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这支神秘乐队,掌控庞大的商业帝国

这支神秘乐队,掌控庞大的商业帝国

Katherine Dunn 2021年09月10日
成员都是被音乐“耽误”的商界奇才

1980年3月,《High Fidelity》杂志曾经宣布,瑞典长期流行的超级组合实现了新里程碑:“ABBA:为冲刺《财富》美国500强做好准备”。

当然,这是个玩笑,当年该乐队年并未出现在《财富》美国500强排行榜上。不过,四名成员组成的流行乐队加上精明的商业经理斯蒂格·安德森,确实掌控着庞大的商业帝国。乐队解散的两年前,乐队里的两对夫妻劳燕分飞,成员旗下非传统金融资产包括一家Monark功率自行车厂、一家租赁集团,还有一家濒临破产的石油贸易公司,后来该公司因为一笔现货原油交易时机把握不准而亏损了300多万英镑。

在乐团的兴衰过程中,类似的交易只是强化了ABBA经济驱动流行音乐机器的形象,而当年的这种形象并非总是正面。

几十年后,商业帝国也还在持续。由于《妈妈咪呀》(Mamma Mia)舞台剧和电影持续多年获得大笔收入,上周该乐队宣布发行一张新专辑,还推出了虚拟的老年版形象。与乐队活跃的年代相比,这次明显少了愤世嫉俗的成分。

“我对这支乐队的辉煌历程充满钦佩和嫉妒。”牛津大学赛德商学院(Oxford University's Saïd Business School)的管理实践研究员亚历克斯·康诺克说道。这家瑞典超级乐队如此知名的原因除了其流行音乐才能,还有敏锐的商业嗅觉。

我有一个梦想

1972年,ABBA推出了第一首瑞典热门歌曲,歌名为《人们需要爱》(People Need Love)。两年后,乐队推出的《滑铁卢》(Waterloo)在国际上实现突破,该歌曲在1974年的欧洲电视歌曲大赛(Eurovision Song Contest)上获胜。

乐队的四位成员比约恩·奥瓦尔斯、本尼·安德森、阿格妮莎·福斯克格和安妮-弗瑞德·林斯塔德,早在第一首歌曲问世时就已经是瑞典音乐界老手。安德森和奥瓦尔斯作曲,阿格妮莎和安妮-弗瑞德演唱。

他们跟经理的关系安排也相当精明,经理既是唱片制作人也是音乐发行人,不仅拥有乐队权益,最终也持有品牌Polar Music。

瑞典流行组合ABBA于1974年在斯德哥尔摩拍摄的照片。图片来源:OLLE LINDEBORG—AFP/Getty Images

《亮光与暗影——ABBA的真实故事》(Bright Lights Dark Shadows—The Real Story of ABBA)一书作者卡尔·马格纳斯·帕尔姆表示,这一安排可以推动乐队不断前进,在当时并不寻常。

“当他们联起手来,就不用担心糟心的音乐交易,也不会行幼稚之举。”他说。

由于种种安排,乐队在财务和创意方面拥有一定程度的控制权,能够在瑞典市场掌控歌曲创作、表演和制作,在其他市场都挑选最好的唱片公司发行,这在音乐行业同样很罕见。帕尔姆指出,通过该方式,乐队发展非常顺利,也通过谈判获得了更有利的版税分配。

巡演规划也相当高效,乐队不用忍受漫长疲惫的巡演,而是在观众最多的市场中挑选电视节目亮相。

“他们非常理性。”他说,“人们都认为摇滚歌星、流行歌星都是自由的精神,一心只想做音乐然后巡演,通常伴随着毒品、酒精和粉丝。”

然而在20世纪70年代,人们开始怀疑乐队。不仅有人批评ABBA音乐公式化、商业化,他们的营销策略也遭到冷嘲热讽。在《High Fidelity》发表三年前,《滚石》杂志(Rolling Stone)曾经过发表《商业之声》(Sound of Business),关于乐队的长篇专题。文中记者戴夫·马奇指出,乐队“有条不紊”地崛起“让一些人怀疑乐队是不是对营销的兴趣比音乐更大。”

