Music is a way of telling stories, and so it stands to reason that you can learn a thing or two about storytelling from music. Nowhere is this more evident than in the words of Swedish pop band, Abba. Here are three things they have taught me.
1. Love isn’t easy, but it sure is hard enough
Relationships are complicated. A lot of pop songs will tell you that being in love is a) awesome or b) terrible. Abba point out that there’s a bit more to it than that, that love affects people in different ways depending on who they are and where they are in life.
For instance, sometimes falling in love makes you feel like your entire life has changed (Lovelight, The Day Before You Came), sometimes it makes a usually sane person crazy jealous (Lay All Your Love on Me), sometimes it makes you do embarrassing things (When I Kissed the Teacher) – and sometimes relationships end and it’s sad (Knowing Me Knowing You).
Abba also point out that you will not always understand your friends’ romantic choices (Head Over Heels), that you should not jump to conclusions about a new partner without talking to them (Crazy World) and that as you get older and look back on previous relationships you may discover (possibly via a bit of Facebook stalking) that ‘the one that got away’ now works in a bank and obsesses over footy instead of spraffing about politics in Paris (Our Last Summer). In other words, you did the right thing by getting out when you did. After all, life goes On and On and On.
You might think them poppy and superficial, but there is a depth of perception about people in Abba’s music, and you could do worse than attempt to emulate it when writing characters and relationships. Across their records you see both the positive and negative aspects of love – the fact it can be a totally transformative experience (for good or ill), how everyone at some point allows themselves to be ruled by hormones rather than common sense, and how you can come out the other side not necessarily unscathed, but still you.
2. They’ll take your mind they’ll take your soul
Face difficult issues head on, and show how they affect your characters. Somewhere between the cheery, jokey tracks (King Kong Song, anyone?) and the tear jerking, end of relationships ones (The Winner Takes It All, One of Us), Abba wrote a fair amount of grim stuff involving smiling on the surface and internally feeling totally numb. Mental health themes are prevalent without being explicit – they show without telling. If you’ve been told to do that and struggled to understand what it means, listen to Abba. For instance:
- Under Attack – claustrophobic and frightening, the lyrics to this sound like a tale of fleeing an abusive relationship. Ditto Should I Laugh or Cry.
- The Visitors – ‘I hear the doorbell ring and suddenly the panic takes me’ – a song about paranoia and irrational fear, which she recognises but can’t control.
- Me and I talks about split identity – ‘we’re like sun and rainy weather, sometimes we’re a hit together, me and I’
3. Give your characters simple names
Because then you can rhyme them! See:
- My mama said, I know you’ve been out again with Fred
- Nina, pretty ballerina
- Tracy, Daisy, they may be crazy (from So Long)
- A nowhere lane, a nowhere train for Elaine (Elaine, Elaine)
I could go on…
So there you have it, three storytelling lessons from a seventies pop band – or at least one phenomenal YouTube playlist. You’re welcome.