Take a chance on Stockholm’s immersive Abba museum

It’s an all-singing, all-dancing interactive treat that celebrates the style and the artistry of Sweden’s biggest and best musical export

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 March, 2016, 4:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 13 June, 2016, 12:45pm

Abba are looking for a fifth member and holding open auditions. I have no intention of auditioning, but, nonetheless, I step into the sound booth and up to the microphone. Just to see what it feels like. I swish the velvet curtain behind me closed.

I scan the list I was given. Wannabe fifth members can choose one of five hits from the Swedish pop quartet’s 1970s and ’80s heyday: Waterloo, Dancing Queen, Mamma Mia, Money, Money, Money and Winner Takes it All.

I hit the touch screen, and the infectious, driving melody of Money, Money, Money starts. My palms are clammy. I can feel my pulse in my eyeballs. My stomach tightens. There are few things I fear more than singing. This is because I am tone-deaf. I don’t even sing in the shower or the car. And I especially don’t audition to join Swedish superstar pop groups, not even in a fake recording booth at a tourist attraction. If I did sing, though, it would probably be Abba songs.

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Abba the Museum opened in 2013 on Djurgården, across from the Gröna Lund theme park and near Stockholm’s history, modern art and wildlife museums, to celebrate the biggest cultural export ever to come out of Sweden.

Between 1975 and 1982, Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson and Anni-Frid Lyngstad, all native Swedes with the exception of Norwegian Anni-Frid, sold out concert venues around the world. By some estimates, the band have sold up to 500 million records worldwide.

The museum is the permanent home for the ABBAWORLD exhibit that toured Europe and Australia between 2009 and 2011. A 180-degree projection screen showing Abba music videos greets visitors at the entrance. From there, the experience only gets more immersive, with interactive singing and dancing exhibits and recorded interviews with band members, their clothing designer and their manager.

In the booth, I miss my cue. There’s no option to start over. Not that I want to. The music presses on, backing vocals coming in, supposedly to join me for the chorus. I watch silently as the lyrics to Money, Money, Money scroll across the screen in front of me. A purple ball bounces along to indicate when to sing each word.

At the end, the screen flashes my score. I expect a zero since, well, I didn’t sing a single word. But the Abba museum is a kind judge; just for walking into the booth I get a base score of 54. Maybe the mic registered some background noise?

In addition to bright lights, spunky music, the most glittering and spandexed of Abba’s original concert costumes, exhaustive histories of each member, and recorded commentary by all four members – it’s worth the extra money for the audio guide – the Abba museum has a half-dozen interactive exhibits that, like the audition booth, invite you to be part of the group.

Standing in front of a re-creation of one of the band’s studios, I read that the black upright piano against the wall is self-playing and connected to Benny’s present-day studio in Skeppsholmen. “When Benny starts playing, you will be able to listen,” a sign says.

Benny isn’t playing, so I move across the room to try my hand at mixing one of the band’s songs. I’m lighter on the keyboards and choir than the band’s real sound engineer, Michael Tretow, and get a score of 4,625. High scores are not listed, so I have no idea whether this is good or bad.

Deeper in the museum, I select the “easy” level Abba quiz and find the questions decidedly not easy. For “Who did Abba need to get the permission from for their name?” I guess “toy company”. I am wrong. The correct answer is a fish canning company. My answers to 11 of the other 15 questions are incorrect, too. Still, I score 1,500. The Abba museum’s scoring is as uplifting as the band’s music.

If you want, your score and whatever you did to earn it can be stored online via the bar code on your entrance ticket. Later, you can relive each of the interactive exhibits – your audition, your mixing, your dancing, the quiz – by logging in to the museum’s website.

Past the impressively realistic life-size waxworks of Benny, Anni-Frid, Agnetha and Björn, installed last year with serious pomp and circumstance and helicopters, is the Dancing Queen disco room, complete with spinning disco balls, a flashing floor and wall-mounted televisions and screens playing footage of the band performing Dancing Queen. Less self-conscious about my dancing than singing, I give 110 per cent here. Sadly, this activity is not scored.

Pumped full of positive energy, I leave the museum still swaying. It’s not until I’m half a mile away, walking – still with excess exuberance and swagger – past the cathedral-like Nordic Museum, that I realise I’m also singing.

Yes, it’s barely above a whisper. But I bet if I had been able to do even this much in my earlier audition, I could have at least doubled my score.

The Washington Post