New Band of the Month: December – Reflection

For the last month of 2012 (and my last of this feature), I selected one of the biggest selling pop artists of all time, ABBA (read my initial thoughts here).

Have I given in to the worldwide phenomenon?


Look, I get it. ABBA wrote some very catchy songs and I can see why some of their music has become classics of Pop, but most of it just leaves me cold. It’s similar to how I understand that the Black Eye Peas are successful merchants of easily digestible pablum, yet listening to their music makes me want to punch walls.

Pop music is truly the most elusive art form when it comes to describing what works and what doesn’t. I mean this in the general since that even Heavy Metal and Country are ‘pop’ because they mostly stick to the 3- to 5-minute song format with verse, chorus, verse structure. But I also mean Pop as the individual genre that encapsulates artists like Michael Jackson, Kelly Clarkson, Britney Spears, Justin Timberlake or any music designed for the most immediate and sugary pleasure.

I love me some JT. I also can’t help but be a sucker for a solid pop song, though I can’t always explain why one earworm is more enjoyable to me than another. For instance, “Call Me Maybe” is a behemoth pop hit, yet I have no great love for it (I’m not a monster; I think it’s likeable enough), while “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together,” to me, is the pop smash of the year. On the surface there isn’t a whole lot of difference between the songs. They’re both female-sung traditionally-structured, 3 1/2 minute, love-themed pop songs with big hooks and catchy melodies. They could be sisters. Yet the latter gets stuck in my head after the opening bar and the former just sort of floats past me.

(Two things in Taylor Swift’s favor: That video is friggin’ fantastic and the little spoken interlude near the end is a wonderful pop tradition calling back to “Leader of the Pack.”)

Sometimes pop works, sometimes it doesn’t. I  mean, I think generally we can all agree that Michael Jackson and Justin Timberlake are successful pop artists, whether you like pop or not, and there are plenty of failed pop acts littering the halls of music history. But in the middle are artists like Kylie Minogue and Robyn, artists who have had huge pop careers internationally but for whatever reason have only had intermittent success in the US (Kylie moreso than Robyn). The American market remains to this day the all important barrier between Pop Star to Pop Monarchy.

ABBA broke through in the US way back in the 70s and the last decade has seen them resurgent, but listening to their music is a bit of a chore for me. It’s not because I dislike Pop Music, or pop music, or even disco, or Sweden for that matter, I just don’t like ABBA. I could try to parse out why their songs do nothing for me, but ultimately I’d probably just contradict myself.

Pop is pop is Pop and it defies explanation.

Will I Buy An Album?  Uh, didn’t you read the above essay? No.

Favorite Song: Dancing Queen,” “Mamma Mia,” “Take A Chance On Me,” are all catchy enough nuggets and probably represent ABBA’s best known songs. I can see their appeal, even if they don’t appeal to me. If I have to pick one ‘favorite’ song by this band, though, I’d have to go with “Money, Money, Money,” because, my god, is that campy as sin. I feel like I should be watching Rocky Horror Picture Show whenever that song comes on. I can’t say I really like it, but I appreciate just how committed it is to whatever the hell it’s trying to be.


And that’s it. The end of my year on this little feature. I’m not so sure it was particularly interesting to anyone else, but at least it was enlightening to me. Cheers.

Go back and read all of the New Band of the Month pieces here.

New Band of the Month: December – ABBA

Every month this year, I’m dedicating myself to getting into a new band.  By ‘new band’, what I really mean is an old band who I’ve known of for awhile but have for one reason or another never checked out.  Maybe they were a genre I wasn’t into, maybe they were the favorite band of someone I didn’t like, maybe I was just lazy.  Whatever reason, I’m going to spend the month trying to get into them.

If, at the end of the month, I find myself enjoying the music I’ll buy an album.  And if not, I’ll save my money for something else.

My New Band for December is:


From the wiki page

ABBA was a Swedish pop group formed in Stockholm in 1972, comprising Agnetha Fältskog, Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus and Anni-Frid Lyngstad. ABBA is an acronym of the first letters of the band members’ first names and is sometimes stylized as the registered trademark ᗅᗺᗷᗅ. They became one of the most commercially successful acts in the history of pop music, topping the charts worldwide from 1972 to 1982. They are also known for winning the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest, giving Sweden its first victory in the history of the contest and being the most successful group ever to take part in the contest.

ABBA has sold over 370 million records worldwide and still sells millions of records a year,[1][2] which makes them one of the best-selling music artists of all time.

My personal history with ABBA:

(Could I make a more dramatic shift than from My Bloody Valentine to ABBA?)

Truth is, I have almost no experience with ABBA, which is quite a feat considering they are one of the world’s most popular/successful groups ever. It wasn’t until recent years though that I first got the impression that ABBA was such a massive force. Granted, that could be in part because the Broadway production of Mamma Mia (and subsequent movie) has suddenly thrust the music into the popular conscience in a big way, but they were still superstars in the 70s. So much so, that they come in second only to the Bee Gees for highest selling Pop/Disco act ever (and the Bee Gees have been around a lot longer than ABBA).

If you had asked me about ABBA a decade ago I probably could have only told you vaguely that they were the creators of cheesy 70s pop. I might have had the vague idea that they were one of those bands that punk-rockers and metalheads thought were ‘gay’, but I couldn’t have told you anything more than that. Essentially, I never listened to ABBA because they were ‘pop’ in the worst connotation of that word.

Now, though, the word ‘pop’ isn’t such an evil genre in my book. The Beatles, Michael Jackson, Justin Timberlake, all acts that could fairly be labeled pop and that I unabashedly enjoy (maybe even love). A finely crafted pop song is no less impressive than some elaborately ornate classical piece. They work on different levels and require very different skill sets, and if you think making truly masterful pop music is easy, just look at the gargantuan list of one-hit wonders who couldn’t sustain a career in the genre. For ABBA to be the inarguable juggernaut that they were (are), they must have been doing something right. Right?

Well, I’m gonna find out. I’ll be checking out the hit collections because that seems most logical, but if someone out there thinks the band has an actual LP worth listening to front-to-back, tell me in the comments.  And if you’re an ABBA virgin, too, maybe pop that cherry this month.