The Winner Takes It All is a song written and recorded by the Grammy and Eurovision-winning pop group ABBA. Ranking number one on several European music charts, it was a great success at the time of its release.
Popular musicians know that fans love looking for a connection between their songs and incidents in their real lives, even though the artists often deny that the songwriting stories have anything to do with their personal experiences. The Winner Takes It All is a prime example of this.
Band members Bjorn Ulvaeus and Agnetha Fältskog were married for almost eight years, but their relationship gradually deteriorated, and in early 1979 they divorced. Not long later, Ulvaeus and Andersson wrote “The Winner Takes It All”.
The song describes the disintegration of a relationship, depicting a woman clinging desperately to the memories of her failed marriage while her ex-husband finds love with another woman. Some believe that the lyrics are the most poignant ever written by Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson, and nowadays, the emblematic tune is considered one of the finest pop love ballads of all time.
Ulvaeus associated the image of a love story with gambling, with the idea that lovers may always end up losing each other despite mutual efforts of staying together. It portrays the idea that you must occasionally go all-in to win big, just like you may do so when playing online casino games, but it doesn’t always have the outcome you hoped for.
Ulvaeus and Andersson began the writing process for “The Winner Takes It All” in 1979, during a summer holiday spent in a cottage on the picturesque island of Viggso. According to Ulvaeus, he found the writing process difficult, which led to him having a bottle of brandy on hand during the creation of the song. While composing the lyrics, he claims to have had an image in his head of a man walking through an empty house, from which his wife had removed all the furniture, seeing this as a symbol of divorce.
While widely rumoured to be a reflection of the breakup and divorce of Ulvaeus and the song performer, Fältskog, this theory was never properly confirmed by any of the bandmates. Ulvaeus himself vehemently denied that the song was wholly based on personal experience, with Fältskog stating that there were no actual winners in their divorce. However, years later, Ulvaeus confessed that his divorce had left its imprints on the lyrics of the song, which came as no surprise to many ABBA fans who had noticed how fitting the song was for the soon-to-be divorced couple at the time.
Since first being released in July 1980, the song has offered consolation and catharsis for hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of couples who have broken up. The song also became the major showstopper in the Mamma Mia! musical, with producer Judy Craymer claiming that the emotional power of The Winner Takes It All was what gave her inspiration for the show in the first place.
While there have been plenty or interpretations of the song, few would dispute that the original version, performed by ABBA, will always remain unsurpassed. And despite the connections between the lyrics and her real-life divorce, Fältskog herself has stated several times it is her favourite song she has ever recorded.