泰勒·斯威夫特也曾经通过重新录制早期专辑来重新获得表演权,如今像这样可以实现此种控制仍然是高手级别。

不过ABBA重视商业超过音乐的印象仍然存在,经理斯蒂格·安德森愿意坦诚谈论商业利益之后更是如此。“这对我们很不利。”奥瓦尔斯为帕尔姆写书接受采访时承认。

帕尔姆表示,乐队在商业方面保持敏锐是为了创作服务,并不是反过来,也不是每次都很成功。ABBA一直面临的挑战是如何寻找法律途径降低高昂的瑞典税单,当时税额几乎能够完全抹去高收入者的利润。

为了避税,乐队和安德森创建了复杂的公司网络,有时接受实体商品换版税,特别是在东欧。曾经因为一笔失败的石油换版税交易,贸易公司Pol Oil成立了。

正如帕尔姆在书中所述,1980年1月该贸易公司在鹿特丹现货市场以每桶40美元买入了55000吨原油,打算转售获利。但当时为伊朗动乱时期,油价偏高,油品质量也出现错判,这笔交易最终失败了,价格暴跌,支付大量存储成本后最终以亏本价出售,最终损失了330万英镑(约为现在的1300万英镑)

面对这笔糟糕的交易,乐队表现得非常低调,但后来比约恩承认损失“并不小”。

游戏名称

在乐队解散后的几年里,ABBA的早期曲目包括《舞蹈皇后》(Dancing Queen)、《Voulez-Vouz》和《给我个机会》(Take A Chance on Me)等经典,并未立刻变成像后来一样热门的摇钱树。本尼和比约恩对流行歌曲创作长期的影响也少被承认。ABBA从未真正“酷”过,现在则彻底不流行——“大大的不”,帕尔姆说。

不过在20世纪90年代初,乐队在同性恋文化中相当知名以及1992年的《ABBA Gold》精选集,让乐队东山再起。据称该张流行专辑在全球卖出至少3100万张,今年7月更是成为英国音乐排行榜上首张连续1000周或19年霸榜的专辑。

1999年,舞台音乐剧《妈妈咪呀》在440多个城市演出。ABBA官网称,该演出接待观众已达6000万。

后来《妈妈咪呀》于2008年改编成电影,票房达到6.09亿美元,成为有史以来票房最高的音乐电影之一。10年后的《妈妈咪呀》续集,电影票房也相当不错。

奥瓦尔斯、本尼·安德森和后来的林斯塔德都是原《妈妈咪呀》音乐剧的投资人;奥瓦尔斯也是斯德哥尔摩ABBA博物馆(ABBA Museum)的投资者。帕尔姆说,除了最初的经典,音乐和电影一直是乐队成员财富不断增长的真正来源。

2011年5月31日,纽约市冬季花园剧院(Winter Garden Theatre),《妈妈咪呀!》第4000场百老汇演出的谢幕仪式上的克拉克·索雷尔、朱迪·麦克莱恩、约翰·多塞特、丽莎·布雷西亚、帕特里克·波尔和詹妮弗·佩里。图片来源:Bruce Glikas—FilmMagic

没有人知道乐队到底多富有,但在2013年,帕尔姆估计奥瓦尔斯和本尼·安德森都是瑞典人里的“亿万富翁”,两人的身家均为约1.17亿美元;林斯塔德的身家估计约为1.75亿英镑(按照今天的汇率计算,约为2.42亿美元);而据估计,组合里的福斯克格的资产最少,不到1亿美元。随着电影和音乐帝国扩张,现在各人的身家可能更高。

