ABBA’s secret revealed

The Swedish pop group ABBA that had phenomenal success a few decades ago were noted for two things: (1) trite, formulaic, and often meaningless lyrics set to catchy and bouncy tunes and (2) outlandish costumes that they wore during their performances. Below is a performance that showcases both.

Now one of the group members explains what lay behind the second fact. It turns out that Swedish tax laws allows performers to deduct the cost of the costumes only if the costumes are so ridiculous that no reasonable person would ever dream of wearing them in public as their regular attire.

According to Abba: The Official Photo Book, published to mark 40 years since they won Eurovision with Waterloo, the band’s style was influenced in part by laws that allowed the cost of outfits to be deducted against tax – so long as the costumes were so outrageous they could not possibly be worn on the street.

Reflecting on the group’s sartorial record in a new book, Björn Ulvaeus said: “In my honest opinion we looked like nuts in those years. Nobody can have been as badly dressed on stage as we were.”

But the rock group Kiss, being American, does not have this excuse for assaulting the eyes of the audience.



  1. James Hammond says

    Actually, American tax law has similar rules for deducting the cost of work-related clothing.

    The IRS does like people deducting the cost of clothing and has adopted highly restrictive rules about when it can be deducted. Under these rules, you can deduct the cost of clothing only if:
    -- it is required by your employer or essential for your business if you’re self-employed
    -- it is not suitable for ordinary street wear, and
    -- you don’t wear the clothing outside of work.

  2. Al Dente says

    Note that the bass and rhythm guitar players, who are not members of ABBA, is wearing ordinary slacks and shirts.

  3. wtfwhateverd00d says

    Microeconomics incentives theory. It works, bitches (*)

    (*) Becareful what you incentivize, you just may get it

  4. DsylexicHippo says

    I had no idea about the costume angle -- it was a non-factor for me anyway. It was the vocal harmony that I found unique, voices melding into each other.

    Considering that they were big names back then and quite successful, I was surprised that they their costume choices were based on their tax code.

  5. leni says

    It definitely has some laugh out loud moments 🙂 I must have watched it dozens of times and I still laugh every time I see it. Glad you enjoyed it!

  6. Silentbob says

    ABBA had a strange career trajectory. I’m old enough to recall their heyday, and they were seen much as Justin Bieber is seen today -- pop for kids who didn’t know any better while “serious” music fans despised them. Then decades later they suddenly gained credibility in an ironic, hipster, “so kitsch it’s cool” sort of way.

    I can think of a lot of acts that were considered cool at the time and kitsch decades later, but only ABBA comes to mind as an act that was kitsch and disposable at the time, but cool decades later.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *