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Pop Culture

A-ha's stripped-down, slowed-down performance of 'Take On Me' is a must-see

The slower tempo and simple instrumentation creates a sadder, more haunting version of the 80s monster hit.

a-ha lead singer

A-ha performing live for MTV Unplugged Summer Solstice

According to NPR—and the ABBA blaring from my young adult daughter's headphones—we're in the midst of an 80s music revival. As a Gen Xer who came of age in the 80s, I think most of that decade should stay locked in a time capsule, but there are a few songs that have managed to remain timeless despite the synthesizers and bad hair.

A-ha's "Take On Me" is one of them. Despite its consummately-80s sound, the song with the famous sketch animated video is still enjoyable (if not a little earwormy—good luck once it gets stuck in your head).

But a lesser-known 2017 arrangement of the song is actually, miraculusly, even better. A-ha performed "Take On Me" for an MTV Unplugged Summer Solstice album, and it's significantly different than the original. The Norwegian band filmed the performance live on the island of Giske, dropping the electric piano as well as the tempo for a stripped-down version that has become a fan favorite. As of this writing, the video has 97 million views on YouTube.


"Take On Me" is one of 17 songs in the unplugged performance, but naturally the most popular.

“We’ve talked about this idea for so many years," guitarist Paul Waaktaar-Savoy said. "And in many of our concerts we’ve also played some acoustic songs. But if you consider that we don’t use much technology at all when we write the songs, the idea of an entirely acoustic show makes total sense. Playing all these songs now in their acoustic versions is like returning to their origins.”

Watch and see how the slower tempo and simple instrumentation creates a sadder, more haunting version of their biggest hit.

"The fact he’s still got such a good voice after decades is incredible," wrote one fan.

This is music at its purest form. No light show, distortion pedals, autotune and massive audiences. Spotless," wrote another.

"By far the best version of this song that I have ever heard. It totally transforms the song when performed like this," shared another.

Another commenter made a poignant observation:

"The original version is like a soundtrack for a man living in the fast-paced life in the 80's all cool and hip. This one is like when the same man grows old and saying farewell to the fun memories of his youth."

And another summed up what most people feel seeing this:

"One version makes you dance and the other version makes you cry."


This article originally appeared on 9.26.23

All GIFs and images via Exposure Labs.


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