Agnetha Fältskog (Swedish pronunciation: aŋˈneː.ˈta ˈfɛlt.ˈskuːɡ, born 5 April 1950) is a Swedish recording artist. She achieved success in Sweden after the release of her debut album Agnetha Fältskog in 1968, and reached international stardom as a member of the pop group ABBA, which has sold over 370 million albums and singles worldwide, making them one of the best-selling music artists in history and the second or third best-selling band in history.
Since the break-up of ABBA, Fältskog has continued to have success as a solo artist, albeit interspersed by periods of relative recording inactivity.
Life and career:
Early life (1950-1966):
Agnetha Fältskog (known as Anna in some countries) was born in Jönköping, Småland, Sweden on 5 April 1950. She was the first of two daughters of department store manager Knut Ingvar Fältskog (1922--1995) and his wife Birgit Margareta Johansson (1923--1994). Ingvar showed much interest in music and showbusiness, whereas Birgit was a calm and careful woman who devoted herself to her children and household.
Fältskog wrote her first song at the age of six, entitled "Två små troll" ("Two Little Trolls"). In 1958, she began taking piano lessons, and also sang in a local church choir. In early 1960, Fältskog formed a musical trio, The Cambers, with her friends Lena Johansson and Elisabeth Strub. They performed locally in minor venues and soon dissolved due to a lack of engagements. At age 15, Fältskog decided to leave school and pursue a career.
Fältskog cites Connie Francis, Marianne Faithfull, Aretha Franklin and Lesley Gore as her strongest musical influences.
Career development in Sweden (1966-1971):
Fältskog worked as a telephonist for a car firm while performing with a local dance band, headed by Bernt Enghardt. The band soon became so popular that she had to make a choice between her job and her musical career. She continued singing with the Bernt Enghardt band for two years. During that time, Fältskog broke up with her boyfriend Björn Lilja; this event inspired her to write a song, "Jag var så kär" ("I Was So in Love"), that would soon raise her to media prominence. At that time, Karl Gerhard Lundkvist, a relative of one of the band's members, retired from his successful rock and roll career and began working as a record producer at Cupol Records. Enghardt sent him a demo recording of the band, but Lundkvist only showed interest in Fältskog and her song. She was worried because he was not interested in the band and they were not to be included on the record. However, she decided to accept the offer, and signed a recording contract with CBS Records.
Her self-penned début single "Jag var så kär" was released through Cupol Records in 1967, and topped the Swedish Chart on 28 January 1968 and sold more than 80,000 copies. She also submitted the song "Försonade" ("Reconciled") to Melodifestivalen, the Swedish preliminary for the Eurovision Song Contest, but it was not selected for the final. Fältskog developed a career as one of Sweden's most popular pop music artists, participating in a television special about pilots in 1968. The same year, she released the single "Zigenarvän" ("Gypsy Friend") about a young girl attending a Gypsy wedding and falling in love with the bride's brother. Its release coincided with a heated debate about Gypsies in the Swedish media, and Fältskog was accused of deliberately trying to make money out of the situation by writing the song.
Fältskog's success continued throughout the late 1960s. She met German songwriter/producer Dieter Zimmerman, to whom she became engaged. Her albums thus reached German charts, and Zimmerman promised her she would achieve great success in Germany. However when she went there and met with record producers, the venture was not productive; Fältskog refused to meet the demands of the producers, describing their chosen material as "horrible". She soon ended her engagement to Zimmerman and returned to Sweden.
In 1970, she released "Om tårar vore guld" ("If Tears Were Gold"), which was perhaps her most successful song in Sweden before ABBA. This was in spite of a claim from a Danish composer that she had used 22 bars from his composition "Tema" ("Theme"), even though it had been written in the 1950s and had never been recorded. The case dragged on until 1977, when a settlement was reached and Fältskog paid the Dane SEK5,000. In 1972, Fältskog portrayed Mary Magdalene in the Swedish production of the international musical hit Jesus Christ Superstar.
