In VeckoRevyn issue 39 from September 1981 Agnetha has a lot to say:
»It's hard to live alone«
Agnetha Fältskog: Sometimes I don't know what to do once the children are in bed.
Agnetha Åse Fältskog was born on April 5, 1950 in Jönköping. She is the most famous woman in the group of women we have chosen for this series of articles. There has been miles and miles of reports printed by Agnetha Fältskog both here in Sweden and all around the world. And still it's hard to get really close to Agnetha, to find out what kind of a person she really is. Only the "cold facts" gets printed over and over and over again: Agnetha was the young switchboard operator from Jönköping who gets discovered over night. She is a success on Svensktoppen. Gets married to Björn Ulvaeus from Hootenanny Singers. ABBA is formed, they win the Eurovision Song Contest in Brighton in 1974 with »Waterloo« and that leads to a unique international career. Agnetha and Björn are a beautiful couple. They have two children, one boy, one girl. Unexpectedly they divorce in 1979, but remain friends and neighbours, both get to have custody of the children. In everything written about Agnetha she is described as cool and beautiful. Sometimes we are reminded that she is the owner of Sweden's most beautiful bottom. She takes it as a compliment and is happy about it.
But who is Agnetha Fältskog – the young girl who grew into a woman, a businesswoman, a millionnaire and a mother – behind the glitter of her success? We arrive at the Polar Music office in Stockholm. We arrive with mixed emotions. Curiosity, sceptisism and a little bit of nervousness. Who is she? How is she? Can you talk to her?
She arrives a couple of minutes late. A young, blond woman in a full length fur coat makes an entrance, she doesn't just walk through the door. She looks at us, we look at each other, and she looks just like an American dream, an ice princess in her fabulous fur coat. We say hello. Agnetha has a cold, her head is throbbing and her body aches. She wears very little make up. The fur coat comes off, she is tall and thin. She is a little tense, but at the same time as naked and open as it's possible to be in front of two strangers who have come to scrutinize her life and personality.
I ask Agnetha to tell me about her childhood and she keeps strictly to the things relevant to her development as a singer. It is a short story with very precise facts. What happend around it we get to see a glimpse of by asking direct questions.
– I was five years old when I sang on stage for the first time. It was a Christmas party at the fishing club back home in Jönköping. The only thing I remember is that I sang »Billy Boy«, but my mother has told me that I dropped my pants at the end of the song. I was all dressed up and had these white lace panties. The rubberband broke so the panties started falling down my legs. It must have been very embarrassing, but I was so busy singing and being on stage that I don't remember it.
– Then I started to take piano lessons when I was six or seven years old...
Tell us something about your parents. What were their names and how did you live?
– Well, my father's name is Ingvar and he was a local showman in Småland. He worked for the electricity company and was an active member of the fishing club and he produced local shows. My mother's name is Birgit and she was a stay at home mother when I and my sister were young. My sister's name is Mona and she is five years younger than I am. It was very secure and safe. We were a real family. Daddy came home at the same time every day and we had dinner together.
Later during our conservation the pieces of the puzzle start to fall into place, and it becomes obvious that the family is very important. Mother, father and children together. That children don't have to be »left to someone else«, it's OK to let the children be at home with their mother in a safe surrounding.
– We had a neighbour, Agnetha continues, who had a piano and I used to go upstairs to him and play and write my own little songs. The first one I ever wrote was called »Two little trolls«. I think I had just turned six by then.
– Then I started school and the first years I found it to be a lot of fun, but during my teenage years I became less and less interested. I graduated in the middle of the 60s with fair grades. My idol at the time was Connie Francis. I had this little mirror in my room and I used to sit in front of it lipsynching to her songs. Over and over again – I'm sure it was a perfect lipsynching performance.
Connie Francis? She was the one who sang »Stupid Cupid«, right?
– Yes, and »Carolina Moon«, Agnetha says and her face lights up. I also liked Sylvie Vartan, the French who is or was married to Johnnie Halliday, and Neil Sedaka of course.
– After I left school I started working as a switchboard operator at a car dealer in Jönköping. Around the same time I started singing in a dance band that was popular locally. It was Bernt Enghardts Orchestra from Huskvarna. They were looking for a new lead singer and her name should preferably be Agnetha because their last singer's name and it was already printed on the posters. I got the job – perhaps it was because of my name!
– In the end I was singing Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday night. We travelled around alot and we came home late so it became hard to have a fulltime job as well. When I passed out at work my mother had had enough. She said that I had to decide what I wanted. Against my parents will I chose the music. We continued touring. I wrote some songs like »Utan Dej« and »Jag Var Så Kär«. Our audiences especially liked »Jag Var Så Kär«. One of the guys in the band knew Little Gerhard (former rock king) who worked for the recording company Cupol. We made a demo tape and sent it to him. After a while a guy called me at home and said that his name was Little Gerhard and that he wanted to make a record with me and my song »Jag Var Så Kär«. It all became too much. I didn't dare to think that it really was Little Gerhard who called me. I thought it was someone playing a joke on me. But he assured me that it was true and sent back the tape with a letter as proof.
