Björk

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Björk
Björk @deer lake park 2.jpg
Björk performing in 2007 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
Background information
Birth name Björk Guðmundsdóttir
Born ( 1965-11-21) 21 November 1965 (age 48)
Reykjavík, Iceland
Genres Alternative rock, electronica, trip hop, alternative dance, experimental, ethereal wave, jazz, avant-garde, ambient, industrial, post-punk (early)
Occupations Singer-songwriter, composer, musician, actress
Instruments Voice, piano, keyboards, flute, harp, clarinet, harmonica
Years active 1977–present
Labels One Little Indian, Polydor, Universal, Elektra, Atlantic, Nonesuch, Warner Bros.
Associated acts The Sugarcubes, Kukl, Exodus, Megas, Tappi Tíkarrass, Björk Guðmundsdóttir & tríó Guðmundar Ingólfssonar, Dirty Projectors, 808 State, Thom Yorke
Website Bjork.com

Björk Guðmundsdóttir (/ˈbjɜrk/;[1] Icelandic pronunciation: [ˈpjœr̥k ˈkvʏðmʏntsˌtoʊhtɪr]; born 21 November 1965), known as Björk, is an Icelandic singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer. Her musical style is eclectic and she has achieved recognition in alternative rock, jazz, electronic dance music, classical, and avant-garde.[2]

Three of Björk's 1990s singles charted in the UK Top 10 ("It's Oh So Quiet" reached number 4, "Army of Me" number 10, and "Hyperballad" number 8).[3] Her record label, One Little Indian, reported that by 2003, she had sold more than 15 million albums worldwide.[4] She has won four BRIT Awards, four MTV Video Music Awards, one MOJO Award, three UK Music Video Awards, and, in 2010, the Polar Music Prize from the Royal Swedish Academy of Music in recognition of her "deeply personal music and lyrics, her precise arrangements and her unique voice."[5]

Björk has also been nominated for 14 Grammy Awards (plus two for art direction on her album sleeves, done by others), one Academy Award, and two Golden Globe Awards. She won the Best Actress Award at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival for her performance in Dancer in the Dark.[6] She was ranked twenty-ninth in VH1's "The 100 Greatest Women in Music",[7] eighth in MTV's "22 Greatest Voices in Music",[8] and sixtieth in Rolling Stone's "100 Greatest Singers of All Time".[9]

Life and career[edit]

1965–86: Early life and career beginnings[edit]

The city of Reykjavík, Iceland, where Björk was born and raised

Björk was born on November 21, 1965 in Reykjavík, Iceland, where she grew up. Her mother is activist Hildur Rúna Hauksdóttir, who protested against the controversial development of Iceland's Kárahnjúkar Hydropower Plant,[10] and her father is Guðmundur Gunnarsson, a union leader and electrician. They divorced when Björk was born and she moved with her mother to a hippie commune.[11][12] Her stepfather is Sævar Árnason, a former guitarist in a band called Pops.[12] At six, Björk enrolled at Reykjavík school Barnamúsíkskóli, where she studied classical piano and flute.[13] After a school recital in which Björk sang Tina Charles 1976 hit "I Love to Love", her teachers sent a recording of her singing the song to the RÚV radio station – then, Iceland's only radio station. The recording was nationally broadcast and, after hearing it, a representative of the Fálkinn record label offered Björk a recording contract. Her selt-titled début, Björk was recorded and released in Iceland in December 1977.

During her teens, after the diffusion of punk rock music in Iceland she formed the all-girl punk band Spit and Snot. A year later, in 1980, she formed a jazz fusion group called Exodus and collaborated in another group called JAM80. During the same year she also graduated from music school.[13] In 1982, she and bassist Jakob Magnússon formed another group, Tappi Tíkarrass ("Cork the Bitch's Ass [sic]" in Icelandic), and released EP Bítið Fast í Vítið ("Bite Hard Into Hell" in Icelandic), in August 1982. Their album Miranda was released in December 1983. The group was featured in the documentary Rokk í Reykjavík, with Björk particularly being featured on the cover of the VHS release.[13][14] It was around this time that the singer got to meet with guitarist Þór Eldon and surrealist group Medusa, which also included poet Sjón, with whom she started a life-long collaboration and formed a small group called Rokka Rokka Drum.[15] The singer appeared as a featured artist on "Afi", a track from Björgvin Gíslason 1983 record Örugglega.[12]

Due to the imminent discontinuance of radio show Áfangar, two radio personalities, Ásmundur Jónsson and Guðni Rúnar, called out to musicians to play on a last live radio show. Björk joined with Einar Melax (from the group Fan Houtens Kókó), Einar Örn Benediktsson (from Purrkur Pillnikk), Guðlaugur Kristinn Óttarsson and Sigtryggur Baldursson (from Þeyr), and Birgir Mogensen (from Spilafífl) to perform on the concert.[16] The group developed a goth rock sound. It was during this experience that Björk began to develop her vocalisation – punctuated by howls and shrieks.[13] The project performed as Gott kvöld during the concert but later decided to keep playing together as a group and they used the name Kukl ("Sorcery" in Icelandic).[16] They started recording at a studio thanks to Björk's acquaintance with the studio owner and released their first single in 1983.[16] Their first big performance was at a festival in Iceland which was headlined by English anarchist punk band Crass, whose record label, Crass Records offered the band a record deal. The Eye was released in 1984 and was followed by a two-month tour in Europe, which also included a performance at Roskilde Festival in Denmark, making Kukl the first Icelandic band to play at the festival.[11][16] During this period Björk published a handcoloured book of poems to sustain the cost of her rent. Um Úrnat frá Björk was distributed in 1984.[13] In 1985, the singer found out she was expecting a child from Eldon, but continued touring with Kukl.[13] Their second album, called Holidays in Europe came out in 1986, but after some months the band would eventually split up due to personal squabbles, with Björk keeping a collaboration with Óttarsson, which was named The Elgar Sisters. Some of the songs they recorded would end up as B-sides to Björk solo singles.[13][17]

