ABBA hopes to surpass Elvis and Michael Jackson with immersive performance

Swedish music band ABBA (shown here in wax figure form) has sold over 400 million records worldwide.

Jonathan Naxtland | AFP | Getty Images

Founding member Bjorn Ulvaeus told CNBC that pop legend ABBA is going big on their latest immersive project.

The highly anticipated immersive show called ABBA Voyage is billed as “a 40-year concert” and features the digital avatar of the Swedish superband and a 10-piece live band.

Speaking to CNBC in late April ahead of its long-awaited world premiere in London, England, this week, Ulvaeus told CNBC that it was “in many ways a risky project.”

“The risk, of course, is that people won’t find it to be the kind of experience I thought and wanted. That’s the main thing. If people will come out of the idea of ​​a concert, yeah, well, that’s not ‘nice, but …We want them to feel, you know, emotionally, feel like they’re going through something they’ve never seen before.”

last album

The pop icon also confirmed to CNBC that the beloved band’s 2021 chart-topping “Voyage” album — their first in 40 years — will be their last.

ABBA — Agnetha Faltskog, Bjorn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson and Anni-Frid Lyngstad — hit the world stage after winning the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974 with “Waterloo”.

The band went on to sell more than 400 million records worldwide, and was once reportedly one of Sweden’s biggest exports after Volvo.

It’s been 40 years since the band last played together, and Ulvaeus said he was “nervous and excited.”

He said he expected the opening of the ABBA Voyage digital concert this week to be “very special” and surpass any other moment in his career so far.

In the latest issue of “The CNBC Conversation” Ulvaeus said the idea first came up five years ago — to create a digital “ABBA-tar” replica of the band’s 1979 heyday at a cutting-edge technology concert.

He said Michael Jackson and Elvis had experimented with it before, but the team behind the technology was keen to use it on living figures.

“It’s best done with someone who’s still alive because your skull, even if the rest of your body has fallen apart…the skull is the same size, so it’s easier to rebuild a younger self if you’re alive. Alive, ‘ said Ulvius.

To create the humanoid avatars, the band’s four members, now in their seventies, wore motion-capture suits and performed all the songs on stage in a purpose-built studio in Stockholm, Sweden.

“They’ll put us in tight clothes, black with polka dots, and we’ll have polka dots on our faces, and we’ll wear helmets. Then we’ll go to that stage, and we’ll do a song like we’re in Old Brits on ‘Top of the Pops’ [TV] plan,” he said.

“It was weird at first. I mean, I looked around and there was Agnesa doing her thing, and Benny, like it used to be. But in the end, it was fun.”

deep fake

Ulvaeus says the band is leading the way in the technology behind ABBA Voyage.

“We are pioneers in this field, making avatars, creating digital replicas of humans – to the pores, from the hair on the nose, to everything [it] After a while it makes you think it’s a person, it’s not a number, it’s a video of a person, and it’s very interesting to be a pioneer and do it in this situation,” he said.

But the famous star said he does worry that the technology could be misused by those who want to create “deepfakes”.

“I realized it could be abused, and it would be abused. Not our avatars, but other avatars would be used as vehicles, saying the originals weren’t intentional, fake, I mean, deepfake. Deepfake What’s happening is indistinguishable from what’s going on in the future, and that’s something we really have to pay attention to,” he said.

“But someone is going to do it anyway, so I thought maybe do it in a positive way, because the pioneers would do a good job of showing how it’s being used.”

A purpose-built “ABBA Arena” for 3,000 spectators has been constructed in London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park.

The ABBA Voyage concert performance opens to the public on May 27, and Ulvaeus told CNBC they can expect a parade of hits featuring some lesser-known songs, some from their latest album.

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