‘Enter walking … leave dancing’
– down the streets of Stockholm
Winning the Eurovision song contest in 1974 made the group a global phenomenon. This is one of the first displays encountered by visitors. It includes a video and a static exhibit. © SGE, Inc. All rights reserved.
THERE ARE FEW WORDS that can adequately describe the feelings one has after a visit to the brand new ABBA Museum that opened in Stockholm on May 7.
But the name of the facility certainly doesn’t describe it properly. “Museum” makes visitors wonder just how boring it is
Without a doubt, the ABBA ‘museum’ is an adventure in pure joy. Perhaps a better name would be the ABBA Experience.
Almost all who leave are singing and dancing their way down the streets in the museum district, as I did in a gentle rain one Saturday afternoon in June.
Do not for a minute think this is only for those baby boomers who grew up with the music of ABBA. The genius of this display is that it offers everyone of every age group an opportunity to participate as a member of the foursome.
WATCH VIDEO BELOW THE FOLD
Outlandish costumes are one of the elements that made the group unique. This display shows how some of them were made. © SGE, Inc. All rights reserved.
“AS A VISITOR TO THE MUSEUM,” says the official guide, “this is your chance to experience what it is like to be the fifth member of ABBA.”
An optional audio tour (40 Kroner, about $7.50) offers the opportunity to hear the story in the words of Aguetha, Bjorn, Benny and Ann-Frid themselves. Their voices are, mostly, bursting with joy – until they share the story of the breakup at the end of the tour.
Perhaps it is unfair to critique such a young institution. But the worst aspect of it was how difficult it is to find: there is no sign on the building whatsoever. The only indication of what’s inside is a larger-than-life image of the band.
The museum district is full of signage; not a single one I saw points to its newest attraction. But, it is early days. In a few months time all of these teething problems will probably be resolved.
A peek behind the scenes at the ticket collection point. The lobby is postmodern in décor. © SGE, Inc. All rights reserved.
Repeated attempts to contact museum officials for comment for this story were unsuccessful.
The crowds are pouring in, even in the pouring rain.
After negotiating the ticket line, one enters two floors below ground. The flashing sign says simply “ABBA” in twinkling white lights.
The hit song “Dancing Queen” puts one immediately in the right mood.
The sights and sounds are overwhelming. I purchased for an additional 40 Kroner the audio tour. But it is just too much; save it for your second visit.
The layout is a bit like an IKEA store: one can proceed in one direction only, there are few short cuts to the exit.
The exhibits are relatively in chronological order, beginning with the band members’ origins long before the group of existed.
When you arrive at the Eurovision song contest exhibit (their 1974 win is what put the band on the top of the charts for the first time) it is a combination of video and static display. (See it in the video)
Just around the corner however, is where the fun begins.
THE ABBA MUSEUM IS A GROUNDBREAKING NEW CONCEPT. Rather than just displays, visitors are given multiple opportunities to actually become virtual members of the band.
The first such display encountered are three soundproof recording studio-like booths. So many people know the words to ABBA songs, they are able to sing them karaoke-style with gusto.
Those outside the booth hear nothing; those inside are clearly having a marvelous time, singing with gusto (See them in the video).
And then there are the highlights.
A hi-tech rear projection system with a translucent screen in front of the “stage,” allows members of the public to perform for an audience as if they are fifth, sixth or seventh members of the group ABBA.
Cashiers take credit cards only. The day I visited, the line for tickets was 20 minutes long. I should have made a reservation. © SGE, Inc. All rights reserved.
A quick rehearsal by a staff member, and the show begins. (See this in the video.)
It is so obvious that the participants are having the times of their lives, those in the audience applaud wildly at the end. (Opening scene on the video; and a reprise.)
A few steps further along is something that can be described only as a simulation of a discotheque circa 1980.
Visitors are immersed in the hit songs to which we all danced when ABBA first became a global phenomenon. Within seconds in this environment, its re-created lighting effects totally realistic, every single person I saw was dancing. Me too!
Then there is the replica of a recording studio replete with drums, guitars and other instruments.
It is an invitation to try out for the band. A young boy probably 10 years old, was playing the drums when I visited; his mother loved every minute of it. (In the video)
Another issue, which perhaps will be resolved in time, is the line to purchase tickets. There seemed to be only two cashiers on duty; it took more than 20 minutes for my number to be called.
I suppose if I had read their website ahead of my visit, would have found out the following:
“At ABBA The Museum we will do our utmost to make sure that you will never have to wait in line,” it says. “The reason is that our tickets have so-called slot times. You simply book a time for your visit at the same time as you’re buying your tickets. This means that you will avoid a lot of boring waiting time…”
Then, it was credit cards only. No cash accepted at all.
The web site explains:
“We have a vision of a cashless society. Therefore we don’t handle coins or bills.”
I witnessed more than a few turn away because they lacked a plastic card.
The cost of admission is steep: 195 Kroner, which at the current exchange rate came to about $32. But, unquestionably, the value is there.
Unless, of course, one asks a somewhat cynical Swede.
“Sweden was the last place to get the greatness of ABBA music,” said Anton Palm, 30, whom I met in a tavern later that evening.
“Nobody [in Sweden] would confess to liking ABBA – until the rest of the world got it.”
This changed, he added, after the group won the Eurovision song contest and made the top of the charts in the U.S.
One does not need to be a diehard ABBA fan to enjoy the experience. Just the music, marvelous displays and history of the global 1980s culture alone make the trip worthwhile.
For those going to Europe this summer, it is worth any detour to visit the ABBA Museum. And for those who are not going, check out the video and “Experience the Joy.”
© SGE, Inc. All rights reserved.