‘Take On Me’, the track that marked A-ha’s arrival in the music scene, is undeniably one of the greatest hits of all time. But how much do we really know about the Norwegian band? ‘A-ha: The Movie’ directed by Thomas Robsahm does some much-needed digging into the band’s meteoric rise to fame. The result is an insightful study of music and how bands work.
Decades after their arrival on the international music scene, A-ha’s iconic track ‘Take On Me’ remains one of the most played songs. The Norwegian synth-pop band comprising Morten Harket, Pål Waaktaar-Savoy, and Magne Furuholmen dropped the chart-topping, record-smashing hit back in 1985. Released with a brilliant sketch-animation music video by Steve Barron, the song has since been immortalized in pop culture history. Even those who only heard it much later perhaps on an ‘80s hits playlist or in the second Deadpool movie, certainly know A-ha and can attest to its replay value (it’s quite the earworm). To date, the band has around 10 studio albums under their belt scattered through a somewhat fragmented discography. In A-ha: The Movie, director Thomas Robsahm tries to chronicle the band’s unique career and their spectacular rise to fame.
Somewhere during the documentary film’s run-time, Morten Harket, the lead vocalist of A-ha reads a few lines of Keats’ poetry and concludes “He’s absolutely right. F**k fame!”. Strange words from one of the most popular musicians in the world. But fame is fickle and it shaped the boy band’s journey in many ways through the years. Morten, Pål, and Magne met at a young age and eventually found themselves in the UK trying to sign their first record deal. After years of struggle with no results in sight, they released ‘Take On Me’ via Waner Bros. Music which put them on the map, ranking at No.1 on Billboard’s Hot 100 list in the U.S. It was the perfect product from a band that just clicked together. That being said, the members weren’t always running a well-oiled machine. A-ha: The Movie takes us behind-the-scenes into A-ha’s world to unveil a deeper understanding of their lives and music-making process.
Taking on A-ha’s discography through an unfiltered lens.
In spite of their celebrity status, how much do we really know about A-ha? About the charming lead singer Morten’s experimentation with the band’s image, the fact it was keyboard player Magne’s riff that made ‘Take On Me’ what it is or another band guitarist Pål formed while taking a break from A-ha? Each member has made an interesting range of contributions to the group we find out through footage from recording sessions, previously unseen interviews, and tonnes of trivia. The film isn’t afraid of delving deep into unknown aspects of A-ha’s discography. A-ha: The Movie begins with the familiar tune of their biggest hit and borrows the sketch-animation style from its music video, a fitting start to a film that knows how to keep viewers hooked. As someone who loves watching music being made (even slow studio sessions), I thoroughly enjoyed the peek into what a regular day at work looked like. The film does a great job of unveiling the musicians’ personal lives and their ever-changing relationship with each other. I, for one, didn’t know of their break between 1994-98 and that they parted ways so many times. While they performed like a perfectly synchronized unit, they didn’t always get along with each other. Director Robsahm knows that fans are familiar with their greatest hits so instead he focuses on their dynamic as a trio. He really gets into their differences most notably Morten and Pal’s and in doing so, unleashes a whole array of fresh information that goes beyond a run through their career highlights. Apologies for the bad pun but this documentary does take on A-ha’s discography through an unfiltered and honest lens.
In a series of individual interviews, the band members’ clashing views are unveiled. Not that it takes away from how great they are together. But it paints an authentic portrait of them as artists, as young men, even as aging men. What I loved most about A-ha the movie is that it a great study of how a band works. Realistically, artists don’t always stick together. I mean, how many times have our favourite groups stopped jamming together? It happens all the time and we find out very little about why that happens. After witnessing just how much effort it took for three boys from Norway to weather this storm, I was left with more respect for them than I already had. The film manages to pack in all this information while giving us occasional glimpses of the making of ‘Take On Me’ which loops you back in, instantly invoking nostalgia for the first time you heard it. By the 2000s, a bunch of musicians had come out as A-ha fans, among those citing influences are Coldplay, Kanye West, even The Weeknd. So when we finally see their cultural impact nearing the end of the movie, we truly understand what it means.
A-ha: The Movie could easily be viewed as an engaging music drama backed with stellar music. All segments of the documentary film culminate into a deduction of A-ha. The result is a documentary that hits much like an A-ha track. It’s the perfect reminder of the band’s influence and the endless joy of listening to their songs.
A-ha: The Movie screened at the 2021 Tribeca Film Festival.
Cover image: Tribeca Film Festival