Film

Junkee Investigation: Does ABBA Actually Exist In The Mamma Miaverse?

Or does everyone just spontaneously know all their songs?

The hit films Mamma Mia! and Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again are jaunty packages of delight and wonder, so-called jukebox musicals absolutely packed with the extended discography of the iconic band ABBA. But, as we bop along to ‘Dancing Queen’ and ‘Waterloo’, we have to wonder — does ABBA exist in Mamma Miaverse? And if not, where the heck do those songs come from?

*Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again spoilers in this article.*

Look, I’m as obsessed with Mamma Mia! as the next gay, but even I will acknowledge that there’s some huge gaping plot holes and mysteries in this film series.

How did Donna die (my money is on cage-fight gone wrong)? Who is Donna’s dad? Why did they hire Pierce Brosnan when he literally cannot sing?

But none of these mysteries are as important as discovering whether or not ABBA exists in this blighted universe. ABBA is the heart and soul and driving rhythm to this entire franchise, the vehicle that helps each character express their emotions, their deepest fears and shallowest thoughts. ABBA is the literal and symbolic soundtrack to Mamma Mia!

We should probably work out what role they play in this reality.

Knowing Me, Knowing You

The two male members of ABBA, Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus are credited with creating the music in Mamma Mia! and Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, with Andersson also working on additional tracks for the original film. This means very little, frankly.

However, their involvement doesn’t end with the music — they also have several cameos in the films themselves.

In Mamma Mia!, Andersson appeared in the ‘Dancing Queen’ scene, playing his piano on the docks of the Greek waterfront. Ulvaeus also portrayed a Greek god in the end credits performance of ‘Waterloo’, although I’m not sure if we should consider the end credits scene as canonical to the reality of the musical. Unless Mamma Mia! is literally hypothesising the existence of Zeus, which is a whole other article in itself.

Now, it’s pretty safe to assume that they weren’t playing themselves in the show, namely because they also appear AGAIN in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again in flashback scenes decades before their first-film counterparts, with Andersson playing the piano again, this time during the excellent performance of ‘Waterloo’. Ulvaeus is also seen, masquerading as a teacher in the performance of ‘When I Kissed The Teacher’.

Now, that may seem to indicate that ABBA definitely exists in the Mamma Miaverse due to the presence of Benny and Björn. But unless we can also hypothesise that the members of ABBA are un-aging, time-travelling, con-artists with multiple identities, who spend most of their time hanging around Greek taverns waiting on the off-chance that someone will break out into one of their songs, it seems more likely that Benny and Björn do not exist as Benny and Björn.

Or at least that’s what Benny and Björn, or the creatures who stole their faces, want you to think.

Thank You For The Music

But lets talk about the songs — ah, the songs Jim, they’ll melt your face off.

It would be easy, nay, sane even, to just assume that Mamma Mia! follows the rules and logic of a musical, where it’s both normal and unremarked upon for people to burst into song. But we’re clearly not those kind of people, considering both you and I have made it this far through the article.

The problem is that there’s two kinds of song in the Mamma Miaverse — the spontaneous, crowd-gathered, ensemble music event, and the actual planned performances. ABBA songs seem to exist both diegetically AND universally. We could write it off as musical logic, if it weren’t implied from the diegetic performances that the songs of ABBA exist within a context in this world.

Are the songs that we KNOW are examples of ABBA’s extensive and famous discography actually only flights of fantasy to the characters in the Mamma Miaverse?

Mostly everyone who plans a diegetic performance in this world is a member of Donna and the Dynamos. We can therefore assume two things — that Donna and the Dynamos wrote and therefore own all the songs of ABBA, making them a kind of alternate reality version of the band. Or that Donna and the Dynamos are a cover-band of ABBA.

However, the timeline is off for the second option. They sing ‘When I Kissed The Teacher’ back in the seventies at their university graduation. In our world, ABBA released ‘When I Kissed The Teacher’ on their first album in 1976, which MAY work out chronologically, except that its very early for ABBA to have a cover band.

But the thing is that even in the diegetic performances, people join in, people outside the dynamos. In the ‘Andante, Andante’ and ‘Mamma Mia’ performances in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again where they sing on stage in the taverna, other people start joining as if they already know the songs.

Furthermore, the house band at the taverna also sings the ABBA song ‘Kisses of Fire’.

So, we have to assume these songs are big enough to be famous. Like an ABBA song.

The Winner Takes It All

In fact, Donna and The Dynamos have a problematic timeline as it is.

They are referred to as ‘the greatest girl group in the world’ multiple times, but admittedly usually by friends and family. Perhaps it’s just loving hyperbole — because it’s unclear when exactly they managed to even get a performance on stage, let alone reach any form of fame or success.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again starts at their graduation from university, where it is implied that all three met. I wonder what they were all studying? Was it as obvious as music, or was it weirdly left of centre like a business degree? ANYWAY.

That gives them three years to form a band and become famous — because as we know, immediately after that Donna goes and screws three dudes and becomes pregnant on a tiny Greek island that she stays on until she MYSTERIOUSLY dies many years later.

Now that’s fine — bigger things have happened in three years than a band becoming famous. But are we meant to assume that they created the entire back catalogue of ABBA in that time? Seems unfathomable.

Perhaps, and this is an uneasy compromise, every diegetic song sang in the show: ‘Dancing Queen’, ‘Mamma Mia’ and ‘Andante, Andante’ amongst others, is a Donna and the Dynamo original, which DID have enough success that people would know to sing along. They might be one or two hit wonders.

And then all the rest is ABBA musical nonsense logic?

CHER DOESN’T EXIST

Everything points to the Mammamiaverse being a shadow reality where ABBA does not exist, their songs and legacy frittered away on a lonely Greek island instead of changing the world. But that’s OK — because in this world we also know Cher doesn’t exist.

Cher is a singer and performer in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again — her name is Ruby Sheridan and all we know about her is that she hasn’t left Las Vegas in years, like a Celine Dion or Britney Spears or… Cher. She may be analogous in almost every way to our world’s Cher, except that she gave birth to Meryl Streep somehow.

But, because this is categorically true — Cher as we know her doesn’t exist, we can follow the train of logic to say if this is true, then what else does this change. If there’s no Cher in this world, there might as well be no ABBA.

In fact, maybe in this world there are NONE of our bands. Jerry O’Connell would love this world on Sliders, it’s pretty innocuous.

We know that Ruby is famous and successful and wealthy enough to own a HELICOPTER for christs sake — perhaps all the ABBA songs that Donna and the Dynamos sing, which everyone automatically knows the lyrics too are hers. Perhaps Cher is ABBA?

Perhaps this is all Cher’s game and we’re all struggling to catch up.

What’s The Verdict?

So yeah, ABBA does not exist in this world. Or maybe ABBA is the only band to ever exist. It’s hard to tell.

Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again is currently in cinemas, it’s full of ABBA songs.

Patrick Lenton is an author and staff writer at Junkee. He tweets @patricklenton.