Sunday, June 12, 2005

Why all the attitude?

The other day I was scanning the cable channels for something good to watch in high definition, and stumbled across an HDTV broadcast of ABBA - The Movie. Now, I have to admit, I'm a fan of ABBA; it's kind of a guilty pleasure, but I fess up to it. Really first-class tunesmithing, IMHO, coupled with stellar production values, cheesy lyrics, and irresistible Swedish accents (which redeem the cheesy lyrics), sung by two fetching young Swedish girls. What's not to like?

Anyway, I'm watching the ABBA movie, which has too much subsidiary storyline and not enough concert scenes, and I'm watching one of the too-few concert scenes, and I notice how similar the crowd for the ABBA concert is to that of a Britney Spears or Jessica Simpson concert today. Lots of families, lots of young girls, very well-rounded, age-wise. And it strikes me that ABBA was the teen and pre-teen pop sensation of the late 1970s, just as the Britneys and Jessicas are today. I guess this is no surprise, but I hadn't noticed it before.

But there's one big difference between then and now: ABBA smiled. Yep, all four of the ABBA-ites looked like they were having fun onstage; they smiled and laughed and genuinely enjoyed themselves, while today's pop sensations pose and pout and put forth with quite a bit of attitude. They're just not as much fun as ABBA, sorry to say. I'd rather watch Frida and Agnetha smiling and having fun than suffer through Britney and Jessica acting like they're really pissed off or something. Fun is more fun.

And what's with the attitude? I mean, music is supposed to be fun and entertaining; when did everyone get so damned serious? I blame it all on Madonna, who's probably the biggest pop culture influence of the 20th century -- bigger than Elvis, even. Before Madonna there was ABBA and things were fun; after Madonna everybody had to strike a pose and act like their underwear was bunching up on them. It's all her damned fault. Madonna was a bad influence on all the questionably talented performers that came after her.

(Yeah, I know Madonna wasn't the first performer to base a career on posing; Mick Jagger was posing while Madonna was still in leather diapers, and the punks picked it up from Mick and took it a step further. But Madonna had the savvy to take one step beyond, and look where it got us.)

You see, ABBA simply didn't take themselves too seriously -- which Madonna and her progeny definitely do. The Swedes weren't afraid to act a little goofy at times (Frida, especially; Agnetha was a bit more reserved), and this translated into projecting an image of wholesome fun. You don't catch today's popsters breaking their poses onstage; ABBA wasn't near as programmed, and ended up being much more of a good time.

And here's something else about ABBA, compared to today's pop posers. They were sexy without being sexual, which made them safe for all the young girls in the audience. Yeah, they strutted about in ridiculous 70s-era outfits, but it was all in fun. (In the film, much is made of Agnetha having the "best bottom" in Europe, but it's treated lightly; for what it's worth, I wouldn't argue.) In comparison, today's pop starlets are total sluts; the tease is gone. I'm not a prude, but give me Agnetha and Frida playing at being sexy to the raw, unadulterated, nothing-left-to-your-imagination near-pornography of Britney and Christina any day. The kids today have a lot to learn. Raw sex isn't sexy; teasing is better than showing it all.

So sue me, I prefer ABBA to just about any practiced artificial pop star from the past twenty years or so -- especially the slut starlets of today. ABBA sang better, had better tunes, projected a more wholesome image, and had more fun doing it. (They also didn't let their private lives become too public, and they knew when to walk away -- and stay away.) No surprise, ABBA's music is still important today; I can't imagine anyone remembering Britney or Jessica in 2030.

But that's just my opinion; reasonable minds may disagree.


Joe said...

OK Mike, you're starting to sound like an old fogie. I don't know which I'm more bothered by: that you like ABBA or that you know their individual names! Actually, I still like some of the ABBA songs, but I'm not sure I could watch a movie about them...

How do you suppose our parents, who probably listened to singers like Frank Sinatra, felt about ABBA in the 70's? My guess is the attitude was fine, but there was "no there there". IOW, they were singing about a bunch of nothing. Speaking of which, don't you think Mr. Sinatra could tap into a bit of the attitude whenever he needed it on-stage? I do.

That said, I'd still rather listen to ABBA than anything in the past 10-20 years. However, I'd take Sinatra over any of them...

The Curmudgeon said...

Hey Joe, check my current listening list -- there's a Sinatra album there. And guess what, Frank had fun on stage. Just watch any of the old Rat Pack clips. Heck, you can even hear it in his studio albums (which he typically recorded live to tape -- no overdubs); his joviality in the studio (while maintaining his professionalism) is also aptly documented in Charles Granata's Sessions With Sinatra book.

But my point isn't necessarily a generational one, although it is manifested generationally; it's all about talented performers enjoying what they're doing (and letting it show), as opposed to subpar performers having to put on an act to be entertaining. I will always prefer real artists having fun over fake artists pretending to be serious ones.