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Debut (Björk album)

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A picture of the album cover depicting a muted background with Björk standing facing forward in the middle. Björk is dressed in a fuzzy ragged sweater with her hands close together covering most of her mouth.
Studio album by Björk
Released 5 July 1993
Recorded 1993
Studio Wild Bunch, Olympic, Townhouse, Livingston, Matrix, Swanyard, Workhouse, Beats Studio (Mumbai) and Summa Studio (Los Angeles)
Length 48:15
Label One Little Indian
Björk chronology
The Best Mixes from the Album Debut...
Singles from Debut
  1. "Human Behaviour"
    Released: June 1993
  2. "Venus as a Boy"
    Released: August 1993
  3. "Play Dead"
    Released: October 1993[1]
  4. "Big Time Sensuality"
    Released: November 1993
  5. "Violently Happy"
    Released: March 1994[1]

Debut is the second studio album by Icelandic recording artist Björk. The album was released in July 1993 on One Little Indian in the United Kingdom and Elektra Records in the United States. Björk worked on the album with producer Nellee Hooper who co-wrote five of Debut's songs with her. The album mostly consists of love songs relating to subjects such as her boyfriend Dominic Thrupp, her producer Nellee Hooper and the love of life itself. Musically, the songs on this album took a different direction from her previous albums with her former band the Sugarcubes, with the backing music ranging from house, jazz and trip hop styles.

Most of the songs from Debut were written years prior to the production of the album. As well as working with Graham Massey, Björk wanted to work with jazz musicians and contacted Oliver Lake and Corky Hale to record jazz arrangements to some of the songs. After meeting producer Nellee Hooper, the two completed production on the album in 1993. On Debut's initial release, the album sold far greater than her label predicted, charting at number three in the United Kingdom and 61 in the United States. The album was certified gold in Canada and platinum in the United States, where it remains her best-selling album to date.[2]

Debut received widespread critical acclaim from British music critics, who praised Björk's vocals and the choice of a wide range of musical styles on the album. In the United States, the album received more mixed reviews, with some critics complaining about its lack of rock music.

Five singles were released from Debut: "Human Behaviour", "Venus as a Boy", "Play Dead", "Big Time Sensuality" and "Violently Happy". "Play Dead" was recorded after the album's release and was later issued as a bonus track in a few regions. All five singles charted in the United Kingdom with only "Human Behaviour", "Violently Happy" and "Big Time Sensuality" charting on dance and modern rock charts in the United States. Despite the continued praise from critics, Björk did not consider Debut one of her best albums, stating that she has made and will make better music.[3]

Background and production[edit]

"I remember going to Manchester, and 808 State taking me around, and me just seeing things that I'd never seen - that I'd hoped existed. So I would be up until early morning... sometimes from just the enthusiasm for the music."

— Björk recalling her fascination with dance music after moving to England.[4]

While still performing as the vocalist of Icelandic alternative rock group the Sugarcubes, Björk approached both Ásmundur Jónsson of Bad Taste and producer Derek Birkett of One Little Indian Records with a demo cassette of her own songs on which she had been working.[5][6] These demos included versions of songs that would appear on Debut, including "The Anchor Song" and "Aeroplane".[6] After the Sugarcubes went on hiatus, she moved to London, England, where she and Birkett worked on the details of what would become Debut.[5] Björk has admitted that The Sugarcube's music was not her taste, and that her contact with London's underground club culture of the late 1980s/early 1990s helped her find her own musical identity.[7] She said: " a music nerd, I just had to follow my heart, and my heart was those beats that were happening in England. And maybe what I'm understanding more and more as I get older, is that music like Kate Bush has really influenced me. Brian Eno. Acid. Electronic beats. Labels like Warp."[7]

