Promising the next step in virtual reality, the members of the Swedish quartet ABBA have teamed up with entertainment entrepreneur Simon Fuller and the Universal Music Group to launch a digital experience that will allow a new generation of fans to see, hear and feel ABBA in a way described by Fuller as “previously unimagined.”
Fuller, the creator of American Idol and manager to acts like the Spice Girls and Annie Lennox, has been quietly investing in virtual reality technologies, developing hyper-realistic digital humans in the field of entertainment. “I was imagining who would be my very first choice to work with on an extraordinary new virtual reality experience to capture the world’s imagination,” the XIX Entertainment founder and CEO tells Billboard. “In a second, I thought it simply has to be ABBA. I approached them directly and thankfully they all fell in love with the idea and now that idea is fast becoming a reality.”
The Swedish group is personally involved in the creative process. “The creativity and ideas flowing from the members of ABBA over the past few months have filled me with great excitement,” Fuller said. “We are exploring a new technological world, with virtual reality and artificial intelligence at the forefront, that will allow us to create new forms of entertainment and content we couldn’t have previously imagined.”
Speaking for the group, Benny Andersson added, “We’re inspired by the limitless possibilities of what the future holds and are loving being a part of creating something new and dramatic here — a time machine that captures the essence of who we were. And are.”
ABBA parlayed their win at the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974 with “Waterloo” into international success, breaking out beyond the borders of Sweden. A long string of pop hits, including “Dancing Queen,” “Knowing Me, Knowing You” and “The Winner Takes It All” continued until 1982. Then Andersson and ABBA co-founder Björn Ulvaeus turned their attention to a stage musical, Chess, written with Tim Rice. ABBA never recorded or toured together again.
A revival began in 1992, with the U.K. duo Erasure recording a four-song EP of ABBA songs, Abba-esque, and the release of ABBA Gold, a greatest hits compilation that has sold over 30 million copies worldwide. U.S. sales have reached 5.7 million, according to Nielsen Music, and in the U.K. the album is 17-times platinum, making it the second-best selling album in British history, runner-up only to Queen’s Greatest Hits.
It is now almost 35 years since ABBA performed live together, and interest in the group has never waned, helped along by stage productions of the musical Mamma Mia!, which opened in London’s West End on April 6, 1999 and is still playing. The New York run lasted from 2001 to 2015 and is the eighth longest-running show in Broadway history. The movie adaptation of Mamma Mia!, starring Meryl Streep, opened in 2008 and was an international box office success. It is the highest-grossing movie musical in U.K. history.
As a group, ABBA has resisted calls to reunite. They have famously turned down a billion-dollar offer to perform live. An appearance of all four members in June at a party celebrating the 50th anniversary of Andersson and Ulvaeus’ first meeting generated headlines everywhere. “Our fans around the world are always asking us to reform and so I hope this new ABBA creation will excite them as much as it excites me,” said Frida Lyngstad.
The ABBA catalog has turned into crown jewels for the Universal Music Group. “Having the privilege of working closely with the band for over two decades, I can comfortably say there are few recording artists who like ABBA bring together their mastery of craft, a high level of professionalism and enormous commercial success,” said Lucian Grainge, chairman and CEO of UMG. “I’m thrilled to be involved in this innovative new project that will introduce the band who are responsible for some of the greatest songs and melodies in pop music to a new generation of fans.”