the pop phenomenon ages in reverse and builds the metaverse of reality

“I still have faith in you / I realize it now / Despite all these years the faith is still intact”, sings ABBA in the ballad I Still Have Faith In You, on the album that marks the return of the Swedish band after four decades. And the faith is still intact.

After 40 years without performing together, Agnetha Fältskog (71), Anni-Frid Lyngstad (75), Björn Ulvaeus (76) and Benny Andersson (74) are back, but they’re not really there. ABBA has been transformed into an immersive experience that promises a thrilling ride to the height of the iconic europop band’s heyday with 20 career-best songs, a new album and the look of 1979.

In a new show they show themselves as the young artists they were, it seems that time has not passed and at some point it seems like a pagan mass to the god of youth. Philosopher’s Stone devotees found help in the metaverse. Where is old age?

“It is an incredible experience. I wanted to do something emotional, like ABBA’s music, and the audience is phenomenal, I see them cry at concerts. My concern now is whether I will ever have a professional experience as good as this one,” film director Baillie Walsh, who is the one who took on the challenge of creating that place where the real world intermingles with reality, told El País de Madrid. virtuality and the limits seem blurred. That is grace: letting oneself be seduced by illusion.

To achieve this, they approached the visual effects company Industrial Light & Magic, founded by George Lucas –creator of Star Wars and Indiana Jones– and owned by Disney, thus making its first foray into music. The project has been worked on in secret since 2016 and to achieve it the band spent five weeks performing with suits that recorded their movements, 160 cameras and 60 engineers who analyzed both their bodies and their facial expressions to generate reference points that hundreds of animators took as guide to bring to life Abba-tars who now dance on stage singing some of their hits like sos, Voulez-Vous Y Lay All Your Love On Me. And although the clones are generated virtually like a FIFA player, the voices are authentic.

In addition, it involved the construction of a bespoke arena for the band for their comeback in London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park with a capacity of three thousand people: the ABBA Theatre. A modular theater that can be relocated.

“We literally shot Abba, then Wayne McGregor [coreógrafo residente del Royal Ballet] took all of their moves and extended those moves to younger stuntmen, so you have Abba’s soul in these younger bodies, and we blended it all together, but not in 3D. They gave me this building where we would do a live concert that is not holograms, that people will want to come to again and again, with a flat screen. That was my biggest challenge: how can we make this experience an immersive, live experience, essentially with a flat screen?” Walsh told The Guardian. The director explained that if a viewer leaves the show simply thinking that he saw a visual spectacle, they will have failed. What they want is for people to be excited.

“At first, the movements seem too jerky, the lines too obvious. But then, just like when she first saw the dinosaurs, initially somewhat unconvincing, in jurassic-parkyour eyes adjust, the voluntary suspension of disbelief kicks in, and you begin to feel like living, breathing musicians, rather than the product of 160 motion-capture cameras and a billion computing hours of Industrial Light & Magic”, wrote Mark Sutherland in a review in the specialized magazine Variety.

BBC Music correspondent Mark Savage acknowledged that he “was cynical about the technology before the show, but the effect is disconcertingly realistic.”

“You have to see it to believe it,” he wrote.

In travel, the quartet ages in reverse in an eternal and unchanging Benjamin Button effect. Dressed in their characteristic 70’s outfits they look even more attractive than in the past, if that is possible. They also appear in futuristic black-based outfits and neon lights. The past, the present and the future are there an indivisible whole.

“For most people it will certainly be weird, but I have seen myself as a younger person almost every day, all my life since we parted ways,” Bjorn said in the interview with the British media. For him the rejuvenation process was not a surprise. “When I see my avatar on stage, it’s like a mix. It’s like I have a life infused into this guy on the screen,” he said.

The virtual trick achieves a series of experiences in which each night is identical to the previous one that are already sold until the end of the year. Something that gives you perpetuity without fatigue five times a week on screens with 65 million pixels and 100% CGI. Which could give them the ability to do countless shows at the same time anywhere in the world. Andersson calculates that during the decade in which they played together they did about 100 concerts, a figure that they could now exceed in just seven months.

There have been other experiences where reality and virtuality met on stage. In 2012, Tupac appeared on stage at the Coachella Festival alongside Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg 15 years after his death, Michael Jackson was revived at the 2014 Billboard Awards singing Slave To The Rhythm and even Indio Solari appeared through a hologram in 2020 together with the Fundamentalists of Air Conditioning at the Malvinas Argentinas stadium. But in all cases they were holographic projections. Japan even has Hatsune Miku, a music star that doesn’t exist. She was a creation of the company Crypton in 2007 and since then she has maintained her 16 years and the blue hair with which she opened for Lady Gaga and collaborated with Pharrell.

