By Sarah Bennett
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>>>ABBA may have turned down a $1 billion offer to do a reunion tour, but have no fear—the A*Teens are here! Sound contrived? But of course. A couple of years ago, Stockholm Records—which is owned by Universal, the record company that owns ABBA's songs—put together a youthful cover group to introduce the superband's music to those born post-1982.The ABBA Generation—the debut album from Swedish teens Amit, Sara, Marie and Dhani (average age: 16)—plays like a poppy rehash of ABBA's Gold: Greatest Hits, with 10 of Gold's 11 songs not so coincidentally on the Generation disc. In keeping with their teenybopper image, the A*Teens opened for 'NSync last year and Britney Spears this summer, plus they will be on Nickelodeon's upcoming All That Music & More tour with B*Witched (what is it about using asterisks in teen band names?).
They even made a special appearance at an Irvine Wherehouse store on July 29, before their show at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre. A girl who stood behind me in line anxiously listed off her favorite A*Teens tracks for another girl. Basically, this task consisted of her reading the back of the CD—from "Mamma Mia" (their first single) to "Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight)" (now, is that really an appropriate song for teens to be singing?!?) on to "Dancing Queen" (their current single) and, finally, to "Our Last Summer" (the only non-Goldtrack). She read the titles as if they were the A*Teens' original songs.
I was listening to their conversation when I noticed Tommy standing in front of me. Probably in his late 20s or early 30s, he was wearing black pleather pants, leather boots and a bright-yellow shirt with a see-through, baby-blue button-down shirt over it. The significance of this Swedish-flag color combo didn't dawn on me until he turned around after I asked him if he'd save my place in line while I went and bought the group's CD. He was such a giddy fan-boy that he even had a yellow-and-blue A*Teens patch sewn onto his outer shirt.
When I returned with my new A*Teens disc and orange slap-wrist bracelet (available with purchase only and while supplies lasted—hey, this is participatory journalism), the severity of Tommy's obsession fully hit me—he informed me that I had probably bought the group's best CD.
"Their American release is an enhanced CD with the 'Dancing Queen' video on it. Plus, there are more pictures in it than in the other ones—of course, they're all from the same photo session," he said, taking out a stack of LPs and EPs from his plastic inflatable backpack. "See? I even have the original Swedish release. I'm a DJ in LA," Tommy breathlessly explained, "so I need the singles and stuff. I'm hoping the A*Teens will sign all of them today. I went to their show at Disneyland in April, and only the girls signed one of my CDs, so I'm feeling kinda incomplete without the boys' signatures. That was the concert where Dhani had his accident, so only the girls came out afterward to sign autographs."
Accident? What accident?
"Well, I was sure they were going to do all the songs off ABBA Generation, but then Dhani did a kind of split dance move at the end of 'Mamma Mia.' He tore some ligaments in his left leg. Some girls on their fan website were talking about how they had been at the concert and seen it happen. Of course, I was like, 'Hey, I wasn't just at the concert—I have it on videotape!' Want to check it out? I was way up front!"
He pulled out a video camera from his backpack, rewound the tape a little, and held it up to me. I peered through the viewfinder and was occasionally able to see the dancing A*Teens through a field of bobbing heads. The camera also seemed to be bouncing back and forth.
"Were you dancing when you videotaped the concert?" I asked.
"Of course I was!" Tommy replied enthusiastically. "Have they gotten to the end of 'Mamma Mia' yet?"
"Not yet," I said, continuing to watch for Dhani's painful moment. The fact that it was the blond-haired guy who was going to have the accident didn't exactly come as a surprise—he looked thoroughly confused as he tried to sing and keep in sync with his fellow A*Teen members' moves.
Finally, the awful, tragic moment came. The boys leapt over the girls and did the splits. Amit came back up—but where was Dhani? Several seconds later, he rose, grimacing, with a severe look of pain on his face as he clutched his left leg. Someone ran onstage and helped him off.
"Gee, that really looked bad," I observed. The starstruck Tommy agreed and told me about how the band had to cancel some shows because of the injury.
Thankfully, the wait to see the A*Teens was only about 45 minutes. When we finally got to the front of the line, Tommy began to tremble as he clutched his CDs, his video camera and the regular camera that he had also lugged along. We reached the table at which the four teens were seated, looking even younger in person and positioned in the order they appear in on the CD cover to hurry the autograph process. We encountered Amit first, who wore a T-shirt with STOP PRETENDING YOU DON'T WANT ME emblazoned on the front. While I politely exchanged a few words in Swedish (hard stuff like "hello" and "thanks") with them, Tommy started jabbering full-speed in English. They all seemed to recognize him and looked a bit taken aback. Tommy looked flushed as he ranted, sweat pouring down his face. Marie whispered something in Swedish to the pimply Dhani (too quietly for me to understand), who seemed just as nervous and perplexed about Tommy as he did the night of his accident.