Agnetha was 17 years old when she took her father's hand and went to Stockholm and Cupol.
– I was so nervous. I was so glad that my father could come with me. I had butterflies in my stomach the whole time and we stayed at an aunt's house in Stockholm. It was my first time in the big city.
– I had a green dress with polka dots and boots when we went to Cupol. Sven-Olof Walldoff was the arranger and we cut two singles that same day. They took pictures for the covers the same day too. I was posing. It felt really strange. But it was great to be in a studio with the headphones and hear your own voice and the big orchestra with strings and everything.
– »Jag Var Så Kär« went straight to Svensktoppen. The whole family were together one Sunday morning when the show came on the radio. It was the first time I heard myself on the radio, I was almost in shock. We all were. Ulf Elfving was the host of the show at that time. The song was on third place and it was unusual for a song by a new artists to get that high the first week so Ulf Elfving called me up during the show. I remember it so well because I still had my broad accent and I spoke to him on »småländska«. He asked me who my favourites were and I replied: »Do you mean someone I like alot?«
– Six months later I moved to Stockholm for good. I was sure that I would never come back, because now I was going to be a success.
– I was never scared to fail, funnily enough. My goal was to be on TV and write my own songs and become a star. I wanted glamour and lots and lots of money. I thought that was happiness, that you never had any problems if you had money. I didn't know then...
– Now I know that money doesn't solve your problems. Sometimes it's even the other way around. Now I have so much money, but it's never anything I see, it's tied up in houses and investments. That's good, but there's a lot of boring meeting we have to attend to manage the money. But I'm not complaining, not at all. I just mean that people don't understand that money brings problems too. But of course it's mostly fun. I never have to consider if I can afford this or that. If I see some cool clothes in a window I just walk in and buy them. I've become very spoiled that way. I became spoiled very early. I had a very good contract with Cupol which gave me SEK 75.000 per year. I was only 18 and that was a lot of money in 1968. Daddy helped me with my taxes and keeping track of receipts etc.
As Agnetha is talking about this a voice is heard over the intercom, it's a secretary warning us about a meter maid approaching. My colleague Ulla rushes out to save her car from fines. Agnetha starts to get out of her chair, but then sits back down.
– I can't be bothered. I don't care about it. (Agnetha makes SEK 600.000 per year and has a fortune worth SEK 3.5 million.)
How do you feel about the image that surrounds you. How is the image that makes you an role model and idol for young girls?
– I don't know what my image is. I know who I am, and the tabloids write an awful lot about me. They write so much that I feel like they are stalking me. It seems that they only thrive on one's missfortune and sadness. I'm referring, of course, to everything written about the divorce. They don't take into consideration that I'm a human being. I'm down to earth. I know my job, I'm married and divorced. Of course it changes you, but it feels so unfair when I see one story after the other about me. Stories written without them even talking to me. They give the readers a false image of who I am. And it's not easy for the readers to see when I have said something or not. People probably think that I have participated in every story they read.
But still, you and ABBA are role models to many, mostly to children and teens. How do you influence them?
– Role models is a positive thing. I get letters from lots of children who tell me that they play ABBA. I think that's positive and fun. They learn English through our lyrics and they learn to appreciate music.
There are different types of rolemodels and the female role models that are most dominant in our culture are the following: The mother, the wife, the mistress, the harlot – so they are role models created by men for men. Your image as young, beautiful and sexy is probably closest to the mistress/the harlot. The message your image is sending is that beauty, sexyness and glamour is what counts.
– Yes, but it was such a long time ago when those role models were created and it sounds strange when you say that I'm beautiful. I'm not. That I really want to emphasize. I think it's important to be fresh, I wash my hair every day, but sometimes it looks like crap. I have a friend with whom I have sleep overs. We often laugh at ourselves when we are going to bed. Look at us! No make up, the hair pulled back with scrungies and I sleep in a huge cotton shirt. I look mad! God, if people could see me then... And sexy?! I have so much complex for my body. I have long legs. That's a good thing, because clothes falls better on you, but otherwise – and here I have nothing... (Agnetha puts her hand over her chest and sighs). She looks genuinely surprised, insulted, appalled over the statement about her beauty and sexyness. Far from her own vision. I think of all the pictures on record covers, on stage and not least of the pleasantly beautiful young woman who is sitting in front of me (even though she has a cold) and I wonder if it's all an act and if it is why?. But Agnetha's words convince me that she is sincere. Later I find a part of the explanation to her view of herself. I see a picture of her from her early teens where Agnetha is a plain girl, neither ugly nor beautiful. Maybe it's that image she has grown up with and grown used to.
About a year ago you gave an interview to Expressen's Woman supplement on March 8. It was only a couple of months after your divorce from Björn and it seemed like you, by going through this divorce, had made realizations that made you get closer to the Women's movement...?