The mixed experience this time is different. ABBA hopes they have made it and judging by the reactions if they didn’t they came very close.

Are we on the threshold of a future of virtual, eternal and identical concerts? What changes can you introduce in the music industry? do we enter a loop endless where reality, fiction, past and present become part of the same existence? Are we going to revive The Beatles or Gilda? How about multiplying, say, Harry Styles to make him play at the same time in London, South Africa, Korea and –why not– Uruguay?

But if we judge ABBA’s comeback solely in those terms, we’d end up with a split story. It is about the bet of four septuagenarian artists who put themselves at the forefront of technology but maintain the rhythm that makes anyone dance in seconds.

Mamma mia, here I go again

Björn and Benny met in 1966 but it was not until March 29, 1972 that the four members of the project met in Stockholm to record their first single: People Need Love.

In 1973 they released their debut album, Ring Ringbut it was not until April 6, 1974 that they became an international success by winning the Eurovision Song Contest with Waterloo, the song that became the band’s first international hit. The first of many, because ABBA became a pop hit machine with songs like Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man after Midnight), mamma mia, SOS., dancing-queen, The Winner Takes it All, and you have to stop counting because you can’t hum everything at the same time. ABBA’s fame skyrocketed to unprecedented heights, even putting Sweden behind the United States and Great Britain, the top chart creators and record sellers.

The band remained full for a decade. But the four were not just colleagues: Agnetha was married to Bjorn and in turn Benny was also married to Frida. When the couples divorced between 1979 and 1981, the separations inevitably led to the division of the band.

ABBA’s last public appearance was in November 1982, at The Late, Late Breakfast Show of BBC in an uncomfortable interview in which they flatly denied the rumors of the separation of the band, although just a few days later everything ended. Until now.

“In the early 1980s, when we stopped recording, it seemed that Abba was completely over and there would be no more talk about it,” says Ulvaeus in the interview with the British media. “He was actually dead. It wasn’t cool that you liked Abba.” In an era marked by bands like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd or the Rolling Stones, ABBA was almost a guilty pleasure.

After two years of pandemic, war, and economic, social, and political instability, the joyous tone of the pop album returned as a recipe to heal the spirit.

Abba went back into the studio and recorded 10 new songs to make room for Voyagethe album with which they get into the DeLorean and take us with them to 1982. Because Voyage sounds like ABBA. It seems like nothing else has happened in 40 years. This was recognized by its composers in an interview with The Guardian. According to Ulvaeus, the album was written “absolutely blind to trends”, purposely ignoring the evolution of pop in four decades. “In contemporary things, there is nothing to feel that I can hold on to, nothing that I can emulate,” Andersson said.

They were always the ones with the lyrics, the composers, the ones who shaped what ABBA wanted to say. They still are, and they are also the ones in charge of talking to the press about the return. They say Fältskog and Lyngstad didn’t need “much coaxing” to return, but they had to tell both that they didn’t need to talk to the press. It would be nice to know what they have to say.

“To write new lyrics after 40 years I wanted to incorporate something that is somehow a reflection of life for 40 years. We gained knowledge and hopefully some wisdom which is what I’m trying to write about,” says Bjorn backstage. of the making of the record. “This is what we really like to do and to be able to do it at 70 is a deep satisfaction as well. We can do it, the spirit is there,” he adds.

But it does not mean that ABBA has spilled its disco melodies on other generations. That is why this is the opportunity for a new generation of fans to live the best moment of the Swedish quartet and it is also a chance to share it with the generations that did. It is the spectacle of nostalgia.

Many young people have fallen in love with ABBA’s songs through their parents and the songs that played in their homes, others discovered them in the film adaptation of Mamma Mia with Meryl Streep and Amanda Seyfried, and a new generation found the band on social media, especially on TikTok where the #DancingQueenChallenge had over 160 million views in early 2021 and song snippets like petite either angeleyes they loop on the instagram feed even though some may not recognize the music they use on the reel.

ABBA is experiencing a revival that, despite the critics who claimed that it would go unnoticed after their separation, goes for everything. Sounding even in Uruguayan bowling alleys with hundreds of young people jumping and singing Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! on any Montevideo night.

Now, more than ever, ABBA seems to have eternal life.

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