.”
However, while the movements will be those of modern-day ABBA, the ABBAtars have been specifically designed in the likeness of “ABBA at their prime” in the late 1970s.
Benny and Björn said they soon got used to the strangeness of being around one another day-to-day in “leotards with dots on them”, but the rough part was they had to go bare-faced to make the recording as accurate as possible, with Benny shaving his beard for the first time in 50 years.
4. The question is – why are they holding the show in London, rather than Stockholm?
Well, as Björn put it himself: “London is the best city in the world to be in when it comes to entertainment. Theatres, musicals, concerts, they’ve been here for years. And there’s a big audience travelling here for that reason – so it was a no-brainer.”
Benny also noted that he thinks the UK has always embraced ABBA and “see us as one of their own”.
5. Come on then, what’s the setlist going to be like?
They’ve said the show will contain 22 ABBA tunes and last an hour and a half, describing the set as “greatest hits and a couple of songs that we like”.
During the interview, they confirmed that Dancing Queen has, of course, made the cut and also teased that Does Your Mother Know might be in the mix, after naming it their favourite to perform back in the day “because it’s [Björn’s] voice”.
It’s also been revealed that the setlist will feature both I Still Have Faith In You and Don’t Shut Me Down, which both feature on ABBA’s upcoming album.
6. Hold on a second – two new songs and a whole new ABBA album?
Yes! ABBA’s ninth studio album is called Voyage and will feature 10 new songs. It will be released on 5 November.
7. What’s the deal there then?
When the ball started rolling on the Voyage concert experience, Benny and Björn thought it would be nice for the ABBAtars to sing a new song, which then turned into two.
After filming was complete, they said that the recording process was “so joyous” that they decided to keep going, which eventually turned into a whole album. Two tracks of those tracks – Bumblebee and Just A Notion – fans may have heard as demos back in 1994.
8. The lead single I Still Have Faith In You is based on the four artists’ relationship with one another
It’s fair to say there’s a lot of history between the four members of ABBA (don’t forget that at their heyday they were a group made up of two married couples), and that’s reflected in the lyrics of their new song.
I Still Have Faith In You is a sweeping ballad that slowly builds up to be something epic with Björn saying that “as soon as I heard Benny play the melody, I knew it had to be about us”.
Sample lyrics include “there was a union of heart and mind, the likes of which are rare and oh so hard to find” and “all the crazy things we did it, it all comes down to love”.
Basically, it’s cheese on cheese on cheese, but we’re absolutely not complaining – this is, after all, the first taste of new ABBA music in 40 years, so they can pretty much do what they like at this stage.
9. Don’t Shut Me Down is more of a foot-tapper
Fortunately, for those who do prefer their ABBA tunes a bit more uptempo, the follow-up Don’t Shut Me Down sounds a bit more like something that would sit alongside the tunes that have been dominating family weddings for the last four decades. In other words, it slaps a lot harder than I Still Have Faith In You.
Although it starts off sounding like a ballad, the beat kicks in after the first verse, sounding something like a midtempo Donna Summer track, with the transition being marked with one of ABBA’s signature piano glissando slides.
Benny actually stuck around after the interview while Don’t Shut Me Down was being played for the first time to pantomime play this piano slide for us (and presumably see how the crowd reacted to the track’s sudden change in direction).
Both of these songs will feature in the ABBA Voyage experience, but the other eight album cuts will not.
10. Oh, and there’s also a new ABBA Christmas song coming
Yep, Benny confirmed that nestled among Voyage’s 10 new tracks is a “Christmas tune” called Little Things, which we’ll get to hear when the whole album drops on 5 November.
Whether this means our dreams of a third Mamma Mia! film set during the festive season are coming true remains to be seen, but at least we have a brand new ABBA song to play at that time of year that doesn’t have us weeping into our bucks fizz the way Happy New Year does.
11. True to form, Benny and Björn produced the whole thing themselves
When Zoe Ball asked the pair about which producers they’d worked with, they responded simply “it’s just us and our sound engineer Bernard Löhr”. Indeed, all 10 tracks have just two names on their credits – Andersson and Ulvaeus.
12. ABBA have made it clear they’re not setting themselves out for any chart battles this time around
“We’re not competing with Drake and all these other guys,” Benny noted, insisting they decided to insulate themselves while creating ABBA’s new material, rather than seeing what music is currently performing well in the charts.
“We can’t do that, I don’t understand the ingredients of what works today,” he added. “So it’s impossible to emulate.”
13 An important question – is the new ABBA material any good?
It certainly sounds it. Benny made a point of saying that the four-piece initially went in the studio purely to “see what happens”, noting that if they “didn’t think it was up to scratch, they wouldn’t have released it”.
ABBA’s legacy is cemented, and this new music really does sound like a passion project rather than a quick cash-grab, so it’s a relief to know the band had their legacy in mind when putting Voyage together.
From our perspective, Don’t Shut Me Down definitely has more replay value than I Still Have Faith In You. And while some have admitted being slightly underwhelmed by the latter, it’s still ABBA and it sounds like this was a song they really felt it necessary to make.
So while it’s not going to the top of any of our playlists, it’s still deserving of a place in the band’s back catalogue, and it definitely grows on us each time we hear it (and we’re saying that as if we didn’t have to choke back tears the first time we heard those “we still have it in us” harmonies kick in).
14. They seemed unsure when asked if behind-the-scenes footage from the recording sessions may one day see the light of day
Zoe Ball asked about the potential for “fly-on-the-wall footage” of the recording process, with Benny admitting: “I don’t know, there was some filming going on. Just for us – so nothing for you, I think. But we’ll see, I don’t know. We’ll have to watch it ourselves first.
“[Us] eating lunch, once a day? That’s filmed, do you wanna see that?”
In all honesty… yes.
15. Alright. We’re sold. What now?
Tickets for the ABBA Voyage show go on sale to the general public on 7 September, and there’ll also be a pre-sale for those who pre-order the album. Voyage will be released in full on 5 November, with two brand new songs from the album available to stream now.
And for those who want to experience the magic and chaos of ABBA’s reunion announcement, you can watch the video below: