Sunday 4 May 2014

Mikro Gids, May 2014: Golden girl Agnetha Fältskog: "With ABBA, we were working amateurish"

In 1974 - the year of birth of Mikro Gids - ABBA won the Eurovision Song Contest with 'Waterloo'. The enormously popular band split up eight years later. This was a big relief for the blonde singer Agnetha, she says. "In the end, I couldn't get up on stage without having had a whisky." A portrait of a blonde angel with broken wings.

It probably didn't go unnoticed to anyone that Agnetha Fältskog (64) and her three bandmates won the Eurovision Song Contest forty years ago and went on to become one of the most popular pop acts ever as ABBA. But the fact that the pressure of international fame, having to do constant promotion and endless touring affected her well-being tremendously is less known. "It's strange to sing 'I've been so lucky, I am the girl with golden hair' all the time when you don't feel that way," she admits. "I was less confident than the others, my English was not that good and I had less fun with it all." Where Anni-Frid, Björn and Benny enjoyed all the applause, the fans and the jetsetting, Agnetha only wanted one thing: to be back home. "I am a simple country girl, not a showgirl. The others liked to party, I enjoyed being alone. But I loved them too: Frida and I were companions. We had our differences now and then, but when one of us wasn't in great voice, the other stepped in. In all those years, we've only had to cancel two shows. But when I compare it with Beyoncé's approach to her performances, we were working rather amateurish. And Frida was even considerably more gracious than I was."

As a child Agnetha was already a musical talent who could play the piano very well and performed locally with her friends. "I was young, so nothing is scary at that time," she says. "A wonderful overconfidence. And in the sixties I had great role models: Connie Francis, Dusty Springfield, Sandy Shaw and the French girls like France Gall and Francoise Hardy. When I was seventeen I went to Stockholm, I could get a recording contract."
She became a national star primarily with songs that she had composed herself. That's how she met her future colleagues, with whom she worked together on a regular basis from 1970 onwards. "We noticed how our voices blended so beautifully," she says. "And we were all perfectionists and could have a laugh together - there was a connection." From 1972 onwards, ABBA started to take shape and in the following ten years Agnetha achieved superstar status. She didn't compose anymore: "Benny and Björn did ask me, but they were so good that it made me feel insecure. And I also didn't have the time for it, with my two children."

Performing live was becoming increasingly hard on her. "In the end I couldn't get on stage without having had a whisky. No one who has ever been in front of a screaming, boiling, hysterical crowd can avoid feeling shivers down their spine. There's really not that much difference between adulation and rage. It's terribly frightening when fans are pounding on your car. We were always afraid that somebody might get hurt in the commotion."
It didn't help matters that her fear of flying became worse: in 1979 the group's private jet got caught in a thunderstorm. After that she only boarded a plane when there was no other way to travel. On top of that she had to deal with a relationship crisis: that same year both she and Björn saw a psychiatrist. Agnetha: "I knew that the end of ABBA was drawing near, that's what made me hang on. When it was really over, I felt relieved. Ten years of working non-stop, getting married, having two children and a divorce. I haven't been able to listen to our music for a long time." In 1982, Anni-Frid, Björn, Benny and Agnetha went their separate ways.

Agnetha tried her luck with a solo career, but after an accident in 1983 when her tour bus crashed and she was catapulted out of the window, she preferred to withdraw on her private island in Ekerö. But she didn't find peace and quiet there either. Sometimes without her being to blame - many times fans were standing at her gate - but sometimes due to her as well. Agnetha namely had a colourful love life. First she fell for a Swedish ice hockey player, after that a fashion designer, a detective and subsequently her therapist. "Sometimes you are looking for happiness with others, when you actually have to find it in yourself." A marriage with a surgeon broke down within two years. And then there was the bizarre relationship with the Dutch truck driver Gert, who stalked her for years after she broke up with him. In her inner circle, there was also bad fortune. Her mother committed suicide in 1994 by jumping out of the window of her apartment. "It was awful," says Agnetha. "You wonder if there wasn't anything you could have done. Within a year my father passed away as well. So painful."

What followed was a depression. "Those were awful years, between forty and fifty. During that time I seriously started to do yoga because so many emotions were coming out. I stayed at home, I meditated, listened to music, lit candles. It helped me to heal, to distance myself a little from the sadness, but it never goes away completely." Her two dogs, who had to be walked, eventually brought her back among the people. She made an album in 2004, but it flopped. A reason for that was that her stalker turned up again so that she was too scared to do any promotion. In the following years, the peace and the inspiration returned. "I started having fun in making music again and I took singing lessons to find my voice again," she says about the album 'A' that was released last year. "The fact that I am having fun again, is enough for me. I have had a period where the music fell silent. Both within me and around me. Now I am able to enjoy it again, but on my conditions: no performances or tours anymore, that ship has sailed. I want to wake up in my own bed."

The other three
After the ABBA era, Björn and Benny kept composing songs together and they were intensively involved in the production of both the musical and the movie 'Mamma Mia!' Since 1981, Björn is married to journalist Lena Källersjö, he lives in London and still composes. Benny performs with his own orchestra and has been together with Mona Nörklit since 1981. Anni-Frid Lyngstad lives in Zermatt Switzerland with her current partner Henry Smith, viscount of Hambleden. She is a fanatic home pigeon racer and close friends with Queen Silvia from Sweden.

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