First marriage and years with ABBA (1971-1982):
Fältskog met Björn Ulvaeus, a member of the Hootenanny Singers, for the first time in 1968, and then again in 1969. Her relationship with Ulvaeus, as well as her friendship with Anni-Frid Lyngstad and Benny Andersson, with whom Ulvaeus had already written songs, eventually led to the formation of ABBA. Fältskog and Ulvaeus married on 6 July 1971 in the village of Verum, with Andersson playing the organ at their wedding. Their first child, Linda Elin Ulvaeus, was born on 23 February 1973, and their son Peter Christian Ulvaeus on 4 December 1977. The couple decided to separate in late 1978, and Fältskog moved out of their home on Christmas night, 25 December 1978. In January 1979 the couple filed for divorce, which was finalised in June 1980. Both Fältskog and Ulvaeus agreed not to let their failed marriage interfere with their responsibilities with ABBA. The failure of their marriage inspired Ulvaeus to write "The Winner Takes It All", one of ABBA's greatest hits.
In 1975, during the same period as her bandmate Anni-Frid Lyngstad recorded her Swedish number one album Frida ensam, Fältskog recorded and produced her solo album Elva kvinnor i ett hus. These albums were both recorded between sessions and promotion for the ABBA albums Waterloo and ABBA. Fältskog's album spent 53 weeks on the Swedish album chart, longer than any of ABBA's albums, though it only peaked at number 11. It contained three further Svensktoppen entries for Fältskog: her Swedish language version of ABBA's "SOS" (also number 4 on the single sales chart); "Tack För En Underbar Vanlig Dag"; and "Doktorn!". Except for the version of "SOS", all the songs had lyrics by Bosse Carlgren and music by Fältskog herself. The creation of the album had been underway since 1972, when Fältskog started writing the songs, but it was delayed because of the work with ABBA and her pregnancy. In 1974 Fältskog and Carlgren had agreed on a concept for the album; it should consist of 12 songs, each sung by 12 different female characters living in the same apartment building, however in the end only 11 songs were put onto the album, and the concept wasn't fully developed.
Between the years 1968 and 1980, Fältskog had a total of 18 entries on the Svensktoppen radio chart, starting with the debut single "Jag Var Så Kär" in January 1968 (peak position number 1) and ending with "När Du Tar Mig I Din Famn" ("When You Take Me in Your Arms") from the compilation Tio år med Agnetha in January 1980 (peak position number 1). The 18 entries, most of which were composed or co-written by Fältskog herself, spent a total of 139 weeks on the chart during this time, with the biggest hit being 1970s "Om Tårar Vore Guld" (number 1, 15 weeks). Fältskog also recorded the Swedish Christmas album Nu tändas tusen juleljus with daughter Linda Ulvaeus which peaked at number 6 on the Swedish album sales chart in December 1981. Chartwise Fältskog was the most successful solo artist of the four ABBA members, both before and during the band's international career, though both Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson achieved a comparably high profile within the Hootenanny Singers and Hep Stars, their respective non-ABBA bands.
Fältskog participated in Melodifestivalen again, albeit only as a composer. In 1981, she wrote the ballad "Men Natten Är Vår" ("But the Night Is Ours") with lyrics by Ingela Forsman, but instead of performing the song in the contest herself, she chose new talent Kicki Moberg. The song placed 9th out of 10. The single, which Fältskog produced in the Polar Studios with the same musicians as on contemporary ABBA recordings, was backed with the Swedish version of "I'm Still Alive", entitled "Här Är Mitt Liv" ("Here Is My Life"), a song which she herself had performed in its English version (lyrics by ex-husband Björn Ulvaeus) during ABBA's 1979 world tour. Moberg's recording of the song remains the only version to have been officially released to date.
Fältskog sang solo parts in the following ABBA songs: "Disillusion" (music written by her, lyrics by Björn), "I Am Just A Girl", "Hasta Mañana", "Dance (While The Music Still Goes On)", "SOS", "I've Been Waiting for You", "When I Kissed the Teacher", "My Love, My Life", "Take A Chance on Me", "The Name of the Game", "Move On", "Thank You for the Music", "Chiquitita", "As Good As New", "Kisses of Fire", "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)" "The Winner Takes It All", Happy New Year, "Lay All Your Love on Me", "The Way Old Friends Do", "Head Over Heels", "One of Us, "Soldiers", "Slipping Through My Fingers", "Just Like That, "I am the City", "Under Attack" and "The Day Before You Came", and her voice was of course clearly audible in most other ABBA tracks as well. "The Name of the Game", "The Way Old Friends Do" and "I am the City" are the only officially released ABBA tracks that feature solo parts from both Agnetha and Anni-Frid.
