Less known outside Sweden

Did you know that one of the members of ABBA is a pillar of the secularist-humanist community in Sweden? I did. Sven Grundberg tells about it for a Wall Street Journal blog.

STOCKHOLM – Björn Ulvaeus, one of the two Bs in ABBA, sat down with Speakeasy on a sunny summer day in central Stockholm at a hipster coffee shop. The joint is located just around the corner from the capital’s buzzing club scene that has hatched several global music wonders in recent years, including Swedish House Mafia and Avicii.

Sweden has long played an outsized role in the global music industry, providing a host of songwriters, producers, technological innovations and successful performers.

A solid musical education system, general prosperity and a deftness at imitation have all been mentioned as drivers. But one of the patriarchs of Swedish pop has a different explanation: godlessness.

Ulvaeus, now 68 years old and far removed from his ABBA days, talked in a wide ranging interview about his view that the absence of religious culture here is a bedrock of Swedish creativity.

Hmm. I don’t know…I think about the influence of gospel music on Motown, and I wonder. I like the idea, I’m just not sure it’s true.

“Sweden is an open, liberal, secular and democratic country,” he says. “We strive towards achieving equality, we are forward-looking and refuse to be pulled back by social constructs, such as religion.”

While ABBA never made any serious political statements with its music, Ulvaeus himself has emerged as a controversial social commentator in recent years. Less known outside Sweden are his secularist views, and his avid criticism of religion.

An active member of Humanisterna, the Swedish member organization of the International Humanist and Ethical Union, he says religion constraints creativity.

“Religion is the root of so much misery in the world and I’ve always thought there is lack of criticism against it.”

See that’s why I knew he’s a pillar. Humanisterna is related to Fri Tanke, the publisher of the Swedish translation of Does God Hate Women? Björn Ulvaeus’s daughter picked me up at the airport when I went to Stockholm for the launch.



  1. Crip Dyke, Right Reverend Feminist FuckToy of Death & Her Handmaiden says

    Queen Christina AND Bjorn Ulvaeus? No wonder I like sweden.

  2. says

    Bjorn Ulvaeus was co-composer of the musicals Chess, Kristina från Duvemåla, and Mamma Mia!. He also co-produced the film Mamma Mia! with fellow ex-ABBA member and close friend Benny Andersson. I have a CD of the Mama Mia musical and repeatedly watch it. It is so uplifting. I also saw it in the cinema, and was so taken aback with the sun-drenched Greek Island scenery. It was to die for indeed. I’ve always been a big fan of Meryl Streep. She definitely can sing. However, the same can’t be said for Pierce Brosnan. His singing was off-putting. He is otherwise a good actor.

    Yes, OB, that’s something to be proud of indeed. Meeting one of the members of a legendary worldwide band. That’s interesting to know about him being a secularist-humanist. I was only ever once in Sweden.

  3. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    I will never get over my awe and jealousy that spawn of ABBA–FUCKING ABBA!–picked you up at the airport.

  4. Josh, Official SpokesGay says

    MT: Little-known fact about Streep–she’s a trained vocalist. She studied opera in her youth/college days. It’s not a secret, but people often forget that about her.

  5. says

    Hey I didn’t know that about Streep! I was amazed by her singing in Postcards from the Edge. Now I understand why.

    M-T I didn’t meet a member of the band, I met the spawn (as Josh put it) of one.

  6. otrame says

    I’ve never seen Chess, but one of the best written love songs ever came from that play, I Know Him So Well. It was originally intended as a duet with two women, but my favorite version is John Barrowman and Daniel Keys.

  7. says

    Around these parts (the US), religions are pretty darn creative. But I know the European state religious institutions tend to not be very innovative.

  8. says

    I’m Greek but I couldn’t bear to watch the Mammia Mia movie. They even had a blue-carpet premiere (like the Greek flag!). In fact, I wrote about how much I planned to not watch the movie on my blog in Greek. So I have evidence of this. My Big Fat Greek Wedding was full of Tyler Perry type stereotypes about Greeks. Mamma Mia probably didn’t do that, but I wasn’t a fan of watching a movie just because of the scenery and the possible tourist uptick.

    Thankfully, George Lanthimos came along and directed the marvelous Greek movie Dogtooth a few years ago and there’s been a bit of quality revival in local cinema.

    What’s this all got to do with the OP? Er, not much I guess.

  9. says

    @JOS 5: Yes, I did know from Meryl’s mini online bio that her early performing ambitions leaned towards opera. I simply adored her singing in Mama Mia.

    @OB 6 Agreed. “You Don’t Know Me” by Cindy Walker and Eddy Arnold was sung by MS in that film.

    I met the spawn (as Josh put it) of one.

    Blimey, that was wishful thinking on my part, that you rubbed shoulders with Björn Ulvaeus, as opposed to his offspring. Nonetheless – by association it’s the next best thing. Thanks to both of you for pointing it out. I should have read the post more closely.

    Despite, MS’s gift for singing, it didn’t seem to translate to her feet where dancing was concerned. I thought she was rather awkward in that sphere. She did disguise it though, with such amazing enthusiasm and energy for someone who was touching the 60 mark. She dispelled the ageism thing from my standpoint. So kudos to MS!

    Julie Walters was utterly hilarious in Mama Mia. A born comedian. I laughed so much.

    One of Streep’s maternal great-grandmothers was from Creeslough, County Donegal, Ireland. Perhaps that could have played a part in her acting in little known outside Ireland ‘Dancing at Lugnasa’ by Brian Friel. Meryl is apparently known for being a perfectionist when preparing for roles. She certainly was able to carry the accent off to top standard in the film, that was adapted from a play.

  10. says

    @otrame 7: I just listened to John Barrowman’s and Daniel Boys rendition of I know him so well. It’s a very soothing rendition. The recording by Elaine Paige and Barbara Dickson remains in the Guinness Book of Records as the biggest selling UK Chart single ever by a female duo. Am sure ABBA’s Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson and Tim Rice must be very proud of their achievement.

  11. H. says

    Simon: Mamma Mia is a fun film, because the fun the actors had while doing comes across. It’s a real “play” and good fun to watch. And it’s just the scenery that’s Greek.

  12. Martha says

    That is serious street cred, Ophelia, knowing an ABBA daughter! I would say maybe only for those of us of a certain age, but Mamma Mia changed all that.

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