即便如此,从《妈妈咪呀》音乐剧到ABBA博物馆,要尝试新项目也需要劝服所有成员。他们曾拒绝过很多是巡演,2000年,四人拒绝了10亿美元250场重聚巡演的提议。

帕尔姆说,有些经典乐队会重聚巡演,给人的感觉是“好吧,钱这么多实在难以拒绝。ABBA乐队则更像是,不,太麻烦了,我宁愿去养花。这是比较瑞典式的做法。”

感谢你们的音乐

2021年9月初,乐队正式宣布了举办官方音乐会,以弥补对巡演的拒绝。根据20世纪70年代在瑞典表演的形象制作了老年版虚拟人物 (官方宣传照中,每个人都穿着动作捕捉服装。),乐队将在伦敦东部一片较为新潮的地区为演出搭建定制场地,11月也将发行全新专辑。

“ABBA 之旅”(ABBA Voyage)项目受到了广泛欢迎,项目中还包括采访乐队成员和世界各地的ABBA观察家。赛德商学院的康诺克表示,这种方式非常前沿,也可能为其他希望延续经典的老乐队提供指导。

“整体来看非常棒。”他说。“可以从各种角度欣赏,而且没有风险。”

康诺克指出,项目也能够扩展,如果在伦敦成功,很容易就可以在全球各地推广。

2018年,刚开始乐队对项目和发行新歌嗤之以鼻,但动机很清楚:70多岁找机会玩开心,回到录音棚都可以,巡演就不必了。

乐队发行流行歌曲之后的几十年里,先前对其大火流行歌的评论已经从嘲弄变成了庆祝,有关乐队成员商业头脑的故事也从怀疑变成了尊重。

“如果纳入商学院的话,ABBA发展史会变成知识产权弹性方面的案例,而正是知识产权支撑着21世纪媒体和技术领域几乎各项发展。”康诺克说。

“ABBA的发展史让其看上去就像音乐行业里的高盛集团(Goldman Sachs),也让其看上去像是一只美国长期国债。”(财富中文网)

译者:梁宇

审校:夏林

1980年3月,《High Fidelity》杂志曾经宣布,瑞典长期流行的超级组合实现了新里程碑:“ABBA:为冲刺《财富》美国500强做好准备”。

当然,这是个玩笑,当年该乐队年并未出现在《财富》美国500强排行榜上。不过,四名成员组成的流行乐队加上精明的商业经理斯蒂格·安德森,确实掌控着庞大的商业帝国。乐队解散的两年前,乐队里的两对夫妻劳燕分飞,成员旗下非传统金融资产包括一家Monark功率自行车厂、一家租赁集团,还有一家濒临破产的石油贸易公司,后来该公司因为一笔现货原油交易时机把握不准而亏损了300多万英镑。

在乐团的兴衰过程中,类似的交易只是强化了ABBA经济驱动流行音乐机器的形象,而当年的这种形象并非总是正面。

几十年后,商业帝国也还在持续。由于《妈妈咪呀》(Mamma Mia)舞台剧和电影持续多年获得大笔收入,上周该乐队宣布发行一张新专辑,还推出了虚拟的老年版形象。与乐队活跃的年代相比,这次明显少了愤世嫉俗的成分。

“我对这支乐队的辉煌历程充满钦佩和嫉妒。”牛津大学赛德商学院(Oxford University's Saïd Business School)的管理实践研究员亚历克斯·康诺克说道。这家瑞典超级乐队如此知名的原因除了其流行音乐才能,还有敏锐的商业嗅觉。

我有一个梦想

1972年,ABBA推出了第一首瑞典热门歌曲,歌名为《人们需要爱》(People Need Love)。两年后,乐队推出的《滑铁卢》(Waterloo)在国际上实现突破,该歌曲在1974年的欧洲电视歌曲大赛(Eurovision Song Contest)上获胜。