1986–92: The Sugarcubes[edit]

Björk performing in Japan with the Sugarcubes

On June 8, 1986, Björk gave birth to a baby boy called Sindri Eldon Thórsson.[13] She married Þór Eldon and moved out with him. Soon after Sindri was born, Björk got her first acting role on The Juniper Tree, a film directed by Nietzchka Keene, playing the role of Margit.[13] That summer, former band member Einar Örn and Eldon formed the arts collective Smekkleysa ("Bad Taste" in Icelandic), created with the intention of being both a record label and book publishing company.[13][17] Various friends, namely Melax and Sigtryggur from the Kukl, along with Bragi Ólafsson and Friðrik Erlingson from Purrkur Pillnikk, joined the group and a band coalesced in the collective solely to make money.[17] They were initially called Þukl, but they were advertised as Kukl (the name of the previous band). At a later concert supporting Icelandic band Stuðmenn (managed by Einar Örn) they addressed themselves as Sykurmolarnir ("The Sugarcubes" in Icelandic). To fund the release of their first double A-side single "Einn mol'á mann", which contained the songs "Ammæli" ("Birthday") and "Köttur" ("Cat"), Smekkleysa printed a postcard bearing the image of Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan during the Reykjavík Summit.[13][17] The single was released on November 21, 1986, Björk's 21st birthday.[17] At the end of that year, the band was signed by One Little Indian, a new label set up by Derek Birkett, the former bass player of Flux of Pink Indians, but soon after Erlingson decided to leave the band.[17] Their first English single, "Birthday", was released in the UK on August 17, 1987; a week later, it was declared single of the week by Melody Maker.[17] The Sugarcubes also signed a distribution deal with Elektra Records in the United States turning down a number of record deal offers from around the world and recorded their first album, Life's Too Good, which was released in 1988.[18] After the release of the album, Margrét "Magga" Örnólfsdóttir, Eldon's new girlfriend (he and Björk had divorced soon after the birth of their child despite being in the same group[13]), replaced Einst Melax as the band keyboardist.[18] The album went on to sell more than one million copies worldwide.[18] Björk contributed as a background vocalist on 1987 album Loftmynd by Megas, for whom she provided background vocals also on his subsequent album Höfuðlausnir (1988) and Hættuleg hljómsveit & glæpakvendið Stella (1990).[12]

In the last quarter of 1988, The Sugarcubes toured North America to positive reception.[18] In September, the band played at The Ritz in New York, a concert attended by David Bowie and Iggy Pop.[18] On October 15, the band appeared on Saturday Night Live. Björk alone contributed with a rendition of the christmas classic "Jólakötturinn" ("The Christmas Cat") on the compilation Hvitt Er Í Borg Og BæIn.[12] The band's second album, Here Today, Tomorrow Next Week! saw release on October 1989.[18] Contrary to their debut album, it was not well received by critics. Due to negative backlash regarding Einar Örn by music critics,[12][18] the band started to ponder about splitting up and went on hiatus after a promotional tour in 1990. During the hiatus the band members formed a lighthearted big-band named Hljómsveit Kondráds B, in which Björk played clarinet.[12][18] It was during the hiatus that Björk started working on her solo projects. In 1990 she provided background vocals on Gums, an album by a band called Bless.[12] In the same year the singer recorded Gling-Gló, a collection of popular jazz and original work, with the jazz group Tríó Guðmundar Ingólfssonar, which is her best-selling album in her home country still nowadays.[13][18] Björk also contributed vocals to 808 State's album ex:el, with whom she cultivated her interest in house music. She contributed vocals on the songs "Qmart" and on "Ooops", which was released as a single in the UK in 1991.[12] She also contributed vocals to the song "Falling", on the album Island by Current 93 and Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson.[12] In the same year she met harpist Corky Hale, with whom she had a recording session that was bound to end up on her début album.[13]

At this point, Björk had decided to leave the band to pursue her solo career, but their contract included the making of one last album with a subsequent promotional tour, which Björk agreed to do.[18] Stick Around for Joy was released in February 1992. The record received positive reviews. The Sugarcubes opened for U2 during their Zoo TV Tour in October and November 1992, playing to a grand total of 700,000 people.[18] Coinciding with this string of concert, their label released a remix album named It's-It. Björk was featured on two tracks of the soundtrack for the 1992 film Remote Control (known as Sódóma Reykjavík in Iceland).[12] After the Sugarcubes played one last gig at the Reykjavík club Tunglið around Christmas, they decided to split up.[18] They are nowadays recognized as "Iceland's biggest rock band".[19]

1992–96: Debut and Post[edit]

In 1993, the Sugarcubes split up. They remain friends and are all still involved in the management of Smekkleysa/Bad Taste. Björk moved to London to pursue a solo career; she began working with producer Nellee Hooper (who had produced for Massive Attack, among others). Their partnership produced Björk's first international solo hit, "Human Behaviour", a clattering dance track based on a guitar rhythm sampled from Antônio Carlos Jobim. In most countries, the song was not widely played on radio but was widely seen on MTV, accompanied by an influential video by Oscar-winning film director Michel Gondry, who would become a frequent collaborator for Björk.[20]

Her solo debut album, Debut, was released in June 1993 to positive reviews; it was named album of the year by NME and eventually went platinum in the United States.[21] Debut was the leap Björk made from being in numerous bands during her teens and early twenties to her solo career. But although this was far from her real debut as a singer and musician, having released her first solo album at the age of 11, she named the album Debut to signify a start of something brand new. Debut had a mix of songs Björk had been writing since she was a teenager, as well as more recent lyrical collaborations with Hooper. Although the music was mostly dance-oriented, it was varied in instrumentation. One single from the album, "Venus as a Boy", featured a Bollywood-influenced string arrangement. Björk covered the jazz standard "Like Someone in Love" to the accompaniment of a harp, and the final track, "The Anchor Song", was sung with only a saxophone ensemble for accompaniment.