Many of the songs on the album were written years before Björk moved to London, including "Human Behaviour" which was written when the singer was a teenager.[8] Björk had put aside these songs stating that "I was in punk bands and [the songs] weren't punk."[8] Björk had already written half the songs for Debut in some form, but had nothing recorded.[9] With no producer in line to work with, she continued to compose songs with 808 State member Graham Massey in a friend's home in Manchester where she would write songs that would be included on later albums, including "Army of Me" and "The Modern Things".[9]

Saxophonist Oliver Lake (pictured) contributed to the songs "Aeroplane" and "The Anchor Song".[10]

While creating more electronic based tracks with Massey, Björk developed a desire to work with a jazz producer. Wanting to work with a harpist, producer Paul Fox who had previously worked with the Sugarcubes, introduced her to jazz harpist Corky Hale.[9] Hale was going to politely refuse to work with Björk until her stepson, who was a Sugarcubes fan, insisted that she take the job.[9] Björk recorded a handful of jazz standards with Hale including "I Remember You" and an early version of "Like Someone in Love".[9] Fox also introduced Björk to Oliver Lake and the pair recorded another jazz standard, "Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries", with Lake's jazz group the Art Ensemble of Chicago for the John Hughes film Curly Sue.[11] Hughes turned down the idea of the recording for the film, but it led to the idea of Debut being produced by Fox and arranged by the Art Ensemble of Chicago.[10] Björk contracted Lake for working with some session saxophonists in London for Debut.[10] Lake's contributions to the album are heard on tracks including "Aeroplane" and "The Anchor Song".[10]

Björk was intending to have several producers work on the album, but this idea never came to fruition.[8] Björk was then going to have the album produced with Paul Fox until she was introduced to producer Nellee Hooper by her boyfriend Dominic Thrupp.[12] Hooper had previously produced albums by Soul II Soul, Sinéad O'Connor and Massive Attack, which made Björk skeptical about working with him, stating that "I thought Nellee was too 'good taste' for my liking. But then I met him, got to know him, [and] got to hear about his fabulous ideas..."[12][13] Björk and Hooper's recording ideas were very similar, which led to the decision to end production work with Massey and Fox.[12] Hooper introduced Björk to studio technology and studio programmer Marius de Vries who gave Debut a modern style with the use of keyboards and synthesizers.[14] Hooper produced the first ten tracks on the album, while Björk co-produced "Like Someone in Love" with Hooper and produced "The Anchor Song" solely herself.[15] Björk and Hooper spent many sessions in the studio working on Debut until the album was finished in early 1993.[16]


"There's More to Life Than This" from Debut. The song features the more electronic "four-on-the-floor house groove" sound of Debut.[13] which was recorded live in the toilets of the Milk Bar clubnight, London, UK.

The first single from Debut showed a departure from prior Sugarcubes' sounds.

Problems playing these files? See media help.

The sound of Debut takes on many musical stylistic shifts.[17] Michael Cragg of The Guardian has described it as an "indefinable conflation of electronic pop, trip-hop, world music and otherworldly lyrics".[18] Some of the more electronically backed dance music songs such as "Human Behaviour", "Crying", "Big Time Sensuality", "There's More to Life Than This" and "Violently Happy" have a house music sound.[14][19] These songs use a backing sound with a "four-on-the-floor" house style, meaning that there is a kick on every quarter note.[14] The other electronically backed songs have a more trip hop styled sound.[17][20] These non-dance tracks have been described as having a "more delicate atmosphere".[17] Songs such as "Venus as a Boy" are not house oriented, and make a more melodic use of vibraphone and strings.[17][21] The songs "The Anchor Song", "One Day", and "Aeroplane" draw on what Björk refers to as her more "academic, clever side".[20] "Aeroplane" is one of Debut's most musically complicated pieces with off-kilter arrangement from Oliver Lake;[22] its backdrop is inspired by exotica music.[17] "Come to Me" features a "hazy musical backdrop of raindrop synths, padded drums and sweeping strings".[18]