乐队的四位成员比约恩·奥瓦尔斯、本尼·安德森、阿格妮莎·福斯克格和安妮-弗瑞德·林斯塔德,早在第一首歌曲问世时就已经是瑞典音乐界老手。安德森和奥瓦尔斯作曲,阿格妮莎和安妮-弗瑞德演唱。

他们跟经理的关系安排也相当精明,经理既是唱片制作人也是音乐发行人,不仅拥有乐队权益,最终也持有品牌Polar Music。

瑞典流行组合ABBA于1974年在斯德哥尔摩拍摄的照片。

《亮光与暗影——ABBA的真实故事》(Bright Lights Dark Shadows—The Real Story of ABBA)一书作者卡尔·马格纳斯·帕尔姆表示,这一安排可以推动乐队不断前进,在当时并不寻常。

“当他们联起手来,就不用担心糟心的音乐交易,也不会行幼稚之举。”他说。

由于种种安排,乐队在财务和创意方面拥有一定程度的控制权,能够在瑞典市场掌控歌曲创作、表演和制作,在其他市场都挑选最好的唱片公司发行,这在音乐行业同样很罕见。帕尔姆指出,通过该方式,乐队发展非常顺利,也通过谈判获得了更有利的版税分配。

巡演规划也相当高效,乐队不用忍受漫长疲惫的巡演,而是在观众最多的市场中挑选电视节目亮相。

“他们非常理性。”他说,“人们都认为摇滚歌星、流行歌星都是自由的精神,一心只想做音乐然后巡演,通常伴随着毒品、酒精和粉丝。”

然而在20世纪70年代,人们开始怀疑乐队。不仅有人批评ABBA音乐公式化、商业化,他们的营销策略也遭到冷嘲热讽。在《High Fidelity》发表三年前,《滚石》杂志(Rolling Stone)曾经过发表《商业之声》(Sound of Business),关于乐队的长篇专题。文中记者戴夫·马奇指出,乐队“有条不紊”地崛起“让一些人怀疑乐队是不是对营销的兴趣比音乐更大。”

泰勒·斯威夫特也曾经通过重新录制早期专辑来重新获得表演权,如今像这样可以实现此种控制仍然是高手级别。

不过ABBA重视商业超过音乐的印象仍然存在,经理斯蒂格·安德森愿意坦诚谈论商业利益之后更是如此。“这对我们很不利。”奥瓦尔斯为帕尔姆写书接受采访时承认。

帕尔姆表示,乐队在商业方面保持敏锐是为了创作服务,并不是反过来,也不是每次都很成功。ABBA一直面临的挑战是如何寻找法律途径降低高昂的瑞典税单,当时税额几乎能够完全抹去高收入者的利润。

为了避税,乐队和安德森创建了复杂的公司网络,有时接受实体商品换版税,特别是在东欧。曾经因为一笔失败的石油换版税交易,贸易公司Pol Oil成立了。

正如帕尔姆在书中所述,1980年1月该贸易公司在鹿特丹现货市场以每桶40美元买入了55000吨原油,打算转售获利。但当时为伊朗动乱时期,油价偏高,油品质量也出现错判,这笔交易最终失败了,价格暴跌,支付大量存储成本后最终以亏本价出售,最终损失了330万英镑(约为现在的1300万英镑)

面对这笔糟糕的交易,乐队表现得非常低调,但后来比约恩承认损失“并不小”。

游戏名称

在乐队解散后的几年里,ABBA的早期曲目包括《舞蹈皇后》(Dancing Queen)、《Voulez-Vouz》和《给我个机会》(Take A Chance on Me)等经典,并未立刻变成像后来一样热门的摇钱树。本尼和比约恩对流行歌曲创作长期的影响也少被承认。ABBA从未真正“酷”过,现在则彻底不流行——“大大的不”,帕尔姆说。

不过在20世纪90年代初,乐队在同性恋文化中相当知名以及1992年的《ABBA Gold》精选集,让乐队东山再起。据称该张流行专辑在全球卖出至少3100万张,今年7月更是成为英国音乐排行榜上首张连续1000周或19年霸榜的专辑。