Agnetha ponder it and looks like she has questions. I explain that March 8 is the International Women's Day.
– Yes, I remember that. But it came out in a stupid way, even though I had asked them not to do that. I'm far from a female activist.
– Naturally I agree with things like same sallary for the same job, but there are some things that are taken too far in the fight for equality. Paternal leave is a good thing. If the man voluntarily decides that he wants to stay home with his kids, it's a good thing. It shows that he is committed and I think that means alot for the family, for the marriage.
– It's not a feminist book you are writing is it? Why do you only interview women?
We are hoping that it shall be a book for both women and men. The reason for only interviewing women is that the role models of today are often men. It's men who stand for the expert knowledge and the authorities in almost every area. To create thoughtfullness and a balance we decided to find women.
– Maybe you should interview one man to avoid being branded.
– Yes, I did marry young. I was only 19 when I met Björn and 21 when we got married. If it was too early or not is difficult to say. When you are that young you don't even think about wether it will last or not. I didn't, I was just in love. It's different now when I meet someone. Now I immediately get suspicious. I guess I have learned from my mistakes. When you are young you don't have any of those experiences and you think that love and marriage are the way it is presented in magazines etc.
It must be harder for you than for other women in your situation to meet new people, and especially new men. Your whole image gets in the way or is it perhaps and advantage?
– At a party for example, when I get seated next to someone I don't know it's often about me and ABBA we talk for the first hour. But sometimes I'm lucky and the person says: You must be tired of talking about ABBA.... and then we talk about something completely different. That is much more fun.
You have been on your own now for a couple of years and you share the care of the children with Björn. How is that working out for you?
– Linda is eight now and has started school and the little one, Christian, is three. Björn and I live very close to each other and the kids are almost as much over at his house as they are with me. The children are the most important thing in my life. We have a nanny. It's of course a privilege to be able to have that. I think it's good that they get to stay in their own environment even when I am away. I try to be with them as much as I can. Children need to feel that you care about them, that you talk with them, that you are giving of yourself. They are so vulnerable during a divorce. Sometimes I feel guilty that I have broken down the nice, safe family for them – the one I was fortunate enough to be brought up in – but I cannot think like that. What is done is done. We will never be Mummy, Daddy and children again. It's possible that I meet someone I want to share my life with, but that will still not be a proper family for my kids.
– Linda prefers her father right now and wants to be with him and I let her be there as much as she likes. I don't want to stop her and I can understand that it's more fun at Björn's house. There are two adults. (He is married to Lena Källersjö).
– I will never go through a divorce again. Ok, you will manage and it probably strengthens you, but still. It's also very hard to live alone. Sometimes I don't know what to do when the kids are in bed and I'm all alone. I become very restless.
– When I was going out one night, Linda said: Can't you meet your dream prince tonight? She proably worries about me being lonely. And of course, I would like to meet someone. But you get spoiled too by living alone, you only have yourself to please. And then there's the whole circus around me when I do meet someone. Is it me he really likes or is it the money, the celebrity status that is appealing? It can't be helped, but I have to be more suspicious nowadays.
We haven't talked anything about the ABBA-years and your career that has made you into the role model that you are. What has the ABBA-years meant to you?
– The most positive thing with ABBA is that I have a job which is also my hobby. I feel very experienced after all these years. I'm used to working under stress, used to compromising. I have learned that your own ego isn't that important. I think it has made me a stronger person. The travelling has been hard, but it has also given me strength. I know what I can and what I want. We have made three big tours all over the world. It's exhausting. A touring life is not a real life. We don't have to do it anymore now. The hungry years are over. We have paid our dues, enough!
Does that mean that ABBA as a group is over?
– I don't know for how long we will go on. It depends on the boys ability to write more good songs. But now we have decided to work more at home. We can make a musical or perhaps a movie.
What are you going to do the day ABBA is over?
– I want to continue to write my own music and I would prefer to work as a producer. It would be great to handle the whole project. To build up the record from the beginning, watch it grow. I produced my latest album »Elva Kvinnor I Ett Hus« myself. It's quite some years since I did that and now I'm not so sure about some of the lyrics. I would never record those kind of lyrics today. Now I want to be able to feel proud and responsible for the whole project. I have learned how to say No! It's something that I have developed over the last couple of years.
– I would also like to act in a movie. But it has to be in a ledaing role. It has to be demanding from the start. That would be fun.
Who are your role models today?
– Ingrid Bergman has an interesting personality. I'm reading her book right now. Barbra Streisand, Donna Summer and Goldie Hawn are more role models in my area. They work in a tough industry, they are ambitious and they are good at what they do.
When the interview is over Agnetha says that she has a message too:
– We need to care more about each other in the world and show more feelings, be more open and find the warmth between people. The chilling attitude of today scares me. It's like it's forbidden to be happy. We are so afraid of each other. Afraid not to be good enough. We must learn how to dare to give more of ourselves. Because we really don't have anything to lose.