At the 1994 BRIT Awards, Björk won the awards for Best International Female and Best International Newcomer.[22] The success of Debut enabled her to collaborate with British and other artists on one-off tracks. She worked with David Arnold on "Play Dead", the theme to the 1993 film The Young Americans (which appeared as a bonus track on a re-release of Debut), collaborated on two songs for Tricky's Nearly God project, appeared on a track on the 1997 album Not for Threes by Plaid (which was released on the Warp Records label), and co-wrote the song "Bedtime Story" for Madonna's 1994 album Bedtime Stories.

Post was Björk's second solo studio album. Released in June 1995, the album was produced in conjunction with Nellee Hooper, Tricky, Graham Massey of 808 State, and electronica producer Howie B. Building on the success of Debut, Björk continued to pursue different sounds, taking particular interest in dance and techno. Production by Tricky and Howie B also provided trip hop/electronica-like sounds on tracks like "Possibly Maybe" and "Enjoy". It was these producers' influence along with older friend Graham Massey that inspired Björk to create material like the storming industrial beats of "Army of Me". Post however also included more subtle and playful moments than Debut, with deeper jazz and orchestral arrangements on some tracks and a mood of intimate contemplation toward the end.

The album was ranked number 7 in Spin's "Top 90 Albums of the '90s" list and number 75 in its "100 Greatest Albums, 1985–2005" list.[23][24] Post and Homogenic were placed back to back on Pitchfork Media's "Top Albums of the '90s" list at numbers 21 and 20, respectively.[25][26] In 2003, the album was ranked number 373 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.[27]

Although again Björk received more mainstream attention for her videos than her singles, Post included several UK pop hits and was eventually certified platinum in the US.[21] Björk also contributed to the 1995 Hector Zazou collaborative album Chansons des mers froides, singing the traditional Icelandic song "Vísur Vatnsenda-Rósu".

1997–2002: Embracing beats, strings, Homogenic and Vespertine[edit]

Björk performing at Ruisrock, Turku, Finland, 1998

In 1997, the album Homogenic was released. It marked a dramatic shift from her earlier "pixie" image cultivated on the Debut and Post albums. Björk worked with producers Mark Bell of LFO and Howie B on the album, as well as Eumir Deodato; numerous remixes followed. Homogenic was her first conceptually self-contained album and is regarded as one of Björk's most experimental and extroverted works to date, with enormous beats that reflect the landscape of Iceland, most notably in the song "Jóga", which fuses lush strings with rocky electronic crunches. The album was certified gold in the US in 2001.[21]

The emotionally charged album contains a string of music videos, several of which received airplay on MTV. The video for "Bachelorette" was directed by frequent collaborator Michel Gondry, while "All Is Full of Love" was directed by Chris Cunningham. The single "All is Full of Love" was also the first DVD single to ever be released in the US, which paved the way for other artists to include DVD video and other multimedia features with their singles.

In an interview with Spin magazine, Radiohead singer Thom Yorke called the song "Unravel" from this album his favourite song ever, claiming "I'm trying to get Radiohead to do a cover because I think it's one of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard." In November 2007, the band covered the song as part of a live webcast.[28]

Björk performing at the Radio City Music Hall in 2001

In 2001, Björk released the album Vespertine. The album featured chamber orchestras, choirs, hushed vocals, microbeats made from household sounds, and personal, vulnerable themes. She collaborated with experimental sound manipulators Matmos, Denmark-based DJ Thomas Knak, and the experimental harpist Zeena Parkins for the album. Lyrical sources included the works of American poet E. E. Cummings, the American independent filmmaker Harmony Korine, and English playwright Sarah Kane's penultimate play, Crave. To coincide with the album's release, Björk released a coffee table book of loose prose and photographs titled Björk.[29] Björk embarked on a tour of theatres and opera houses in Europe and North America in support of the album, accompanied by the musicians Matmos and Zeena Parkins and an Inuit choir, whom she had held auditions for on a trip to Greenland prior to the tour.[30] At the time, Vespertine was Björk's quickest selling album ever, having sold two million copies by the end of 2001.[31]

Vespertine spawned three singles: "Hidden Place", "Pagan Poetry", and "Cocoon". MTV2 played the album's first video, "Hidden Place", which was subsequently released as a DVD single. However, the next video, for "Pagan Poetry", brought Björk to an even higher level of controversy with the channel. The song's video features graphic piercings, Björk's exposed nipples, and simulated fellatio.[32] As a result, the clip was initially rarely shown by MTV, and certain parts (for example, Björk's breasts) were censored during the rare occasions when it was played. In 2002, the clip finally enjoyed unedited American airing as part of a late night special on MTV2 titled, "Most Controversial Music Videos". The video for "Cocoon" also featured a seemingly naked Björk (actually wearing a close fitting bodysuit), this time with her nipples secreting a red thread that eventually enveloped the singer in a cocoon. The video was directed by Japanese artist Eiko Ishioka and was not aired by MTV.

The year 2002 saw the appearance of the CD box set Family Tree containing a retrospective of Björk's career, comprising many previously unreleased versions of her compositions, including her work with the Brodsky Quartet. Also released alongside Family Tree was the album Greatest Hits, a retrospective of the previous 10 years of her solo career as deemed by the public. The songs on the album were chosen by Björk's fans through a poll on her website. A DVD edition of the CD was also released. It contained all of Björk's solo music videos up to that point. The new single from the set, "It's in Our Hands" charted in the UK at number 37. The video, directed by Spike Jonze, features a heavily pregnant Björk.

