Weekly Success Story - Apr 23, 2001Every week, HitQuarters presents a new story of music business success. This original feature will explain how an artist went from being unknown to becoming a major hit in the charts. Which route through the industry did the artist take? What is there to learn from the artist’s mistakes and achievements?
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The week of Apr 23, 2001 features:
A*TeensA*Teens released their debut album "The Abba Generation" in 1999 and have per November 2000 sold 3 million albums worldwide including the US and Japan.
A*Teens, comprised by members Marie Serneholt, Amit Paul, Sara Lumholdt and Dhani Lennevald, hail from Stockholm, Sweden and were discovered by Stockholm Records A&R Anders Johansson. In October 1998, Anders ran an audition, held at Lasse Kühler's Dance School, for a new group he had in mind. The group was to perform new contemporary versions of ABBA songs, an idea former Stockholm Records Marketing Manager Niklas Berg had come up with in a staff meeting some time earlier. Anders had attended different show schools, auditions for movies and casting bureaus in his search for four teenagers with the ability to sing, perform and who were generally interesting people, before calling Eva Jonsson, a dance teacher at Lasse Kühler's, asking if she knew of anyone who would fit the bill. Eva came up with a list of 30-40 names which included Marie, Amit, Sara and Dhani, who had already been friends for several years, and as soon as Anders saw them perform together at the subsequent audition, he know he’d found what he was looking for. Before signing them, Anders had several meetings with the young artists and their parents in order to fully explain the realities and implications of being recording artists. After having received everyone’s approval and the contract had been negotiated with a lawyer representing the artists, Anders set to work with the music.
Producers Ronald & Thomas, from the company R&T, had previously sent Anders an album of ABBA covers they had made, and liking their sound, he called them up and they started working with the act during the winter 1998/1999, later producing seven songs on the album. The idea was to feature ABBA’s biggest hits, and thus having a wide selection, Anders and the artists each made up their own lists of songs which to a large extent conveniently coincided. One song in particular, `Mamma Mia´, "a brilliant, extremely catchy song with a fantastic title," was seen by Anders as the perfect track to launch the new act. Several versions were recorded by Ronald & Thomas, but Anders felt something was missing and engaged well-known Swedish producers Pär Adebratt, Christer Sandelin and Tommy Ekman from Sprinkler productions to re-record it. While the vocals from those sessions worked well, the music still didn’t fit Anders’s vision and a few Danish producers gave it a try as well, before Anders contacted Norwegian producer Ole Evenrude, having heard and liked some of his previous productions. Ole produced the final version of the track using the vocals recorded by Adebratt/Sandelin/Ekman and this time Anders felt the production reflected the act, which was to be "extremely positive, extremely energetic, colourful, just pure energy and a lot of happy vibes".
Whilst the bigger part of the album was recorded, "Mamma Mia" was serviced to Swedish radio in late winter/spring 1999, instantly gaining massive airplay. A video-clip was filmed by independent director Henrik Sylvén before release, and was handed out to national TV channels where it enjoyed hit-rotation. While no other influential marketing was carried out, the track entered the singles sales chart at No.1 in May (after the label had had to move the release forward to May 10 instead of May 17 as planned, because of consumer pressure) and stayed on top for two months, eventually selling 120.000 copies - the biggest selling single in Sweden in 1999. Initially released under the name ABBA-Teens with the approval from Polar International who owns the copyright for the name ABBA, Stockholm Records MD Ola Håkansson was asked by Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson (of ABBA) to change the name, something Stockholm Records had no objections to, and the new and more fitting name (according to the label and the group), A*Teens, was introduced.
The album now had to be finished quickly. The remaining songs were recorded whilst at the same time the A*Teens were performing various promotion duties such as the teen press. The album "The Abba Generation" entered at No.1 as well on its release in August, topping the chart for five weeks, going on to sell more than 250.000 copies, which equals triple platinum in Sweden, and becoming the second biggest selling album in 1999. At this time, the need for a manager became apparent, and Anders, who feels that record companies should not select their artists’ management, recommended 5-6 names, both Swedish and foreign, whereupon the A*Teens and their parents decided on Brian Lane of Bandana Management, who showed great interest in A*Teens. This was a choice that Anders also felt was the best for the band, as "Brian has experience and is a great guy to work with". Bandana Management is represented in the US by John Coon at Modulus Media in San Francisco.
"Mamma Mia" had also, that summer, started to sell in the other Scandinavian countries, topping the chart in Denmark and going Top 10 in Norway and Finland. Stockholm Records always aims at several territories with their artists, as the Swedish market alone is seen as relatively small. Talks with the A*Teens and their parents were now held with regards to how far they could take it considering their age (14-15 years old). As result, the single was released in different territories throughout Europe via Universal (whom Stockholm Records is partly owned by) and went into the charts in several countries including the UK ( No.12 in September 1999 ). Motor Music in Germany (another Universal affiliate) now started to prepare their own release of "Mamma Mia", marketing the single towards radio, TV and teen press. A*Teens also supported the release by touring and giving interviews. The single entered the Top 20 in its first week of release in November at No.15, peaked at No.10 and spent a total of 8 weeks in the Top 20. The follow-up "Super Trouper" peaked at No.4 on January 27 and also spent 8 weeks in the Top 20. The album went as high as No.2 in the album chart and has sold in excess of 1 million in Europe, earning a platinum award.
In the US, a country where ABBA never enjoyed the massive success they had in the rest of the world, kids and teenagers are responding strongly to A*Teens, who have been touring with ‘N-Sync and Britney Spears. Their video-clips are on heavy rotation on the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon. Marketing is geared towards word-of-mouth, as teen-bands don’t get radio exposure, the exceptions being Radio Disney, WKIE (Kiss FM) Chicago and a few other Top 40 stations. "Mamma Mia" (MCA) peaked at No.63 in the Billboard Hot 100 Singles Sales Chart in January 2000, and the follow-up, "Dancing Queen" (also produced by Ole Evenrude), reached its highest position No.13 in July. In the Billboard Hot 100 Chart**, "Dancing Queen" peaked at No.95 in July. The album has per November 2000, it had sold gold and is now nearing platinum (1 million copies). John Coon of Modulus Media ascribes a large part of their popularity to the fact that they're "mixed-gender (a rarity), younger than other teen-appeal acts, and family-oriented" (Billboard March 25).
Anders attributes the success to the energy the act displays: "their positivity is genuine, that's the most important thing", and "the great songs of ABBA, of course". He never had to create an image for them as "it comes very natural, they’re just like that. The step from being up on the stage and to the audience is not that big, because they're both 15 years old. The artists can really respond and reflect, they (the audience) see themselves in the artists. The A*Teens have the best attitude I've ever seen in an artist".
The new album "Teen Spirit" (release date winter 2000) will feature all original songs, as both the label and the A*teens see it as "a natural thing to try and see how far you can fly on your own wings" and "neither us nor the A*Teens were keen on releasing more ABBA songs". It’s been produced by production companies Tinitus and Epicentre.
** The Billboard Hot 100 Chart is the one generally referred to when talking about the Billboard Chart. It’s a mix between single sales and airplay with the weight on airplay. Thus artists with little or no radio but who sell actual records suffer, while acts with airplay but insignificant sales go high, the most famous example being Aaliyah, who this year topped the chart with "Try Again" due to extensive airplay but zero sales, as the track wasn’t available for retail.
Written by Stefan Sörin
Weekly Success Story Archive