1999年,舞台音乐剧《妈妈咪呀》在440多个城市演出。ABBA官网称,该演出接待观众已达6000万。

后来《妈妈咪呀》于2008年改编成电影,票房达到6.09亿美元,成为有史以来票房最高的音乐电影之一。10年后的《妈妈咪呀》续集,电影票房也相当不错。

奥瓦尔斯、本尼·安德森和后来的林斯塔德都是原《妈妈咪呀》音乐剧的投资人;奥瓦尔斯也是斯德哥尔摩ABBA博物馆(ABBA Museum)的投资者。帕尔姆说,除了最初的经典,音乐和电影一直是乐队成员财富不断增长的真正来源。

2011年5月31日,纽约市冬季花园剧院(Winter Garden Theatre),《妈妈咪呀!》第4000场百老汇演出的谢幕仪式上的克拉克·索雷尔、朱迪·麦克莱恩、约翰·多塞特、丽莎·布雷西亚、帕特里克·波尔和詹妮弗·佩里。

没有人知道乐队到底多富有,但在2013年,帕尔姆估计奥瓦尔斯和本尼·安德森都是瑞典人里的“亿万富翁”,两人的身家均为约1.17亿美元;林斯塔德的身家估计约为1.75亿英镑(按照今天的汇率计算,约为2.42亿美元);而据估计,组合里的福斯克格的资产最少,不到1亿美元。随着电影和音乐帝国扩张,现在各人的身家可能更高。

即便如此,从《妈妈咪呀》音乐剧到ABBA博物馆,要尝试新项目也需要劝服所有成员。他们曾拒绝过很多是巡演,2000年,四人拒绝了10亿美元250场重聚巡演的提议。

帕尔姆说,有些经典乐队会重聚巡演,给人的感觉是“好吧,钱这么多实在难以拒绝。ABBA乐队则更像是,不,太麻烦了,我宁愿去养花。这是比较瑞典式的做法。”

感谢你们的音乐

2021年9月初,乐队正式宣布了举办官方音乐会,以弥补对巡演的拒绝。根据20世纪70年代在瑞典表演的形象制作了老年版虚拟人物 (官方宣传照中,每个人都穿着动作捕捉服装。),乐队将在伦敦东部一片较为新潮的地区为演出搭建定制场地,11月也将发行全新专辑。

“ABBA 之旅”(ABBA Voyage)项目受到了广泛欢迎,项目中还包括采访乐队成员和世界各地的ABBA观察家。赛德商学院的康诺克表示,这种方式非常前沿,也可能为其他希望延续经典的老乐队提供指导。

“整体来看非常棒。”他说。“可以从各种角度欣赏,而且没有风险。”

康诺克指出,项目也能够扩展,如果在伦敦成功,很容易就可以在全球各地推广。

2018年,刚开始乐队对项目和发行新歌嗤之以鼻,但动机很清楚:70多岁找机会玩开心,回到录音棚都可以,巡演就不必了。

乐队发行流行歌曲之后的几十年里,先前对其大火流行歌的评论已经从嘲弄变成了庆祝,有关乐队成员商业头脑的故事也从怀疑变成了尊重。

“如果纳入商学院的话,ABBA发展史会变成知识产权弹性方面的案例,而正是知识产权支撑着21世纪媒体和技术领域几乎各项发展。”康诺克说。

“ABBA的发展史让其看上去就像音乐行业里的高盛集团(Goldman Sachs),也让其看上去像是一只美国长期国债。”(财富中文网)

译者:梁宇

审校:夏林

In March 1980, a now-defunct magazine called High Fidelity declared that one of Sweden's enduring supergroups had hit a new milestone: "ABBA: 'Ready for the Fortune 500'".