The lyrics of Debut are mostly concerned with love.[23] The love themes range from "flesh-and-blood passion" for another person to the love of life itself.[23] "Venus as a Boy" is a song about the sensitivity of her then boyfriend Dominic Thrupp, with lyrics that have been described as "sweet and just the slightest bit naughty."[17][24] "Aeroplane" is also about Thrupp, written when he was living in the United Kingdom and Björk still lived in Iceland.[22] "There's More to Life Than This" was inspired by a party Björk attended and promptly left.[25] "Big Time Sensuality" contains lyrics described as "simple but passionate" about Björk's relationship with her co-producer, Nellee Hooper.[26] The New York Times described the lyrics of "Human Behaviour" as a "parallel between the beastliness of humanity and the bestiality of nature."[23]


Debut was released on 5 July 1993 on compact disc and cassette on One Little Indian Records in the United Kingdom and 13 July 1993 on Elektra Records in the United States.[1][17][27] One Little Indian estimated that Debut would sell a total of 40,000 copies worldwide based on a guess of the Sugarcubes fan base at the time.[28] However, within three months of Debut's release, over 600,000 copies had been sold worldwide.[29] On the album's initial release, it charted in the United States, peaking at number one on the Top Heatseekers chart and at number sixty-one on the Billboard 200.[30] In the United Kingdom, Debut entered the charts on 17 July 1993, staying in the charts for sixty-nine weeks and peaking at number three.[31] Debut has been re-issued several times in different formats. In November 1993, the album was re-issued in the United Kingdom with the bonus track "Play Dead", a song written for the film The Young Americans, shortly after Debut's completion.[32] The album was later issued on vinyl and DualDisc formats.[17] The Japanese version of Debut included two bonus tracks: "Play Dead" and "Atlantic".[33] The DualDisc release featured the full album on the CD side while the DVD side included the album with superior sound quality and the music videos for the singles.[34] On 5 May 1994, The Canadian Recording Industry Association certified that Debut had sold over 50,000 units making it a Gold record in Canada.[35][36] On 31 August 2001, the RIAA certified that Debut had sold over one million units making it a Platinum record in the United States.[37][38] Worldwide sales of the album stand at 4.7 million copies.[39]


In 1993 Björk contacted French director Michel Gondry to create a music video for "Human Behaviour" after seeing a video he made for his own band Oui Oui.[40] "Human Behaviour" was the first single taken from Debut, and was issued a month before the album's release in June 1993.[1] Three more singles were released from Debut in 1993. "Venus as a Boy" was the second single, released in August with a music video directed by Sophie Muller.[1][24] "Play Dead" was released in August 1993 as a non-album single, that would be included on later releases of the album.[1] "Play Dead" had an accompanying music video directed by Danny Cannon.[8] The final single released in 1993 was "Big Time Sensuality" remixed by Fluke with a music video by Stéphane Sednaoui.[1][8] A further single, "Violently Happy", was released in March 1994 with an accompanying video by Jean-Baptiste Mondino.[1] All five singles from Debut charted within the top 40 of the UK Singles Chart while only "Human Behaviour", "Violently Happy" and "Big Time Sensuality" charted in the American Billboard charts.[31][41]


Professional ratings
Review scores
Source Rating
AllMusic 5/5 stars[17]
Christgau's Consumer Guide (neither)[42]
Entertainment Weekly C[43]
Los Angeles Times 3/4 stars[44]
NME 9/10[45]
Q 4/5 stars[46]
Rolling Stone 2/5 stars[47]
Select 4/5 medals[48]
Spin Alternative Record Guide 9/10[49]

At the 1994 Grammy Awards, Michel Gondry's music video for "Human Behavior" was nominated for best Best Short Form Music Video, but lost to Stephen Johnson's video for the Peter Gabriel song "Steam".[50][51] At the 1994 Brit Awards, Björk won awards for "Best Newcomer" and "Best International Female".[52] Shortly after the Brit Awards, Björk was sued by Simon Fisher, a musician she collaborated with in 1990. Fisher's claim stated that he had co-written "Human Behaviour", "Venus as a Boy", "Crying", and "Aeroplane" and sought damages of over ₤20,000.[53] Hooper and Björk went to court with Fisher shortly after the release of Björk's album Post.[54] Judge Robin Jacob found Fisher only seeking credit for one song instead of four and cleared Hooper and Björk of all charges stating that Fisher's charges rendered him "unreliable, diffuse, and vague".[54]

