Bono finally admits to liking Abba. It’s a sure sign of maturity | Barbara Ellen

There must be a circle of rock’n’roll hell full of people tangled up for all eternity in concepts of “cool” and “uncool”. Now along comes U2’s frontman, Bono, speaking on BBC Radio 2’s Piano Room, saying that, as a 16-year-old punk rocker, pressure to look “macho” meant: “I [didn’t] want to own up to [liking] Abba.”

Bono eventually got over it: by 1992, U2 were bringing Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson on stage to perform Dancing Queen. Still, it’s interesting, where do all these self-imposed cultural vetoes, these uptight musical embargos, come from? What’s with the mid- to late-life urge to let it all hang out and ’fess up to past supposed sins against musical taste? Is any of this still a thing?

I’m not convinced Abba ever truly fitted the “uncool” template. Plenty of people, including musicians, have admitted to liking them down the years. The only reason Abba haven’t been “homage-ed”, “reimagined” or, put bluntly, ripped off more is … Abba. Famously strict about sampling their material (they once threatened to sue KLF), only two artists (the Fugees and Madonna) have been given official permission to use cuts.

U2 in Dublin, Ireland, 1978. From left, Larry Mullen Jr, the Edge, Bono and Adam Clayton.
‘Part of the central ethos of post punk was disdainfully denouncing all that came before’: U2, Dublin, 1978. Photograph: Sheila Rock/Rex/Shutterstock

Elsewhere, it gets complicated. Time was, people had at least two music collections: the one smugly displayed to peers (“I listen only to industrial techno, progressive bluegrass, and New Orleans jazz”). Then there was the other one – the honest one – that got dragged out and stuck on at 3am when you came home sloshed after a night out for a messy headphones-assisted session. “Turn around bright eyes!” You didn’t mind if you did, as a consenting adult, in the privacy of your own home.

However, this notion of cultural “guilty pleasures” has been on the wane for some time. If anything, people seem proud of their fringe/naff tastes now. Sometimes, too proud. Regarding collaborations, artists have been “naffing down”, if you will, for ages. (Think Nick Cave with Kylie – though, was La Minogue ever really uncool?) For all the marks against Spotify, maybe its track-by-track modus operandi helped this along: jumbling up musical tastes, making everything freer. The point being, increasingly, these days, our cultural kinks become us. “Good” taste is out. Personal taste is king.

So why is Bono still discussing his youthful Abba-love in hushed confessional tones? The reason for that could be time-stamped. While the punk/post-punk era could be varied (drawing on rock’n’roll, reggae, northern soul and more), it could also be viciously, scarily tribal and narrow. After all, part of the central ethos – not to mention the fun – was disdainfully denouncing all that came before.

Entering this judgmental vortex, young Bono Vox, an early nickname, felt he could not come clean about his secret passion for Chiquitita. So not so much “macho”, just a true punk of his era. As for the urge that still compels some to own up to musical secrets, let’s put it down to aged-up teen rebellion: a demand to be seen as the proud all-rounder you truly are (even though nobody cares what anybody listens to any more). A case of all of us have terrible, dark secrets. Play me yours.

Barbara Ellen is an Observer columnist