The headline was tongue-in-cheek—the band did not, in fact, appear on the Fortune 500 that year—but only just: the four-member pop group, along with their business-savvy manager, Stig Anderson, was indeed at the helm of a sprawling business empire. By that year—just two years before the band dissolved after the breakup of both couples in the group—their unconventional financial interests included a Monark bicycle factory, a leasing group, and even a doomed oil trading company, which would go on to lose more than 3 million pounds in a poorly-timed spot crude deal.

Throughout their rise and fall, such deals only added to the perception of ABBA as a financially-driven pop machine—an image that was not always positive at the time.

It's a perception that persists decades later, with the band's announcement last week of a new album and an upcoming concert series—featuring virtual, de-aged versions of themselves—following years of big-budget success with the Mamma Mia stage show and movies. But this time, in contrast to the band's active years, there is a notable lack of cynicism about their projects. In fact, the Swedish supergroup finds itself being celebrated both for their pop genius—and for their business acumen.

"I'm just full of admiration-slash-jealousy for the brilliance of it, actually," says Alex Connock, a fellow in management practice at Oxford University's Saïd Business School.

I have a dream

ABBA garnered its first Swedish hit in 1972—a song called "People Need Love." Two years later, the band had their international break-out with the song Waterloo, which won the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest.

The four members—Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson, Agnetha Fältskog, and Anni-Frid Lyngstad—were already veterans of the Swedish music industry by the time their first song came out. Andersson and Ulvaeus had worked as songwriters and Agneta and Frida as singers. They also had a savvy relationship with their manager, who was both a record producer and a music publisher, and an ownership stake not just in the band but eventually in his label, Polar Music.

It was a dynamic that put the band on the front foot in a way that was unusual at the time, says Carl Magnus Palm, a Swedish ABBA expert and the author of Bright Lights Dark Shadows—The Real Story of ABBA.

"All the bad music business deals, all the naïvete, was behind them when they joined forces," he said.

That experience allowed them to have a level of both financial and creative control that's still rare in the music business. The band controlled songwriting, performance, and production, and they managed their careers centrally from Sweden; in each market, they picked the best record companies for distribution. Using this approach, they passed on the quick thrill of hefty advances, Palm notes, and negotiated for better royalty rights instead.

Their touring strategy, too, was efficiently planned: rather than indulging in long, exhausting tours, the band simply picked the TV show in each market with the largest audience, and made an appearance.

"They were very rational," he says. "We think of rock stars, of pop stars, as these kinds of free spirits, who only think about making music, and then touring, and drugs and booze and groupies."

In the 1970s, however, such efficiency was actively viewed with suspicion. Not only was ABBA's music often critically panned as formulaic and commercial, but their marketing strategy was treated with cynicism. Three years before the High Fidelity article, Rolling Stone put out a lengthy feature about the band titled the "Sound of Business", in which the journalist Dave March noted that the band's "methodical" rise led "some to suspect that the group is more interested in marketing than music."

Today, that level of control is more likely to be seen as masterful—recall Taylor Swift re-recording her earlier albums to recapture performance rights—but the impression that the band put business before music stuck, exacerbated by the willingness of manager Stig Anderson to talk freely about their business interests ("It wasn't good for us," Ulvaeus admitted in an interview for Palm's book.)

In fact, the band's business acumen was in service of the creative control, Palm says, rather than the other way around—and it wasn't always that successful, either. One of ABBA's persistent challenges was finding legal ways to lower their stratospheric Swedish tax bills, which at the time were so high they could totally eliminate profits for high earners. To get around them, the band and Anderson created complex networks of companies, and sometimes accepted bartered goods in exchange for royalties, especially in the Eastern bloc. One bartered oil deal, which fell through, resulted in the creation of Pol Oil, a trading company.

As Palm relates in his book, the trading company bought 55,000 tons of crude oil in January 1980 on the spot market in Rotterdam at $40/barrel, planning to resell it at a profit. But the deal went sideways: Pol bought it when prices were high due to unrest in Iran, Palm writes, and misjudged the quality. An initial deal fell through, the price slumped, and the barrels were eventually sold at a loss, after ringing up substantial storage costs. The deal lost £3.3 million, about £13 million ($18 million) in today's money.