2003–06: Medúlla and vocal development[edit]

Björk at the Hurricane Festival on June 21, 2003

Björk and the Brodsky Quartet recorded a composition written, especially for her, by composer John Tavener called "Prayer of the Heart" in 2001, and it was played then for a slide show presentation in 2003 for the American photographer, Nan Goldin.

In 2003, Björk released a box set called Live Box, consisting of four CDs containing live recordings of her previous albums and a DVD featuring a video of one track from each CD. Each of the four CDs was later released separately at a reduced price.

In August 2004, Björk released Medúlla. During production, Björk decided the album would work best as an entirely vocal-based album. However, this initial plan didn't materialize exactly that way, as the majority of the sounds on the album are indeed created by vocalists but several feature prominent basic electronic programming. Björk used the vocal skills of throat singer Tagaq, hip hop beatboxer Rahzel, Japanese beatboxer Dokaka, avant-rocker Mike Patton, Soft Machine drummer/singer Robert Wyatt, and several choirs. She again appropriated text from E. E. Cummings for the song "Sonnets/Unrealities XI". At the time, Medúlla became her highest charting album in the US, debuting at number 14. It has since been surpassed by Volta, which debuted at number nine in the US.

In August 2004, Björk performed the song "Oceania" at the Opening Ceremony of the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece. As she sang, her dress slowly unfurled to reveal a 10,000 square foot (900 m²) map of the world, which she let flow over all of the Olympic athletes. The song "Oceania" was written especially for the occasion and features the talents of Shlomo, a Leeds-based beatboxer, and a London choir. An alternate version of the song began circulating on the Internet with additional vocals by Kelis. It originally appeared on the promotional "Oceania" single released to radio stations and later became available to the public as a B-side of the "Who Is It" single, which charted at number 26 in the UK. This was followed in early 2005 by "Triumph of a Heart", charting at number 31.

A video for the potential next single, "Where Is the Line", was filmed in collaboration with the Icelandic artist Gabríela Friðriksdóttir in late 2004. This was initially a sequence from an art installation movie of the artists but was released exclusively on the Medúlla Videos DVD as an official promo for the track.

Björk live at Rock en Seine.

Other than these few performances, no concerts or tours were arranged to promote Medúlla. Björk said in numerous interviews that this was because she wished to immediately continue writing and recording yet another new album. She spoke to Rolling Stone in June 2004: "Every album I've done, the minute that it's done, I feel really lubricated and, like, 'Wow, now I can write an album in five minutes'... And I just want to find out if that's just a fantasy or if it's true." Also, Björk thought it would be too difficult to play the songs live.[33]

In 2006, Björk remastered her first three solo studio albums (Debut, Post, Homogenic) and her two soundtrack albums (Selmasongs and Drawing Restraint 9) in 5.1 surround sound for a re-issue in a new box-set titled Surrounded, released on 27 June. Vespertine and Medúlla were already available in 5.1 as either DVD-A or SACD but are also included in the box set in repackaged format. The DualDiscs were also released separately.[34]

During this era, Björk earned another BRIT Awards nomination for Best International Female Solo Artist.[35] She was also awarded the Inspiration Award at the Annual Q Magazine Awards in October 2005, accepting the prize from Robert Wyatt, with whom she collaborated on Medúlla.[36]

Björk's former band, the Sugarcubes, reunited for a one-night-only concert in Reykjavík on 17 November 2006. Profits from the concert were donated to the Sugarcubes' former label, Smekkleysa, who according to Björk's press statement, "continue to work on a non-profit basis for the future betterment of Icelandic music".[37]

2007–10: Volta and global collaboration[edit]

Björk at Big Day Out in Victoria, Australia in 2008

Björk contributed a cover of Joni Mitchell's song "The Boho Dance" to the tribute album A Tribute to Joni Mitchell, released on 24 April 2007.

Björk's sixth full-length studio album, Volta, was released on 7 May 2007. It features 10 tracks primarily written and produced by Björk herself and is intended as more direct and extroverted than her past few albums but features a wide range of collaborators and cross-cultural musical elements. Volta features input from acclaimed hip hop producer Timbaland, singer Antony Hegarty, poet Sjón, electronic beat programmer Mark Bell, kora master Toumani Diabaté, pipa player Min Xiaofen, and, on several songs, an all-female ensemble from Iceland performing brass compositions. It also uses the Reactable, a novel "tangible-interface" synthesizer from the Universitat Pompeu Fabra in Barcelona, which on Volta is played by Damian Taylor.

The first single from the album, "Earth Intruders", was released digitally on 9 April 2007 and became her second-ever Billboard Hot 100 entry in the United States. Volta debuted at number nine on the Billboard 200 albums chart, becoming her first top 10 album in the US, netting week-one sales of 43,000. The album also reached number three on the French albums chart with sales of 20,600 albums sold in its first week, and number seven in the UK Albums Chart with 20,456 units sold. The second single from the album, "Innocence", was digitally released on 23 July 2007, with an accompanying music video chosen from a contest conducted through her official website. "Declare Independence" was released on 1 January 2008 in a super deluxe package including two 12" vinyls, a CD, and a DVD featuring Oscar-winning French director Michel Gondry's "Declare Independence" video.[38] "Wanderlust" was subsequently released in a similar format, featuring Encyclopedia Pictura's short film directed for the track, shot in stereoscopic 3D. The fifth single released from the album was "The Dull Flame of Desire", featuring vocals by Antony Hegarty.