Solo career development (1982-1989):
At the end of 1982, Fältskog duetted with Swedish singer (and former ABBA backing vocalist) Tomas Ledin on a song called "Never Again", which became a Top Five hit in Sweden, Norway, Belgium, and South America. The song was also released in a Spanish-language version, entitled "Ya Nunca Más". In the summer of the same year, Fältskog received positive reviews for her leading role in the hit Swedish movie Raskenstam.
In May 1983, Fältskog released her first post-ABBA solo album, Wrap Your Arms Around Me. The album became a moderate hit in North America and Australia, and reached the higher regions of the charts across Europe, including No. 1 in Sweden, Norway, Finland, Belgium, and Denmark (where it became the biggest-selling album of the year), and No. 18 in the UK. The album achieved sales of 1,2 million copies in the first year. Two singles from the album became hits in continental Europe: "The Heat Is On" became a No. 1 hit in Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Belgium, and the Netherlands, and just scraped into the UK Top 40, and the title track also peaked at No. 1 in Belgium as well as the in Top Five in the Netherlands and got just into Top 30 in west Germany and Top 50 in the UK and France. In North America, the album track "Can't Shake Loose" was released as the lead-off single, reaching No. 29 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and No. 23 on the RPM Top 50 singles chart in Canada. Fältskog was voted by the readers of Aftonbladet as Best Female Artist of the Year in the Rockbjörnen music awards.
Fältskog's next studio album, Eyes of a Woman, produced by Eric Stewart of 10cc, was released in March 1985. "She is quite content to grace the works of various other lesser mortals with her immaculate, sugar-sweet voice," wrote Barry McIlheney in Melody Maker. The album sold well in parts of Europe, peaking at No. 2 in Sweden and in the Top 20 in Norway and Belgium, but scraped into the UK Top 40 just for one week and failed to match the success of Wrap Your Arms Around Me. All in all, the album sold up to 800,000 copies. However, the self-penned lead single "I Won't Let You Go" enjoyed a moderate chart success in both continental Europe and in Scandinavia: No. 6 in Sweden, No. 18 in the Netherlands and No. 24 in west Germany. On the contrary, the single was a flop in the UK - No. 84.
In 1986, Fältskog recorded another duet, "The Way You Are", with Swedish singer Ola Håkansson, which became another No. 1 hit in Sweden and Norway. In early 1987, Agnetha recorded an album "Kom folj med I var karusell" ('Come ride with me on my carousell') with her son Christian. The album contained songs for children and was sung in Swedish. For the album Agnetha recorded duets with her son and with a choir of children. She also recorded a few solo songs. The production was modern and fresh. The single 'Pa Sondag' was much played at the radio and even made the Swedish top 10, unique for a song made for kids to enjoy.
In the summer of 1987, Fältskog travelled to Malibu, California, to record her fourth solo album (after ABBA), I Stand Alone, produced by Peter Cetera (formerly of the band Chicago) and Bruce Gaitsch, who had collaborated on Madonna's La Isla Bonita. Released in November of that year, I Stand Alone was a minor hit in Europe, except in Sweden where it spent eight weeks at No. 1 and became the best-selling album of 1988. More than 200,000 copies were sold throughout Scandinavia. According to Hans Englund, the Swedish head of WEA, more than 500,000 copies were sold globally. The results outside Scandinavia were less impressive, the album got into Top 30 in the Netherlands, Top 50 in west Germany and became No. 72 in the UK. The single from the album, "I Wasn't the One (Who Said Goodbye)", on which Fältskog duetted with Peter Cetera, was released primarily in North America, and became her second solo single to chart on the Billboard Hot 100, peaking at No. 93. It was also a Top 20 Billboard Adult Contemporary hit. Two tracks were also recorded in Spanish for the Latin American market; "La Ultima Véz" ("The Last Time") and "Yo No Fui Quién Dijo Adiós" ("I Wasn't the One (Who Said Goodbye)". Agnetha refused to promote the album in major TV shows in west Germany, but she made a promotional visit to London in February 1988 - her appearance in Terry Wogan Show should have become her last public singing performance till November 2013.
