My, My, How Can I Resist You? 'Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again' Creator Judy Craymer on Rekindling the ABBA Magic

Jonathan Prime/Universal Studios
Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again dances its way into theaters today, the culmination of a ten-year journey since the first film, Mamma Mia, first ignited the box office and music chart in 2008.

The surprise blockbuster grossed $610 million, while the soundtrack reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200 and went on to sell more than two million copies in the U.S., according to Nielsen Music, making it the top-selling soundtrack of '08. It has sold 7.7 million copies worldwide, according to Universal Music Group, and introduced ABBA’s music to a new generation. 

The Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again soundtrack, released on Capitol Records July 13, could bow in the top 40 of the Billboard 200 chart with 15,000 equivalent album units earned in the week ending July 19, according to industry forecasts, and will likely spike after the movie unspools in theaters. 

“I don’t think it’s a stretch that it will be an album that’s consumed in full, as opposed to two or three tracks,” says Mike Knobloch, president of film music and publishing for Universal Pictures. “It’s a true souvenir.”

The decade between films was unintentional, says Judy Craymer, producer and creator of the touring musical Mamma Mia, and producer, with Gary Goetzman, of Mamma Mia and Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. Craymer, along with ABBA’s Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, and director Ol Parker, served as the nucleus of the movie’s creative brain trust. Andersson also produced and arranged the soundtrack.

“It was a process of finding the right songs and story and I think it’s the right time,” she tells Billboard. “Age has been an asset, in that people are looking forward to another one.”

The film -- which looks back at Meryl Streep’s character, Donna, as a young woman (Lily James), and how she met the three possible fathers of her daughter Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) -- also looks ahead as Sophie, now 25, prepares to open an inn on the Greek island where Donna raised her. That meant finding ABBA songs that could fit both narratives. 

“We knew that we were going to go back in time and rediscover what happened in Donna’s diary, so we mined into the past, and we knew we were going to be jumping forward to present day,” Craymer says. “Certain songs, which are never far from my head, I knew we wanted to embrace and use, and that Ol and [co-writer] Richard Curtis were going to be writing something that had more emotional heft to take these characters into what is happening.”

That emotional heft, plus not wanting to duplicate many songs from the first movie, meant reaching deeper into ABBA’s catalog, with the result being the inclusion of lesser known songs like “My Love, My Life,”  “When I Kissed The Teacher,” and “Why Does It Have To Be Me." Those deeper cuts stand alongside towering ABBA classics such as “Waterloo,” and “Dancing Queen” in the sequel, as well as a show-stopping performance of “Fernando” by Cher, who has said she has subsequently recorded a full album of ABBA songs. 

Most of the songs needed no adjustments to drive the story, although Parker asked that two songs, “My Love, My Life,” and “I’ve Been Waiting For You,” undergo some lyrical revisions. “The challenge is to use the songs and not completely rewrite them, but still have them work in whatever way Ol needs,” Craymer says. 

In April, ABBA announced that the Swedish pop quartet had written and recorded their first new tracks in 35 years. At least two new songs, including “I Still Have Faith in You,” will debut in a December NBC/BBC special. Craymer says no serious consideration was given to including new music in the movie. 

“They were never up for grabs,”  Craymer says. “The canon of ABBA songs is rich enough, we didn’t need another one.” However, as Craymer notes, since there were no new songs written for the movie, there will be no material to submit for best original song come Oscar time. 

The news of the reunion -- avatars of the band members will go on tour next year -- sent streams of the group’s music soaring, up 36 percent in the week after the announcement. As the movie opening approaches, the upward trend has continued, according to Nielsen Music: Last week, ABBA’s digital song sales were up 22 percent over the same time frame last year. Year to date, Abba has earned 144.4 million on-demand streams, compared with 83.5 million for the same time period last year. The group's greatest hits set, Gold, jumped from 170 to 141 on the Billboard 200 for the week ending July 12.

So will the world get Mamma Mia 3 in 2028? Craymer says “it’s definitely not on the table to discuss yet,” but adds, “Musically, one can’t go wrong with ABBA.”