An oral historical past of Take On Me by A-ha
The phrase ‘viral video’ was non-existent when Steve Barron started making the promo for then-unknown Norwegian band A-ha’s Take on Me. Today, it’s clocked up more than a billion views on YouTube – despite the fact it was released nearly 40 years ago in 1985, and was created using an animation style that came to prominence in the 1920s.
Barron’s video was the second for that track: Take on Me was first released in 1984 with a simple performance-based video, but much to the chagrin of the band and their label, Warner Brothers, the single failed to chart. When it was re-released with a new recording and their famed animated video in the latter half of 1985, the song shot to number 2 in the UK charts, and topped the American Billboard charts, going on to win numerous MTV Awards in 1986.
A new documentary about A-ha released on May 20 reveals a lot about the making of the video and of the history of the band themselves, uncovering a tumultuous few decades through the high points of the band’s enormous success to classic ‘creative differences’, in-band squabbles, and the hell of what it is to be in, as the New York Times terms it, ‘creative purgatory’.
Directed by Thomas Robsahm, A-ha: The Movie often leans on the distinctive rotoscoped animation style of the Take on Me video to illustrate certain moments in the band’s history. “When you make a documentary like this, you’re always gonna lack material from the early years: there’s not going to be that much photography or film from when they were children — and especially not things like their first rehearsal or the first time they buy a guitar,” Robsahm explains. “The idea [to use the animation style] to tell the story came very fast. I thought it was maybe too obvious, but it turned out that people really like it.”