In this week's edition of Pop is Not a Dirty Word, columnist Douglas Greenwood questions whether or not the new Mamma Mia soundtrack hitting number one is proof of ABBA's timeless brilliance, or the beginning of the end of true pop records dominating the charts.
Before we begin, I want to make something clear: when it comes to ‘Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again’, I firmly believe that to see it is to love it. It’s irresistible in every way. Like a camp pop banger dropping just before the club closes. Or the feeling you get when you wake up 20 minutes before your alarm goes off, knowing you can nod back off to sleep for a little while longer. It’s the sweet, sweet sugar on your morning Weetabix, and I beg you to go out and see it if you haven’t already; Cher belting out ABBA’s ‘Fernando’ is worth the price of your ticket alone.
After topping the UK box office for three weeks straight, it’s no surprise that the film’s original soundtrack – peppered with actors singing classics like ‘Angel Eyes’ and ‘Waterloo’ – has had a serious spike in the album charts too. Right now, it’s managed to topple Drake’s massive ‘Scorpion‘ from the top spot, and is sitting pretty behind – you guessed it – the seemingly unshakeable score to ‘The Greatest Showman’.
The short answer to the question you read in the headline is, no. The renaissance of ABBA’s music, which currently occupying two of the top five spots on the album charts, is absolutely not something for us to be worried about. If anything, it’s a fucking joy to know that the music of four Seventies-hailing Swedes, the same stuff that set the bar for every pop song and disco floorfiller that followed it, is still loved by an audience today. No matter how much music changes, there’s something about those melodies that causes generations both new and old to come crawling back to everytime they hear it. ABBA are the creators of pop catnip; we need to respect that.
But there is an issue here, one that’s been irking me ever since The Greatest Showman burst out of its painfully entitled little bubble and became awful on a gigantic scale. Films with a lukewarm critical reaction are usually banished from our memories mere weeks after release, but the catchy soundtrack hooked this one into our memories. Despite the fact the music itself was so aggravating and uninventive, The Greatest Showman’s score became the biggest selling album in the UK this year – and that’s something our sorry asses will have to learn to live with in the decades to come.
What breaks my heart is how many great albums came and went in that time, pretty much buried by that behemoth soundtrack that refused to budge. While listeners stateside went wild for Cardi B’s ‘Invasion of Privacy’, it struggled to break the top five here, edged out by a record that had never left it since the tail-end of 2017. Then there’s Years & Years’ miraculous sophomore record ‘Palo Santo’; a glittering vision of what should be dominating the pop charts these days. Olly fought for that top spot hard, but Hugh Jackman’s omnipresence left the record in third place. It might seem old school, but a chart is still something many pop musicians vie for, even in an age where streaming services champion singles rather than total bodies of work. The legacy ‘The Greatest Showman’s’ success has left on pop music in 2018 is a depressing one – a sign that we’re being lured in by lyrical simplicity all too easily, and passing on wonderful stuff in the process.
Maybe I’m just being cynical. Maybe it’s better for us to sit back and enjoy the big-bucks-funded work of Hollywood studios if that’s the only thing that can bring us happiness in this tire dump of a world now. Or maybe we should try and find a way to stop these records from taking charge and claiming a pop landscape that isn’t rightfully theirs.
ABBA, I’m sorry, we love you, but there’s a whole masterclass of killer pop stars out there right now who deserve that spot more than your movie soundtrack does. Let’s give the listening public the chance to hear it.