Björk then completed an 18-month world tour, having performed at many festivals and returning to Latin America after nine years, playing in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Curitiba, Guadalajara, Bogotá, Lima, Santiago de Chile, and Buenos Aires, as part of different events. She also returned to Australia and New Zealand for the first time in 12 years in January 2008, touring the nations with the Big Day Out Festival. She played a one-off show at the Sydney Opera House as part of the Sydney Festival. At a Shanghai performance she caused controversy by shouting "Tibet! Tibet!" at the end of the song "Declare Independence". A Chinese official later claimed that she had hurt the feelings of the Chinese people.[39]

Announced via an eBay auction, a new Björk track was revealed under the title "Náttúra". Björk commented the song was "composed especially to encourage active support for a more environmental approach to Iceland's natural resources than those suggested by parties who are aloof and blind to the consequences of their actions."
The song was initially labeled as a new single by Björk, with backing vocals from Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke. Björk's official website later confirmed that the single would be released on October 27, 2008 through iTunes,[40] however the track was eventually made available at nattura.grapewire.net, exclusively.[41]

Damian Taylor has mentioned collaborating with Björk on her new album using instruments like the Reactable and the Tenori-on.[42]

According to an October 2008 interview with Pitchfork magazine, Björk plans to take the next three to four years to record her next album.[43]

In a statement released by bjork.com, a limited edition box set titled Voltaïc from One Little Indian Records was announced, with a release date in North America of April 20, 2009

Björk live at Radio City Music Hall in 2007.

(later delayed to mid-June). The release consists of various live recordings of performances in Paris and Reykjavík.

The live set was also recorded at the Olympic Studio in London. The release is available as Standard, Deluxe, and Deluxe Vinyl, including up to four discs, depending on format. The first disc is audio of songs from the Volta Tour performed live at Olympic Studios; the second disc contains video of the Volta Tour live in Paris and live in Reykjavik; the third disc contains "The Volta Videos" and the video competition, while the fourth is The Volta Mixes CD.[44]

In May 2010, the Royal Swedish Academy of Music announced that Björk was to receive the prestigious Polar Music Prize alongside Ennio Morricone.[45] A month later, Björk, along with Dirty Projectors, announced that they would be collaborating on a joint EP, titled Mount Wittenberg Orca, which was released on 30 June, to raise money for marine conservation.[46] In September 2010, Björk released "The Comet Song" as part of the soundtrack for the movie Moomins and the Comet Chase. Also in 2010, she dueted with fellow Icelander (and One Little Indian labelmate) Ólöf Arnalds on a track called "Surrender" from Arnalds's new album, Innundir skinni,[47] and performed a duet with Antony and the Johnsons on the album Swanlights. The song is titled "Flétta".[48]

On 20 September 2010, Björk performed her version of "Gloomy Sunday" at designer Alexander McQueen's memorial in St. Paul's cathedral in London. On 7 December 2010, a previously unreleased song was released by Björk soundtracking a film made by Nick Knight as a tribute to McQueen, with whom Björk collaborated on multiple occasions.

Björk appeared on Átta Raddir, one of Jónas Sen's TV shows.[49] The episode aired on February 27, 2011.[50] The shows are produced by the Icelandic National Broadcasting Service.[51] In the show Björk performed eight songs, including "Sun in My Mouth", which had not previously been performed live.

2011–present: Biophilia, music, technology and nature[edit]

Björk performing at the Cirque en Chantier on February 24, 2013.

Björk, along with long-time collaborative partner, Michel Gondry, were originally announced to collaborate on a 3-D "scientific musical". Gondry states that it will be a 40-minute IMAX museum project.[52] On 3 December 2010, in an interview with Pitchfork, Björk was asked if she was "working on anything at the moment," and she replied, "Yes, it will be ready in [a] few months."[53] On 17 February 2011, Pitchfork reported that Björk would release a collaboration with Syrian musician Omar Souleyman. The project will be available "on limited 12-inch, CD, and digital download sometime this year".[54]

On 17 March 2011, Björk confirmed details about her next project, Biophilia. The new project will combine music with technological innovation and themes of science and nature, including an "app album", educational collaborations with children and specialized live performance, kicking off in Manchester, United Kingdom at the Manchester International Festival on 30 June. She will perform at the event for six nights. It is expected that Biophilia will see her tour a select number of cities with extended residencies.[55] Björk performed at Bestival on 11 September. The press release stated that this would be her only outdoor concert of the year.[56] She is also scheduled to perform six shows, two of them during the Iceland Airwaves Festival, at Harpa in Iceland from 12 October to 7 November.[57]

In June 2011, the first single from Biophilia, "Crystalline", was released.[58] The song was composed using complex breakbeats along with only one of several specialized instruments custom built for the project, the "gameleste", a celesta modified with elements of gamelan. Other instruments used on the album and in Bjork's live performances harness lightning to create sound.

A central part of Biophilia is a series of interactive iPad apps made by programmers and designers, one app for each of the 10 songs on the new album. Björk discussed how the apps would represent the scientific and natural ideas within the songs and enable people to play and understand the songs and ideas in different ways, such as "Virus", a love song between a virus and a cell, in which the "Virus" app will stop playing the song if you are successful in stopping the destructive relationship. Two of the apps, "Crystalline" and "Cosmogony", were released on 19 July 2011, along with a music video for "Crystalline", directed by Michel Gondry. However, the album was released in usual form as a series of 10 music tracks as well, including a CD release, on 10 October 2011, and Bjork said it is designed to work as music just as any of her other albums is.