Hiatus from recording (1989-2004):
After the release of I Stand Alone in mid-1988, Fältskog went on hiatus from her musical career and completely withdrew from public life.
In 1990, Fältskog married Swedish surgeon Tomas Sonnenfeld. They divorced in 1993. She also had a two-year (non-confirmed) "friendship" with Dutchman Gert van der Graaf at the end of the 1990s. After Fältskog decided to terminate the friendship, he stalked her at her mansion, resulting in a court issuing Van der Graaf with a restraining order. He was arrested in 2003 and banned from entry into Sweden. In 2005, the deportation order from Sweden ran out, and within months van der Graaf was again sighted near Fältskog's estate in Ekerö.
In 1996, her autobiography Som jag är was published in Swedish (and in English the following year titled As I Am), followed by several compilation CDs of her Swedish and English recordings, including one called My Love, My Life for which Fältskog picked out the music herself. Fans welcomed the autobiography, but critics panned it. The book was updated in 1998 and released worldwide via Virgin Publishing, selling over 50,000 books.
Return to music and selected public appearances (2004-present):
In April 2004, Fältskog released a new single, "If I Thought You'd Ever Change Your Mind" (a cover of the song originally recorded by Cilla Black). It peaked at number 2 in Sweden, number 11 in the UK, and became a minor hit in the Netherlands and Denmark when the single got into Top 20. "It is exciting to hear her voice, utterly undimmed, delivering a tellingly-titled song," commented London's Music Week. One week later, the album My Colouring Book, a collection of Fältskog's covers of 1960s classic oldies, was released, topping the chart in Sweden, hitting the Top Five in Finland and in Denmark, number 6 in Germany, and peaking at number 12 in the United Kingdom. The title song, "My Colouring Book", is a cover of the song originally recorded by Dusty Springfield. "I love this record," enthused Pete Clark in London's Evening Standard, while the Daily Mail pointed out that "it reveals a genuine affection for the era's forgotten pop tunes."The Sunday Times reviewer Mark Edwards noted that "her voice is still an impressive pop instrument," and The Observer shared the same sentiment suggesting that "time hasn't diminished her perfect voice." Reviewing the release in The Guardian, Caroline Sullivan wrote: "Agnetha Fältskog has a vulnerability that gets under the skin of a song. She may be cheating a trifle by including no original material on this collection of 1960s covers, but if anyone can do justice to the likes of "Sealed with a Kiss", it's her. The soaring sentimentality evokes Cilla Black and Sandie Shaw in their mini-skirted pomp, and I don't say that lightly." The release attracted media attention across Europe, but Fältskog staunchly refused to be involved in any extensive promotion of the album (including personal appearances), and thus limited her public exposure to several short newspaper interviews, a few videos, and a Swedish-language low-key TV special. Yet, the album managed to sell around 500,000 copies worldwide (according to Warner Music), 50,000 of those in the United Kingdom alone. The album became the 10th most selling album of 2004 in Sweden (incredible 64,000 copies were sold only in the first week). A second single release from the album, "When You Walk in the Room", peaked at number 11 in Sweden and also entered the UK Top 40 as No. 34 (which was still higher than any of her UK singles in the 1980s). "Sometimes When I'm Dreaming", originally recorded by Art Garfunkel, failed to be released as the third single from the album. The album sold nearly one million albums worldwide as was confirmed by producer Jorgen Elofson, at the eve of the release of 'A' (Agnetha's album released in 2013). Shortly after this release, for the 2004 semi-final of the Eurovision Song Contest, staged in Istanbul 30 years after ABBA had won the contest in Brighton, Fältskog appeared briefly in a special comedy video made for the interval act, entitled "Our Last Video." Each of the four members of the group appeared briefly in cameo roles, as did others such as Cher and Rik Mayall. It was billed as the first time the four had worked together since the group split. In fact, while Björn and Benny filmed their more extensive parts together, Frida and Agnetha were filmed for a very short appearance separately and edited to appear together.
