Beyond Cher: Revisiting A*Teens' ABBA Covers Album From 1999
Before Cher's 'Dancing Queen' album, Sweden's A*Teens tried to put a modern spin on the classics
It’s been more than 40 years since their debut, and the world is still going mad for ABBA. This summer, the movie sequel Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again hit theaters and was every bit as campy and fun as the original — and came with the addition of Cher, who played the mother of Meryl Streep’s character despite the actors having only a three-year age gap. (Just go with it.) In turn, Cher’s brief cameo inspired her to record a whole album of ABBA covers, the result of which, Dancing Queen, is out now -- and getting some of the best reviews of Cher’s post-2000 career.
Of course, ABBA’s illustrious discography has inspired decades worth of covers albums, from heavy-metal makeovers to alt-rock tributes, all of which prove how durable the band’s tunes are. These are songs, after all, that still sound good even when they’re being murdered by hordes of drunk karaoke singers. But when it comes to outfitting ‘70s classics with the bells and whistles of modern pop, Cher has an obvious precedent: A*Teens’ The ABBA Generation album.
Assembled in 1998, A*Teens were, initially, an ABBA covers group made up of four Swedish teenagers: Marie Serneholt, Sara Lumholdt, Dhani Lennevald and Amit Sebastian Paul. Their debut album, The ABBA Generation was released in 1999 abroad — it didn’t arrive in the U.S. until the following year — and was a bid to introduce the band’s catalog to a cohort of kids who not only weren’t old enough to remember the Eurovision song contest of 1974, when ABBA took home the crown, but also probably didn’t even think they should care.
While The ABBA Generation only managed to hit No. 71 on the Billboard 200, the album eventually sold over half a million copies in the United States, according to the RIAA. But if you haven’t dusted off your old CDs in, say, nearly two decades, here are the highs and lows of the record:
It turned ABBA songs into the club-bangers they deserved to be
The A*Teens’ main approach to ABBA’s discography was upping the tempo high. Regardless of whether the original song was a ballad or a bop, almost all of these versions are set to hyperspeed. Listening to A*Teens’s space-age take on “Take A Chance On Me” evokes a child-like sugar high, with the energy coursing through the track barely contained within the song's pounding beat and manic chanting. It’s a strategy that Cher seems to have also occasionally adopted for Dancing Queen, which is no bad thing: Her version of “The Winner Takes It All” is evidence that the song should always have been a synth-pop stomper.
But it still revered the source material
There aren’t too many similarities between A*Teens’s The ABBA Generation and Cher’s Dancing Queen, but they both at times acknowledge that ABBA’s original material doesn’t always need updating — specifically, in their renditions of “The Name Of The Game.” Cher’s version is pure ‘70s throwback and could easily slot into her own discography from that period. A*Teens’s version, on the other hand, has the obligatory trappings of turn-of-the-millennium pop but retains the purity at the heart of ABBA’s 1977 original. Instead of slapping a club-ready beat on it, the song is more akin to a Britney Spears ballad -- think “Born To Make You Happy,” not “Work Bitch” -- and is all the better for it.
It could make fans out of Clean Bandit
While fellow Swedes Ace of Base loved a reggae-tinged syncopated beat, nowadays it’s electro-classical disruptors Clean Bandit who are some of the most reliable suppliers of dancehall rhythms on pop radio. Listen to A*Teens’ cover of “One Of Us,” and you might be surprised at how uncannily similar it is to Clean Bandit’s own “Rockabye,” which, thanks to the help of Anne-Marie and Sean Paul, graced the top 10 on the Hot 100. The cover is one reminder that, while the bulk of the record feels like an unsung relic of TRL-era pop, some elements of The ABBA Generation hinted at the future.
Still, it mostly didn’t age well
For every ahead-of-its-time moment like “One of Us,” there are several more moments that sound so dreadfully dated it’s a wonder if it was palatable back then — even ABBA’s original version of “Our Last Summer” from 1980 sounds fresher than the one A*Teens put out. But not everything is built to last, and just because The ABBA Generation isn’t for consumption in 2018 doesn’t mean it’s without value or importance in the history of pop music.
It’s a reminder of a time of pop innocence
Before Christina rocked her “Dirrty” chaps and Britney not-so-subtly wielded a snake 4 u, the pop of the late ‘90s and early ‘00s was fairly innocuous. While that squeaky-clean brand of music was sneered upon at the time, dismissed as vapid and manufactured, revisiting The ABBA Generation now offers a reminder of just how much fun that sanitized, edgeless and unapologetically uncool spectacle in pop music could be. Does it matter that the dance routines were a bit off and nearly every performance was lip-synced? Nope, because that wasn’t the point; this was carefree, generation-spanning family entertainment at its most colorful. Whether that was due to the quality of ABBA’s songs or the charisma of the A*Teens themselves, though is still debatable.
It could well have been the precursor to Kidz Bop
Even now in the era of streaming, as record sales both physical and digital have declined, Kidz Bop albums still sell by the bucket load. It’s probably not unfair to attribute the rise of neutered covers of pop hits to a group like A*Teens, whose idea of mature content back in 1999 was a cover of ABBA’s divorce anthem “Knowing Me, Knowing You,” relegated to the bonus track section of the album’s Japanese edition. The case for if that’s a good thing or not, however, depends entirely on whether you’re busy doing the school run.
It embodied other ‘90s pop trends
Can you imagine if, instead of beavering away on Ray of Light with Madonna, William Orbit had gone and produced an ABBA covers album? You don’t really have to: The team behind The ABBA Generation channel Orbit’s watery production and psychedelic guitar wah-wahs for A*Teens’s version of “Dancing Queen” and it is, putting it bluntly, absolutely wild. This strange sonic excursion is Frankensteined together with Max Martin-esque drum beats and Auto-Tuned vocals, resulting in what is perhaps the most bonkers pop music artifact from the early millennium. Go ahead and put in a time capsule or send into space so we can remind ourselves what the period in history sounded like when the world finally comes to an end.