ABBA legend Bjorn Ulvaeus has slammed reality music shows such as Simon Cowell’s The X Factor, describing them as ‘cruel’.
Ulvaeus, who enjoyed two decades of worldwide success after winning the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest with Abba, also accused TV talent contests of killing creativity in British music.
‘Such shows want to polish off anything that is original,’ Ulvaeus said. ‘They want to polish off the corners to make them all smooth and mainstream. I think that’s wrong.’
Ulvaeus, now 65, added: ‘There was nothing mainstream about The Stones or The Beatles, who were our big influence when we started out as Abba.
‘This way of picking people by audition is very different from how Abba started out in the music industry. We grew organically.’
Ulvaeus formed Abba in Stockholm in the early Seventies with fellow Swedes Benny Andersson and Agnetha Faltskog and Norwegian-born Frida Lyngstad.
‘We just happened to get together and we found that we had common interests,’ he said. We started to play and sing together. We were not auditioned and that’s a big difference.
‘None of the talent of today go out on the road and learn their craft like the bands of the Sixties and Seventies would.
‘Look at The Beatles, how they struggled, how they worked in order to become such a good little band. And that’s why they had such longevity and are still admired today.’
Without the X Factor: Evictees John and Edward Grimes, known as ‘Jedward’, were voted out of the show
Ulvaeus said he never watches The X Factor, which has produced acts such as Leona Lewis and Irish twin duo Jedward, because ‘it is very cruel and very often the contestants are given the wrong sort of advice’.
‘I don’t like the way a young person is standing there and is sometimes humiliated,’ he added.
‘And then they are given advice by someone who is not an expert in any way. Maybe they get the impression that this is the way it had to be, which is wrong.
‘Everyone should pursue whatever is original in oneself. That’s the way for a long life in music.
‘Who are the artists who are still with us from a long time back? Those are the ones that are so original that they stand out.’
Ulvaeus believes it is now far harder for aspiring young musicians and singers to make the breakthrough.
‘It’s definitely more difficult because there is so much more out there of everything,’ he said. ‘To be heard, you have to shout in a way that you never had to do. I remember for us, after having won Eurovision, the key thing to do was to appear on Top Of The Pops at the right time.
‘You can’t do that any more, because there’s no Top Of The Pops and no programme that is
like it. So it’s much more difficult, in every way, to break through today. As a result, there are going to be a lot of casualties from reality shows. I’m happy we had the Seventies.’
Abba split in the early Eighties but 3,200 of their records still sell across the world every day.
Ulvaeus was speaking during a visit to London with writing partner Benny Andersson for the launch of the double CD of Kristina, their first major musical since Mamma Mia!
Kristina is a fictional story based on historical events. It tells of a poverty-struck Swedish family that emigrates to the US in the 1850s. Ulvaeus and Andersson wrote the work in the early Nineties but it has only recently been translated into English.
Its UK premiere took place at the Royal Albert Hall in April with British singer Russell Watson in the lead role. He also features on the CD.
Despite all the recent rumours of a final Abba reunion tour, Andersson, 63, says it is unlikely they will ever bow to popular demand and re-form. The band last performed together in 1999 at a birthday party.
Andersson said: ‘That birthday appearance we made for a close friend in Sweden is probably the last time you’ll ever see us on a stage together.’ Ulvaeus added: ‘Let people remember us as an ambitious, energetic, young group. A wonderful memory.’
By DAVID WIGG