Voulez-vous ABBA?

Voulez-vous ABBA ?

Interdisciplinary Popular Music Studies

Hidden Histories in Popular Music

There are a couple of things you’ll always hear as a Swede. They tend to revolve around hair colour (blonde, to be specific), Ikea, and ABBA.

ABBA have made a clear impact on popular music, and popular music history. For a long time I’ve been interested in hidden histories in popular music, and conversely given their general popularity, ABBA have been a hidden history within the academic discipline of popular music studies for a long time.

ABBA - Voulez-Vous (1979) vinyl

As a discipline, popular music studies is very new. It is interdisciplinary at its core, meaning it draws from other academic disciplines such as sociology, history, and philosophy, to name a few. The 20th century saw many changes in our understanding of culture, youth culture in particular, but towards the end of the century some felt that popular music was still written about in the same way, and not necessarily the right way. I would rarely admit to there being a right or a wrong way, but I might be swayed on this occasion.

Popular music fans, and keep in mind that popular music is far more than just top 40/commercial pop, decided to explore different routes drawing on their experiences as sociologists, journalists, industry professionals. These routes lead to this wonderful new discipline. The Institute of Popular Music, at which I am a proud alumni, was formed in 1988, and this is a good point of reference for the emergence of this field of study; though I suppose I am biased.

'70s Punk: An Underground Aesthetic ?

In these early years, much of the focus was on the popular music the early instigators enjoyed. Nothing out of the ordinary there, there is a reason why LP are the main focus in my research… but! – and this is where we finally get back to ABBA – this led to a slight misunderstanding about the popular music of the late 1970s. There is a myth, and I’m sure I’ll post about myths in popular music in the future so I’ll leave it for now.

The myth might lead you to believe that punk was the dominant, or main, form of popular music in the late 1970s, but punk was rather marginal and part of an underground aesthetic. Disco and ABBA were all the rage, but the way history was written about for a relatively brief period of time has altered our perception of it and made it more hidden.

At this point I suspect there might be some empty coffee cups clincking around your screens, so I’ll leave you with this reassuring thought; I rarely get through a teaching year without playing ABBA (but never ‘Dancing Queen’).