Lars Prefers to Smell of Durian to the Stench of Abba!

Some of my friends are headed to a sing-along screening of Momma Mia tonight. I’ll be at home; I’d rather volunteer to be a durian sniffer than listen to Abba.

To be fair, Abba probably wasn’t the worst pop band of the 1970s. The Partridge Family was arguably worse, and I’ll bet there are some acts I’ve not heard who couldn’t lick Abba’s white vinyl boots either. And lest I be accused of xenophobia, let me categorically state that I’ve nothing against leggy Scandinavian gals in hot pants. (Confession: The famed Abba PR shot with the two guys wrapped in tin foil did creep me out.)

I hate Abba because as one of the decade’s most successful pop acts they embody all that was wretched and awful about the mid and late ‘70s. Let’s start with the obvious—there is no zeitgeist or circumstance that justifies dressing in white polyester. Four people as rich as Abba could have afforded natural fibers. And a decent hairdresser. Those corkscrew curls worn by Anni-Frid made her look as if she’d just been busted for hooking at a trailer park. Bjorn’s shaggy doo suggests he escaped from a Prince Valiant deprogramming unit. Politeness prevents me from commenting on the platform shoes worn by all.

Mostly Abba reminds me of an awful time in Western culture—stagflation, the OPEC boycott, garish fashion, the Iranian hostage crisis, Three Mile Island, my own wasted youth…. These days my students occasionally tell me they’re throwing a 70s theme party and I always ask, “Why?” There are plenty of more worthy historical themes: Roman toga parties, the flapper era, reenacting the Black Death….

As for the “music,” Abba devotees try to wear me down by insisting that “they had great voices.” So what? That’s akin to asking me to have sympathy for bungling bank robbers because they have high IQs. There are some sins that talent cannot excuse; “Waterloo” and “Dancing Queen” are among them. As for singing along to such pap, I’d rather harmonize with Songs of the Humpback Whales.—Lars Vigo

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