Critical reaction to Debut was generally positive. The British music press spoke positively about the album, with Q giving it four out of five stars calling it "a surprising, playful collection" while the NME wrote that Debut was "an album that believes music can be magical and special."[45][46] The Independent gave Debut a favorable review noting that Björk had "fashioned an amazing array of contrasting arrangements, whose musical diversity never interferes with their clarity of vision."[55] American reception was more mixed. Musician magazine praised the vocals of the album, stating "what makes [Björk's] singing memorable isn't the odd assortment of growls, moans and chirps she relies upon, but the emotions those sounds convey."[56] The New York Times described Debut as "an enchanting album".[23] American critic Robert Christgau gave the album a "neither" rating, indicating an album that "may impress once or twice with consistent craft or an arresting track or two. Then it won't".[42][57] A negative review came from Rolling Stone who gave the album two stars out of five calling the album "utterly disappointing" blaming producer Nellee Hooper, suggesting he "sabotaged a ferociously iconoclastic talent with a phalanx of cheap electronic gimmickry."[47] Michele Romero of Entertainment Weekly gave the album a C, saying, "On a few songs, [Björk's] breathy mewl is a pleasant contrast to the mechanical drone of Sugarcube-like techno-tunes. But most of Debut sounds annoyingly like the monotonous plinking of a deranged music box. Wind it up if you like -- eventually it will stop."[43] Debut rated highly in British end of year polls. The NME ranked Debut at number one on their list of "Top 50 LPs of 1993".[58] Melody Maker placed the album at number six on their list of "Albums of the Year for 1993" calling it "a fantastic debut".[59] In 1994, Q included the album on their list for top fifty albums of 1993.[60] Björk reacted to the positive reviews hesitantly, stating that if she'd "delivered exactly the same album and I came from Nottingham, I'd have got completely different reviews, normal down-to-earth ones" and that Debut "was a bit of a rehearsal and it's really not that good. I can do much better."[61]

Later reception was also positive. In Spin magazine's alternative record guide, the album received a rating of nine out of ten stating that the choice of Nellee Hooper as producer was a "stroke of genius" and Björk's vocals were "awe-inspiring".[49] Heather Phares of AllMusic gave the album a five-star rating, stating that Debut is "Possibly her prettiest work, Björk's horizons expanded on her other releases, but the album still sounds fresh, which is even more impressive considering electronic music's whiplash-speed innovations."[17] In 1999, Q placed Debut in their list of "90 Best Albums of the 1990s".[62] In 2010, it appeared in Spin's 125 Best Albums of the Past 25 Years list, at number 33.[63] In 2011, Slant Magazine placed the album at number 29 on their list of the best albums of the 1990s, claiming that "Debut was enough to cement her [Bjork's] legacy as one of pop's most forward-thinking performers."[64]

In 2005, Björk stated that she thought the album wasn't as strong as her later efforts: "It's hard to judge yourself but I don't think [Debut and Post are] my best. Debut was the album that went the highest up there in terms of what is 'Bjork music'. But I think that the persona I created, which was entirely accidental, is better captured on the later albums".[3]

Track listing[edit]

