A*Teens (Contemporary Musicians)
In the late 1990s a wave of nostalgia for the long-defunct Swedish group Abba swept the entertainment world. In addition to having its songs featured on the soundtracks of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and Muriel's Wedding, the group's work even inspired a hit theatrical production, Mamma Mia, which packed in audiences from London to Toronto to New York City. No one capitalized on the resurgence of all things Abba, however, like the Swedish pop group A*Teens. Putting together an album consisting entirely of updated cover versions of some of Abba's best-known hits, the album reached number one in the group's home country before selling almost three million copies worldwide.
Opening for acts such as Britney Spears and 'N Sync and making numerous appearances on the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon, the band immediately became one of the most popular acts with "tweeners," music fans between the ages of eight and 12. Although a follow-up album of non-Abba songs did not fare as well as the band's debut, its members nonetheless looked forward to pursuing full-time careers in entertainmentnce they finished secondary school.
Debut Covered Abba Songs
Although the A*Teens were sometimes described as a manufactured pop band, its members had known each other for several years before the group came together in a dance class in Stockholm, Sweden, in the late 1990s. The band formed when the group of four friendsahni Lennevald, Sara Lumholdt, Amit Paul, and Marie Serneholteard about an open audition for a band to perform Abba songs. As Amit Paul recalled in an interview with Hip Online, "November '98, we went to this dance school and there was an audition and we went to the audition together. So we danced for them and answered questions for them. It went very well." Although the group's vocal abilities seemed to be a secondary concern, its fresh-faced, energetic appeal was obvious from the start.
At the time A*Teens formed, each of the new band members was between 14 and 15 years old and still in secondary school. Despite their academic schedules, however, the band had its debut album, The Abba Generation, ready for release in fewer than six months. When its first single was released in May of 1999n updated version of Abba's "Mamma Mia"*Teens became that year's biggest music sensation in Sweden. The song debuted at number one on the Swedish singles chart and eventually became the best-selling single of the year. When the album was released on the heels of "Mamma Mia," it proved equally popular. Logging five weeks at number one on the album charts, The Abba Generation eventually earned triple-platinum status for its sales in Sweden.
Extensive Touring Schedule
Thrown into an extensive schedule of international touring to build its fan base outside of Sweden, the band's members quickly confronted the pressures of being pop stars while still in school. As Paul told Hip Online, "It's really hard because you aren't in school so much so you have to take your own responsibility. You get homework when you go away so you have to study on your own. It's hard, but it works." Sara Lumholdt agreed, adding, "After doing shows and TV shows, you have to go home and go to school with your friends. It's two different worlds. It does seem weirdYou do a show and then you get home and it's like, 'Whoa, I have to study math.' I can't concentrate and I want to do other stuff. You have to do a lot of work."
In contrast to their everyday concerns of keeping up with school work and maintaining their friendships at home, the band's touring schedule put its members in the spotlight as the opening act on two of the most popular concert tours of 1999-2000. In the fall of 1999, A*Teens performed as the opener for 'N Sync in the United States; the following year, the group opened for Britney Spears. The band also performed on the Radio Disney tour throughout the United States, which capitalized on the extensive airplay the clip its "Dancing Queen" single received on the Disney Channel.
With additional exposure on the kid-friendly Nickelodeon Channel, by the end of 2000 A*Teens had become one of the most popular acts with the "tweener" crowd of preteen music buyers in America. Although the band's members were not that much older than their fans, they were aware of their responsibility not to shock their audiences with material that was too provocative or risqué. As a March 2000 Billboard review approvingly noted, "With so much top 40 fare screamingly inappropriate for much of its very young audience, parents can rest easy with A*Teens. After all, you can't get much more wholesome than Abba." In a gibe at the ruling queens of pop music, the Billboard reviewer added, "And as role models, too, A*Teens are refreshingly inoffensive: The boys are cute and the girls are attractive, but without that slutty-jailbait-Britney/Christina thing that justifiably distresses parents."
Released All-Original Second Album
A solid international success, particularly in Japan, the United States, and Europe, The Abba Generation racked up sales of almost three million in the year following its release. Despite its sales, however, the A*Teens decided to abandon their reliance on Abba cover songs for its second album, Teen Spirit, which contained all-original material. As Lumholdt told Dot-music upon the album's first single release, "Bouncing Off the Ceiling (Upside Down)" in May of 2001, "It feels really good to prove to people that we can do our own songs. We had two years of being called an Abba cover band and now it feels good to be called something else. It feels like we've got a really good future ahead of us."
The band also broke new ground in featuring more vocal input from the group's male members, Lennevald and Paul. The A*Teens, however, remained committed to cultivating their "tweener" fan base. As Paul commented on the band's own website, "We didn't want to make the mistake of doing an album that was too mature. We should never forget that many of our fans are young, and so are we. We wanted to do a happy, up-tempo and positive album. We wanted to keep some parts of the 'old' but at the same time show our development as a band."
Indeed, the band succeeded in retaining its kid-friendly appeal on Teen Spirit. "This effervescent CD offers families a refreshing alternative to pop groups tempted to wander into more adult territory," a Plugged In music reviewer for Focus on the Family noted. Billboard agreed, commenting in its review of "Bouncing Off the Ceiling" that "One listen is all it takes for the chorus to bore its way into the brain, leaving even the most jaded top 40 listener prey to its charms This is quite the guilty pleasure It glows with innocent charm." Other reviewers were more critical, however; a Dotmusic review of Teen Spirit warned potential listeners, "If you aren't familiar with this lot you should count yourself lucky Consume too much of this and nausea is guaranteed."
Although Teen Spirit did not match the commercial success of its debut album, members of the A*Teens looked forward to continuing their entertainment careers with the group and eventually, through individual solo careers. "I think the A*Teens will last for a long time and we can do this as long as we think it's fun. Then I hope to be in music business in some way for my career, either a record company guy or a producer," Paul told Hip Online. Lumholdt took a similarly sensible view of the future: "I want to be in this group, but if we feel like it isn't fun anymore, I always have a dream to start on my own." Lumholdt also referred to the vitality of the band's fun-loving spirit on its website, commenting, "You shall be happy to listen to A*Teens, whether you are at home, in a cafe, or at a club. The positivity is important."
The Abba Generation, MCA/Stockholm, 1999.
Teen Spirit, MCA/Stockholm, 2001.
Billboard, March 25, 2000, p. 61; April 29, 2000, p. 16; March 17, 2001, p. 29.
"A*Teens," Hip online, (December 2, 2001).
"A*Teens Cooperates with CARU," Children's Advertising Review Unit, (December 3, 2001).
A*Teens Official Website, http://www.a-teens.com/?sid=biography&pid=a-teens (December 2, 2001).
"A*Teens: Team Spirit," Focus on the Family, Plugged In Music Reviews, http://www.family.org/pplace/pi/music/a0015973.html (December 3, 2001).
"A*Teens: The Abba Generation," Pop Matters Music, (December 3, 2001).
Dotmusic, (December 2, 2001).