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ABBA fans celebrate 'Waterloo' Eurovision victory, 50 years on

Members of the Mark de Lisser Singers perform the iconic ABBA song 'Waterloo' at Waterloo Station in London on Saturday, April 6, 2024.
Alastair Grant
Members of the Mark de Lisser Singers perform the iconic ABBA song 'Waterloo' at Waterloo Station in London on Saturday, April 6, 2024.

Fans of the Swedish supergroup ABBA gathered Saturday in England, Sweden and elsewhere to celebrate the hit song "Waterloo" on the 50th anniversary of its victory at the annual Eurovision Song Contest.

Swedish Television hosted En Fest För ABBA (A Party For ABBA), a tribute concert in honor of the band, in Stockholm on Saturday evening. The king and queen of Sweden were in attendance, though none of the band members were there.

Earlier in the day, singers and a pianist regaled commuters with a tribute to the song at Waterloo train station in London.

Fans also gathered for a flash mob dance in Brighton to mark the occasion. The English coastal city hosted the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest.

ABBA performed "Waterloo" that day with glitter and gusto. One member (conductor Sven-Olof Walldoff) was even dressed as Napoleon.

The group's win was the first for Sweden in the history of the Eurovision Song Contest. The competition was first staged in 1956 in Lugano, Switzerland.

Telling the story of someone who "surrenders" to a lover, the song references Napoleon's surrender at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815.

"My, my / At Waterloo, Napoleon did surrender / Oh, yeah / And I have met my destiny in quite a similar way / The history book on the shelf/ Is always repeating itself / Waterloo / I was defeated, you won the war / Waterloo / Promise to love you forevermore..."

"Waterloo" went on to sell millions of copies, and topped the charts in several countries, including the U.S. Top 10.

It also propelled the band to global success. ABBA has by far outstripped every other Eurovision winner in this regard, with platinum-selling albums, tribute shows like the immersive ABBA Voyage experience in London, and movies like Mamma Mia! starring Meryl Streep.

This year's Eurovision contest will take place in May — fittingly — in Malmö, Sweden. But the choice of host country has nothing to do with ABBA's victory five decades ago. With rare exceptions, Eurovision is always hosted by the country that won the previous year's contest. Swedish singer Loreen won the 2023 competition with "Tattoo."

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Chloe Veltman
Chloe Veltman is a correspondent on NPR's Culture Desk.