In a June 2011 interview with Stereogum, Björk stated that her contract with her international record labels (excluding One Little Indian, UK) had ended since all promotions for Volta concluded and that she has signed with both National Geographic and Nonesuch for Biophilia.[59][60]

Artistry[edit]

Compositions[edit]

Björk's music style tends to be quite eclectic and often challenging. She has embraced many genres throughout her career, creating a varied range of pieces, from big band music to sound art. Björk's lyrical themes range from personal matters to scientific, environmentalist, or social topics.

Voice[edit]

Björk possesses a soprano vocal range,[61][62] which has been described as both "elastic" and "somersaulting" in quality as well as having been praised for her scatting ability, unique vocal stylings and delivery.[63] In a review for her live performance at the 2011 Manchester International Festival Bernadette McNulty of The Daily Telegraph commented on her voice and music, "the 45-year-old still uses electronic dance beats with a full-blooded raver’s passion and the elemental timbre of her voice has grown more powerful with age".[64]

In late 2012 it was reported that Björk had undergone surgery for a polyp on her vocal cords, commenting on the success of the procedure after years of maintaining a strict diet and utilising vocal exercises to prevent vocal injury she stated, "I have to say, in my case anyway: surgery rocks!" continuing on "I stayed quiet for three weeks and then started singing and definitely feel like my cords are as good as pre-nodule, it's been very satisfying to sing all them clear notes again."[65] However in a review for Biophilia Kitty Empire of The Guardian stated that pre-surgery Björk still sounded strong commenting that her voice was "spectacular and swooping", particularly on the song "Thunderbolt".[66]

In a similar vein Matthew Cole of Slant Magazine adds that her voice has been "preserved quite well" however he also stipulates that "her once-formidable wail is too hoarse and shouty to be the ace in the hole that it once was" also adding "it's only where her most dramatic vocal pyrotechnics are concerned that there's any question of physical ability".[67] National Public Radio counted Björk among its list of "50 Great Voices" and MTV placed her at number 8 on its countdown "22 Greatest Voices in Music" she also placed 60/100 as one of the greatest singers ever by Rolling Stone who praised her voice as being unique, fresh and extremely versatile, fitting and being influenced by a wide range of influences and genres.[8][9]

Film career[edit]

Björk at the 2001 Academy Awards, wearing her swan dress

Björk's intermittent acting career began in 1986, when she appeared in The Juniper Tree, a tale of witchcraft based on the Brothers Grimm story of the same name. Björk played the role of Margit, a girl whose mother has been killed for practicing witchcraft. Björk also had an uncredited role in 1994's Prêt-à-Porter.

In 1999, Björk was asked to write and produce the musical score for the film Dancer in the Dark, a musical drama about an immigrant named Selma who is struggling to pay for an operation to prevent her son from going blind. Director Lars von Trier eventually asked her to consider playing the role of Selma, convincing her that the only true way to capture the character of Selma was to have the composer of the music play the character.[68] Eventually, she accepted. Filming began in early 1999, and the film debuted in 2000 at the 53rd Cannes Film Festival. The film received the Palme d'Or, and Björk received the Best Actress Award for her role.[6] It was reported that the shoot was so physically and emotionally tiring that she vowed never to act again. Björk later stated that she always wanted to do one musical in her life, and this was the one.[69]

The soundtrack Björk created for the film was released with the title Selmasongs. The album features a duet with Thom Yorke of Radiohead titled "I've Seen It All", which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Song and was performed at the 2001 Oscars, while Björk was wearing her celebrated[70] "swan dress", a copy of which was auctioned off for international aid agency Oxfam on eBay and sold for $9,500 in 2005.[71] She was invited to record "Gollum's Song" for the film The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers but declined the invitation, as she was then pregnant; the song was instead recorded by another Icelander, Emilíana Torrini.

Björk starred in Gunar Karlsson's 2007 animated film Anna and the Moods, along with Terry Jones and Damon Albarn. Björk also appeared in the 2005 documentary Screaming Masterpiece, which delves into the Icelandic music scene. The movie features archive footage of the Sugarcubes and Tappi Tíkarrass and an ongoing conversation with Björk herself.

Her partner Matthew Barney is a contemporary artist based in New York. Björk collaborated with him on the experimental art film Drawing Restraint 9, a dialogueless exploration of Japanese culture. Björk and Barney both appear in the film, which was released in 2005. She is also responsible for the film's soundtrack, her second after Selmasongs.

Director and previous collaborator Michel Gondry asked Björk to star in his film The Science of Sleep, but she declined. The role was played by Charlotte Gainsbourg instead.[72]

She collaborated with SHOWstudio and founder Nick Knight in 2010 by providing music for an Alexander McQueen tribute.

Björk's single "Declare Independence" was used in the trailer for the first edition of the London Feminist Film Festival.

In July 2013, she featured in a Channel 4 documentary programme along with Sir David Attenborough called When Björk Met Attenborough, as part of their Mad4Music season of programmes, in which each episode features musicians from across the musical spectrum giving an alternative take on music and what it means to them and others around them, for example the first episode featured pianist James Rhodes. Björk and Attenborough collaborate on a documentary exploring our relationship with music, focusing around her album Biophilia, and also featured scientist Oliver Sacks.[73]

Charitable work[edit]

After the tsunami which struck Southeast Asia in late 2004, Björk began work on a new project titled Army of Me: Remixes and Covers to help raise money for a relief fund. This project recruited fans and musicians from around the world to either cover or remix the 1995 track, "Army of Me". From over 600 responses Björk and her co-writer Graham Massey picked the best twenty to appear on the album. The album was released in April in the UK and in late May 2005 in the US. By January 2006, the album had raised around £250,000 to help UNICEF's work in the southeast Asian region.[74] Björk visited Banda Aceh in February 2006 to view some of UNICEF's work with the children who were affected by the tsunami.[75]

On 2 July 2005 Björk took part in the historic Live 8 series of concerts, headlining the Japan show with Do As Infinity, Good Charlotte, and McFly. She performed eight songs with Matmos, a Japanese string octet, and Zeena Parkins.[76]

Björk has also taken an interest in environmental issues in her native country. In 2004, Björk took part in the "Hætta" concert in Reykjavík, organised in protest against the building of Alcoa aluminium smelters in the country, which would make Iceland the biggest smelter in Europe. She founded the organization "Náttúra", which aims to promote Icelandic nature and grassroots industries. On October 28, 2008, Björk wrote an article for the Times discussing the state of the Icelandic economy and her thoughts on the proposed use of natural resources to get the country out of debt. Björk, in collaboration with Audur Capital, set up a venture capital fund titled "BJÖRK" to support the creation of sustainable industries in Iceland. She has written the foreword to the English translation of the Iceland bestseller by Andri Snær Magnason titled "Dreamland".