The band played down the bad deal, but Björn later admitted that the loss "wasn't peanuts."

The name of the game

In the years after the band's breakup, ABBA's back catalogue—full of such undeniable smashes as “Dancing Queen,” “Voulez-Vouz,” and “Take A Chance on Me”—wasn't immediately recognized as the money fountain it would turn out to be. Benny and Björn's lasting influence on the pop songwriting cannon was also largely unacknowledged. Never exactly "cool", ABBA was now truly unfashionable—"with a capital U," says Palm.

But a resurgence started to gain steam in the early 1990s, in part due to the band's celebrated status in gay culture, and spurred on by the release of ABBA Gold in 1992. The greatest hits album is believed to have sold at least 31 million copies worldwide, and this July it became the first album to spend 1,000 consecutive weeks—or more than 19 years—on the U.K. music charts.

Then, in 1999, came the stage-musical Mamma Mia, which has now appeared in over 440 cities and been seen by 60 million people, according to the group's official website. That was followed by the Mamma Mia movie in 2008, and the Mamma Mia sequel 10 years later. The first film made $609 million at the box office, making it one of the highest-grossing musicals of all time; the second film was also a respectable box-office smash.

Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson, and later Lyngstad were all investors in the original Mamma Mia musical; Ulvaeus is also an investor in the ABBA Museum in Stockholm. Beyond their original hits, the musical and movies have been the real source of their expanding wealth, says Palm.

Though it's not clear exactly how wealthy the band members are as a result, Palm estimated in 2013 that both Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson were Swedish "kronor billionaires", or worth about $117 million each; Lyngstad was estimated to be worth about £175 million (at today's exchange rates, around $242 million); while Fältskog is estimated to have the most modest fortune of the group, with under $100 million. It's possible, as the movies and music empire has expanded, that they're now worth much more.

Even still, the band's members have often had to be individually persuaded to take on new projects, from the Mamma Mia musical to the ABBA museum. Famously, they have also said no, in particular to touring: in 2000, they turned down a $1 billion offer to reunite for a 250-show tour.

With some legacy bands that do reunion tours, you get the impression that "okay, it's too much money to turn down," Palm says. "Whereas with ABBA, it’s more like, nah, can’t be bothered, I’d rather tend to my flower beds. It’s a very kind of Swedish approach."

Thank you for the music

In early September 2021, the band officially announced an elegant solution to their reticence to tour: an official concert, complete with 1970s era, de-aged, virtual figures based on their own performances back in Sweden. (The official promotion featured photos of them in outfits tagged for motion-capture.) The band will build a custom venue for the show, in a trendy bit of east London, and a brand new album will also be released in November.

The "ABBA Voyage" project, announced with interviews with the band members and ABBA watchers worldwide, was greeted with near-universal delight. The approach, which is technologically cutting edge, could also be a pilot project for other aging bands looking to continue their legacy, says Connock, of Saïd Business School.

"It’s just brilliant, on a whole number levels," he says. "It gives you all the scale of the tour, without any of the risks."

It's also scaleable, he points out—if it works in London, it could easily be rolled out around the world.

The band itself, which initially teased the concept and the new songs in 2018, has been clear about their motives: a chance to have fun, go back to the studio, and perform—without going on tour in their 70s.

And in the decades since the band released its early pop hits, criticism of its absurdly catchy songs have gone from mocking to celebratory, while tales of the members' business acumen have gone from suspicion, to, well, respect.

"The ABBA catalogue is kind of a case study, were we in business school, of the resilience of IP—which underpins almost all the developments we've seen in media and tech in the 21st century," Connock says.

"The ABBA catalogue is almost like the Goldman Sachs of the music industry, isn't it? It's almost like a longterm US government bond."

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