In 2004, Fältskog was nominated for Best Nordic Artist at the Nordic Music Awards, and at Christmas of that year she gave an extensive interview (first after many years) which was filmed by Swedish TV. Around the same time, Sony Music released a lavishly produced 6-CD boxed set comprising Fältskog's Swedish solo career, mostly before ABBA, with five original solo albums: 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, and her 1975 album recorded and released during her time with ABBA) - plus an additional compilation disc with bonus tracks.
In January 2007, Fältskog appeared at the final performance of Mamma Mia! in Stockholm (as she had at its opening in 2005). Together with ex-husband and former colleague Björn Ulvaeus, she appeared on stage at the after show party held at Stockholm's Grand Hotel. She also sang a duet, "True Love", with Tommy Körberg of Chess.
In October 2008, a new compilation album, My Very Best, was released in Sweden. The double CD contains both Swedish (CD 1) and English-language hits (CD 2) from her whole solo career, from 1967 to 2004. It successfully entered as number 4 on the Swedish albums chart and was certified gold within the first week of its release.
On 4 July 2008, Fältskog joined former colleagues Anni-Frid Lyngstad, Björn Ulvaeus, and Benny Andersson at the Swedish premiere of the film version of Mamma Mia!, held at the Rival Theatre (owned by Andersson) in Mariatorget, Stockholm. Fältskog arrived with Lyngstad and movie star Meryl Streep, the three dancing in front of thousands of fans before joining the film's other stars and Andersson and Ulvaeus on the hotel balcony for the first photograph of all four ABBA members together in 22 years.
In January 2009, Fältskog appeared onstage together with Lyngstad at the Swedish Rockbjörnen Awards to receive a lifetime honorary award for ABBA, and even giving a short, lightweight interview.
In February 2010, ABBA World, an extensive multi-million-pound (in monetary value) exhibition, debuted at London's Earls Court and included an extensive interview with Fältskog filmed in Sweden the previous summer. For the exhibition's Melbourne launch, she recorded a light-hearted opening film together with former ABBA colleague Benny Andersson, shot in Stockholm in June 2010.
In October 2010, Fältskog was at the opening of Mamma Mia! (the musical), in Denmark, with former husband Ulvaeus. In December of the same year Agnetha gave a long interview to 'M' Magazine in Sweden. This interview also included a new official photo session, the first since 'My Colouring Book' in 2004/5,
On 10 May 2013 (13 May in the UK; 14 May in North America), Fältskog released a new album called "A", produced by Jörgen Elofsson and Peter Nordahl. In the UK, the first single "When You Really Loved Someone" had previously been released for download on 11 March, with the accompanying video also released on the same day. In Germany, the first single was "The One Who Loves You Now" and it was also released for download on 11 March 2013. The album includes a duet with Gary Barlow of Take That, called "I Should've Followed You Home". In June 2013, officials from Universal Records in The Netherlands revealed that 600,000 copies of 'A' were sold in the first two months after the release. A TV special made by the BBC helped the album reach number six in the UK Charts. The album made the Top 10 in Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Germany, Switzerland, the UK, Belgium, Austria, and Australia and Top 20 in Finland, the Netherlands and Ireland. The first single from the "A" album to be released in the US, Dance Your Pain Away, was released on 28 May 2013. The digital single included two new mixes by Smash Mode. "Dance Your Pain Away" was released internationally as a single on 15 July 2013. The album became the 98th most selling album of 2013 in the UK (97,900 copies) and the 67th most selling album of 2013 in Australia. 'A' has earned Agnetha 4 Gold Records in UK, Australia, Sweden and Germany.
On 17 May 2013, Fältskog was awarded the SKAP 2013 Kai Gullmar Memorial Award at the Stockholm release party for "A".
On 12 November 2013 Fältskog sang live on stage for the first time in 25 years at the BBC Children in Need Rocks concert in London; she sang a duet with Gary Barlow, the organiser of the event.
On 18 November 2013 in order to promote the song, a video for "I Should've Followed You Home" was shot the same day as the release of the single itself. Although the single was released in most countries of the world in November 2013, its release in the United Kingdom was held over.
She also won Best Female Album - 6th Annual Scandipop 2014, and was nominated for the German 2014 ECHO award in the Artist Rock / Pop International category.