“I Can Be That Woman” by ABBA

ABBA is one of the most unique musical acts in industry history not only because they have sold hundreds of millions of records but also, even if only for a brief moment, there was a time when the quartet’s two male members were simultaneously and respectively married to its two female members. 

And after both of these relationships dissolved around the early 1980s, the group did have a tendency to drop songs that seemingly spoke to that situation, i.e. troubled romances. And as we have sort of alluded to in our past analysis of one of those tunes, 1980’s “The Winner Takes All”, well with the males being the songwriters and the females the vocalists, said songs that we’ve come across tend to take on what we will generally refer to as a penitent wife kind of slant.

Now being that the ABBA marriages have been null and void for over 40 years now, we’re not going to go as far as to speculate that “I Can Be That Woman” is based on those relationships. But what is clear is that it reads like a sentimental holdover from those days, to the point that the female vocalists are once again portraying a character whom some listeners will deem speaks to their real-life situation with Björn and Benny.

The Story of “I Can Be That Woman”

But now with all of that theorizing out of the way, as put forth by Björn Ulvaeus, this is in fact a pretty intricate narrative in terms of insinuations and what have you. 

But basically, it commences with the narrator apologizing to the addressee, with the presumption once again being that this is a romantic relationship between the two of them. It is never revealed what she has done to warrant seeking forgiveness in the first place. But it is implied, if you stretched the beginning of the third verse a bit, that maybe she’s a raging alcoholic. 

However, a more reasonable assumption, if we were to postulate, would be that she cheated or something more along those lines.

But either way, the second verse goes on to imply that whatever she has confessed to is something she has done a few times in the past. Or if not, this is a relationship where the addressee spazzing as he proceeds to do – cussing and kicking furniture and what have you – has happened a few times in the past.

Now once again, no matter how angry the addressee may be, let it be reiterated that in this piece the vocalist is taking full blame. The stated reason that he spazzes, as mentioned above, isn’t due to the homey having anger management issues. Instead the vocalist herself, as a result of the serial fibbing or whatever it is she has done, takes the credit for making him this way in the chorus. 

The Present Tiff

And ultimately, this current tiff is different from their past beefs in two ways. One is that she actually admits to such, i.e. having destroyed their relationship. And secondly, the vocalist is asserting that ‘now she can be that woman’. More simply put, that means that in the present, she is finally ready to behave and conduct herself like a proper partner.

And the insinuation going into the third verse is that she has indeed been – a badass so much so that the addressee doesn’t even believe the vocalist at first, rather thinking that she’s just boozed. But what is clear, whether the narrator proves to be able to change or not, is that currently she is very much sorry, for she realizes that her behavior has resulted in “wasted years” in this relationship.

The long and short of “I Can Be That Woman”

So conclusively, whereas “I Can Be That Woman” is a relatively interesting piece, it is also quite anachronistic, for lack of a better word. That is to say that you’d be sorta hard-pressed to find an actual 21st century female singer taking on such a remorseful disposition. 

Moreover, even if Björn and Benny did for a time believe or fantasize about Agnetha and Frida being sorry about their respective divorces, it isn’t likely that they still operate under that belief to this day, as it doesn’t seem as if either of the ladies actually tried to make amends throughout the decades that followed.

But having said that, ABBA is known for being one of the nobler musical outfits, if you will. And at the end of the day, a lover stepping up and acknowledging that his or her actions are destroying the romance they are a part of, on top of promising to change accordingly, is a brave, and shall we say righteous act.

Lyrics of "I Can Be That Woman"

Björn Ulvaeus described “I Can Be That Woman” as “a country song, in essence” and accordingly used to opportunity to give a shoutout late American singer Tammy Wynette (1942-1998), who is known as the First Lady of Country Music. However, he did so in sort of an unorthodox way, by naming “the good dog” mentioned in the first verse “Tammy”.

Below are Björn’s own words regarding this song:

What Björn Ulvaeus said of  "I Can Be That Woman"

ABBA and “I Can Be That Woman”

ABBA is a legendary musical group from Sweden consisting of four musicians –

  • Agnetha Fältskog
  • Frida Lyngstad
  • Benny Andersson
  • Björn Ulvaeus

From 1971 to 1980, Agnetha and Björn were married, and the same for Frida and Ben from 1978-1981.

This track is from the quartet’s ninth studio album, Voyage, which Polar Music and UMG put out on 5 November 2021. 

And as with every other song on the album’s 10 track playlist, “I Can Be That Woman” was written by Andersson and Ulvaeus, with the pair also producing the tune.

I Can Be That Woman

Listed below are some other popular tracks from the “Voyage” album:

2 Responses

  1. Dana says:

    Thank you for that explanation! I was trying to figure it by out myself.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I’ m not agree with the anachronic part. It’ s the narration of the woman taking consciousness of her behavior and the damage that it’ s doing in his relationship. If the narrator was a man, It will be the same. It’ s not the genre what’s matter here, only the sense of “last chance” for saving a Life in común.

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