On May 21, 2010, Björk wrote an open letter in the newspaper The Reykjavík Grapevine, calling on the Icelandic government to "do everything in its power to revoke the contracts with Magma Energy", the Canadian company which now has complete ownership of Icelandic geothermal company HS Orka.[77]

Protégés[edit]

Over her extensive career, Björk has frequently used her position and influence to help launch new acts or mentor them as they establish themselves as recording artists.

The first example of this was most evident with Iranian-born electronica producer Leila Arab. Leila was initially recruited to play keyboards and provide backing vocals on Björk's first international solo tour in 1993 in support of Debut. In 1995, Björk recalled Leila to be part of her second touring band for her next tour in support of Post. This time Leila was given the opportunity to experiment with the live output mixing from the stage, rather than playing keyboards. This was to be Leila's first encounter with live mixing and would later form the basis of her own solo music career where she has integrated live mixing into her own compositions and live shows. Leila has gone on to release three international solo albums throughout the 1990s and appears on the influential electronica labels Rephlex Records, XL Recordings, and Warp Records.[78]

In 1998, Björk established her own short-lived record label, Ear Records, which operated under the One Little Indian Records umbrella. Her only signee that received a release was her long-time friend, Magga Stína. Magga Stína recorded her debut solo album under the production of Björk's longtime collaborator, Graham Massey (of the British electronica act 808 State.) The album was simply titled An Album and featured just one single release, "Naturally". In 1998, Björk invited Magga Stína to perform as her support act on the Homogenic world tour, and in 2004 Stína contributed to the production of Medúlla. Stína is presently still performing and recording in Iceland.

In 2001, Björk heard of a Canadian Inuit throat singer named Tagaq and invited her to perform on several dates of Björk's Vespertine world tour as a special guest. In 2004, Tagaq was invited to collaborate on the a cappella album, Medúlla, in which the duet "Ancestors" was recorded. "Ancestors" was later featured on Tagaq's first solo album, Sinaa, in 2005.

In 2004, Leila discovered the work of Finnish multimedia artist Heidi Kilpeläinen, who had taken her combination of Lo-fi, homemade electro pop with her own self-produced music videos and combined them under the alter ego character, HK119. Leila soon referred HK119's work to Björk, who quickly and excitedly started mentioning HK119 in various press and interviews. In 2004, Björk announced HK119 as her favourite act of 2004 and cited her as "The Perfect Blonde Woman".[79] HK119 was soon signed to Björk's parent label One Little Indian Records, which released her debut album in 2006. HK119 and Björk appeared in a joint interview in Dazed & Confused magazine in 2006, where Björk stated about HK119's work, "It's unique. Even if I gave you $3 million, you couldn't improve on it... [Its] simplicity is [its] strength."[80] HK119 later released her albums, Fast, Cheap and Out of Control in 2008 and Imaginature in 2013, both on One Little Indian Records.

In 2009, Björk used her website and various radio interviews throughout the year to express her enthusiasm for two more new acts. The first was fellow Icelandic musician, Ólöf Arnalds, who is also a member of Icelandic folktronica band múm. In 2006, Arnalds released her debut solo album Við Og Við in Iceland, which Björk citied as one of her favourite recent new acts of the last few years during a radio interview, and encouraged One Little Indian Records to reissue the album in the UK and Europe in 2009. On the same radio show for the American NPR channel, Björk also praised the works of emerging British artist Micachu and the more obscure, Omar Souleyman. Björk later used her official website to host the premier of Micachu's debut video on the Rough Trade Records, "Turn Me Well".[81]

Personal life[edit]

Family[edit]

Björk's father, Guðmundur Gunnarsson, is a well known union leader in Iceland and was nationally recognized before his daughter became famous. Her mother, Hildur Rúna Hauksdóttir, has also been politically active.

Björk has a son, Sindri Eldon Thórsson, born 8 June 1986, with Thór Eldon, who was her band mate in the Sugarcubes. Sindri is a journalist and has his own solo project simply called "Sindri Eldon".

Björk and her partner, artist Matthew Barney, have a daughter, Ísadóra Bjarkardóttir Barney, born 3 October 2002.

Paparazzi and controversy[edit]

Björk has complained of being hounded by paparazzi. In 1996, Björk arrived at Bangkok International Airport with her son Sindri after a long haul flight when Julie Kaufman, a female reporter, greeted Björk with "Welcome to Bangkok", which was then followed by Björk's attacking her and knocking her to the ground. Björk has said that the reason for the attack was that the reporters in the airport started talking to her son, saying such things as, "It must be hard to be the son of a pop star." Björk's record company also said that the reporter had been pestering Björk for four days. Björk later apologized to Kaufman, who declined to involve the police. The incident would appear on the TruTV series TruTV Presents: World's Dumbest....

