Decoding the Queer Appeal of ABBA
As with most great pop music, gay culture has practically taken ABBA in as its own with the band’s success and popularity at its strongest within the LGBTQ community. No Spotify Pride playlist feels complete without a couple of ABBA Gold gems thrown in for good measure, even if the lyrical content of the foursome’s back catalogue fails to directly addresses queer relationships.
There’s really no denying that Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson, and Anni-Frid Lyngstad are collectively gay icons in their own right.
Though it may seem a fairly stereotypical point to make, the fashion and visuals play a large part in the legacy of the band as LGBTQ icons. Whilst costuming and outlandishness are far from out-the-ordinary in present day pop music, ABBA’s commitment to ‘camp’ showcased a resistance to traditional masculine norms with heart-shaped guitars, references to 60s girl-groups and far-from-intricate choreography all adding to their visual package. We’re all aware that those shimmering jumpsuits and hot pants are a thing of sheer beauty which should be forever recognised as such.
Regardless of said-shiny outfits, people haven’t always been too fond of ABBA. The combination of sequins, platforms and Eurovision beginnings didn’t strike the chord of ‘cool’ that most musicians were after, instead leaving them branded as a somewhat-kitsch reminder of to what extent pop’s cheesiness could be pushed.
Arguably, being out and proud wasn’t exactly ‘cool’ either, though sexual minorities have often been renowned for their interest in and devotion to popular culture given it can be seen as a fantastical escape from daily life. Many minorities will understand and rely on escapism when sufficient support networks aren’t there, making pop culture a necessity in the lives of many LGBTQ people.
All that aesthetic-eccentricity and polyester contributed to the wondrous world of ABBA that we know and love at present, allowing for the listener to totally immerse themselves in the music as we would do with our pop faves today.
ABBA’s early-90s-and-onwards resurgence has also been suggested as entirely down to the gay community, using the band’s upbeat image and appeal as a means of escapism from the reality of the AIDS crisis.
Films like Muriel’s Wedding, and The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert – which integrated the band’s back catalogue into their plots – acquired huge gay fan followings, whilst covers from artists such as Erasure saw the early-90s rebooted interest in ABBA that finally coated their legacy in the sheen of ‘cool’ that they’d so long deserved.
Since then, any artist to emerge from Sweden yielding a great pop song to their name has acquired the “sounds like ABBA” comparison. Artists like Robyn, Tove Lo and The Knife owe as much to ABBA for songwriting inspiration as they do to their gay fan-base for their careers, with Swedish artists earning the reputation as some of the best in the business for emotional, heart-string-tugging pop.
As a community, perhaps the raw relatability of transforming emotion and suffering into a manageable contrivance is why LGBTQ people connect with this so much, as it’s essentially what we have to do in our own lives. Maybe it’s just because we all need to get hammered to Dancing Queen to make wedding reception’s ever-so-slightly bearable, but it’s worth considering none the less.
There’s no denying that our humble community of queers is in-part responsible for why the ABBA admiration is still going strong. The queer allure of Sweden’s super troupers is as strong as it’s ever been and doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere anytime soon.