On 13 January 2008, Björk attacked a photographer who had photographed her arrival at Auckland International Airport in New Zealand for her scheduled performance at the Big Day Out festival.[82] Björk allegedly tore the photographer's shirt down the back, and in the process she fell to the ground.[83] Neither the photographer nor his employer, The New Zealand Herald, lodged a formal complaint, and Auckland police did not investigate further.[84]

Political views[edit]

Björk's years in Kukl aligned her with the anarchist Crass Collective.[85] While she has since been hesitant to be seen as an overtly political figure, and has said so on her website,[86] she is strongly supportive of numerous liberation movements across the globe, including support for independence for Kosovo.[87]

She dedicated her song "Declare Independence" to Greenland and the Faroe Islands, which caused a minor controversy in the Faroes. When Björk twice dedicated "Declare Independence" to the people of Kosovo during a concert in Japan,[88] a planned performance of hers was cancelled at Serbia's Exit Festival, reportedly due to safety concerns.

In 2008, Björk set off an international controversy after she dedicated "Declare Independence" to the Tibet freedom movement during a Shanghai concert, chanting "Tibet! Tibet!" during the song. China's Culture Ministry issued a denunciation through state news agency Xinhua, stating that Björk "broke Chinese law" and "hurt Chinese people's feelings" and pledged to further tighten control over foreign artists performing in China. A later statement accused Björk of "whipping up ethnic hatred".[89]

Sexuality[edit]

In an interview with Diva magazine in October 2004, she said:

I think everyone's bisexual to some degree or another; it's just a question of whether or not you choose to recognize it and embrace it. Personally, I think choosing between men and women is like choosing between cake and ice cream. You'd be daft not to try both when there are so many different flavors.[90]

Björk has accumulated a large gay fanbase over the years; in an interview with Instinct magazine in 2004, she acknowledged it, saying:

I like to think of people who buy my records as equals. Don't think of them as gay or black or young or old. They're just people who enjoy my music. I've had so many close gay friends all my life, it's not that big of a deal with me. But I'd be lying if I said there weren't things I find easier to talk about with gay guys.[91]

Stalker[edit]

On 12 September 1996, obsessed fan Ricardo López mailed an acid-spraying letter bomb to Björk's London home and then killed himself, but the package was intercepted by the Metropolitan Police Service.[92] López filmed himself in the process of making the acid bomb which was intended to severely scar the singer's face and torso. The nearly 18 hours of videotape described López's obsession with Björk, the construction of the device, his thoughts on love and other subjects, including racial remarks against Björk's then-boyfriend Goldie. The video footage continues after his mailing the bomb to Björk's London home and ends as López shaves his head, applies face paint, and commits suicide by shooting himself on camera.[93]

In her few public comments on this event, Björk later said it was hard emotionally and it disrupted her life and work in London, explaining in part why she chose to leave the UK scene for good, reject her cute image, and begin to write more personally with Homogenic (1997).

Discography[edit]

Awards and nominations[edit]

Björk has received four awards from both the BRIT Awards, from nine nominations, and the MTV Video Music Awards, from twelve nominations. Björk has also received 13 nominations from the Grammy Awards but has not received an award; she was nominated every year from 1996 to 2002. The film industry has also recognized Björk by nominating the 2000 song, "I've Seen It All", for Best Original Song in a Motion Picture at the Academy Awards. She was ranked #36 on VH1's "The 100 Greatest Women in Rock and Roll" and #8 on "MTV's 22 Greatest Voices in Music". Overall, Björk has received 90 awards from 212 nominations.

Filmography[edit]

Year Title Role Notes
1987 Glerbrot Maria
1990 The Juniper Tree Margit
2000 Dancer in the Dark Selma Ježková Also composer of the Soundtrack Selmasongs

2005 Drawing Restraint 9 Occidental Guest Also composer of the soundtrack Drawing Restraint 9
2007 Anna and the Moods Anna Young
(voice)
2014 Björk: Biophilia Live Herself Concert film

Cameos and soundtrack appearances[edit]

Year Title Notes
1982 Rokk í Reykjavík Cameo with the Tappi Tíkarrass
1983 Nýtt líf Features music of the Tappi Tíkarrass
1994 Prêt-à-Porter Cameo as a model (uncredited)
2001 Space Ghost Coast to Coast Björk plays herself, one episode
2005 Screaming Masterpiece Features "All Is Full of Love", "Pluto" and "Oceania"
2005 Arakimentari Documentary on Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki
2006 Matthew Barney: No Restraint Documentary on the making of Drawing Restraint 9
2008 Dagvaktin Björk plays herself, one episode
2010 Moomins and the Comet Chase Features the original song The Comet Song
2011 Sleepless Nights Stories Cameo in Jonas Mekas film

Bibliography[edit]

Related bibliography[edit]

  • Post, by Sjón Sigurðsson/Björk Ltd. Bloomsbury (1995).
  • Björk – The Illustrated Story, by Paul Lester. Hamlyn (1996).
  • Björk – An Illustrated Biography, by Mick St. Michael. Omnibus Press (1996).
  • Björk Björkgraphy, by Martin Aston. Simon & Schuster (1996).
  • Björk, Colección Imágenes de Rock, N°82, by Jordi Bianciotto. Editorial La Máscara (1997).
  • Dancer in the Dark, by Lars von Trier. Film Four (2000).
  • Lobster or Fame, by Ólafur Jóhann Engilbertsson. Bad Taste (2000).
  • Army of She, by Evelyn McDonnell. Random House (2001).
  • Human Behaviour, by Ian Gittins. Carlton (2002).
  • Björk: There's More to Life Than This: The Stories Behind Every Song, by Ian Gittins. Imprint (2002).
  • Wow and Flutter, by Mark Pytlik. ECW (2003).
  • Björk, by Nicola Dibben. Equinox (2009).

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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External links[edit]