Debut – Standard edition
No. Title Writer(s) Producer(s) Length
1. "Human Behaviour"  
Nellee Hooper 4:10
2. "Crying"  
  • Björk
  • Hooper
Hooper 4:52
3. "Venus as a Boy"   Björk Hooper 4:42
4. "There's More to Life Than This" (recorded live at the Milk Bar toilets)
  • Björk
  • Hooper
Hooper 3:21
5. "Like Someone in Love"  
  • Björk
  • Hooper
6. "Big Time Sensuality"  
  • Björk
  • Hooper
Hooper 3:57
7. "One Day"   Björk Hooper 5:24
8. "Aeroplane"   Björk Hooper 3:54
9. "Come to Me"   Björk Hooper 4:55
10. "Violently Happy"  
  • Björk
  • Hooper
Hooper 4:59
11. "The Anchor Song"   Björk Björk 3:32
Total length:
Debut – Reissued edition[65]
No. Title Writer(s) Producer(s) Length
12. "Play Dead"   3:58
Total length:


Charts and certifications[edit]


Year Song Peak positions[31][41]
UK US Hot 100 US Hot Dance Club Songs US Hot Dance Singles Sales US Modern Rock Tracks
1993 "Human Behaviour" 36 109 2 2
"Venus as a Boy" 29
"Play Dead" 12
"Big Time Sensuality" 17 88 1 19 5
1994 "Violently Happy" 13 4
"—" denotes releases that did not chart.


The information regarding accolades attributed to Debut is adapted from, except where otherwise noted.[75]

Publication Country Accolade Year Rank
Alternative Press United States The 90 Greatest Albums of the 90s 1998 31 The 10 Best Albums by Decade 1999 10
Music Underwater Top 100 Albums 1990-2003 2004 97
Out The 100 Greatest, Gayest Albums 2008 63
Pause & Play The 90s Top 100 Essential Albums 1999 11
Robert Dimery 1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die 2005 *
Slant Magazine The 100 Best Albums of the 1990s (2011) 2011 29
Spin The 125 Best Albums of the Past 25 Years 2010 33
Tom Moon 1,000 Recordings to Hear Before You Die 2008 *
Treble Top 100 Albums of the 90s (10 per Year) 2008 4
Channel 4 United Kingdom 125 Nominations for the 100 Greatest Albums 2005 *
Elvis Costello 500 Albums You Need 2000 *
The Face Albums of the Year 1993 1
Gary Mulholland 261 Greatest Albums Since Punk and Disco 2006 *
Melody Maker Albums of the Year 1993 6
Mixmag The 100 Best Dance Albums of All Time 1996 3
Mojo The Mojo Collection: The Greatest Albums of All Time... and How They Happened 2003 *
Muzik Top 50 Dance Albums of All Time 2002 32
NME Albums of the Year 1993 1
NME Rock Years, Albums of the Year 1963-99 2000 *
NME's The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time 2013 46
No Ripcord Top Albums 1990-1999 2013 44
Paul Morley Words and Music, 5 x 100 Greatest Albums of All Time 2003 *
Q Albums of the Year 1993 *
In Our Lifetime: Q's 100 Best Albums 1986-94 1995 *
90 Albums of the 90s 1999 *
Select Albums of the Year 1993 7
The 100 Best Albums of the 90s 1996 26
Vox Albums of the Year 1993 6
Wire Albums of the Year 1993 *
Helsingin Sanomat Finland 50th Anniversary of Rock 2004 *
Panorama Norway The 30 Best Albums of the Year 1970-98 1999 4
Platekompaniet Top 100 Albums of All Time 2001 96
Pop Sweden Albums of the Year 1993 1
The World's 100 Best Albums + 300 Complements 1994 92
Intro Germany Albums of the Year 1993 1
Musik Express Albums of the Year 1993 43
The 50 Best Albums of the 90s 2005 14
Rolling Stone The 500 Best Albums of All Time 2004 492
Spex Albums of the Year 1993 18
Visions The Best Albums 1991-96 1996 *
The Most Important Albums of the 90s 1999 42
Zundfunk The Best Albums of the 90s 2000 30
Les Inrockuptibles France Albums of the Year 1993 13
The 100 Best Albums 1986-1996 1996 19
Rock & Folk Albums of the Year 1993 9
The Best Albums from 1963 to 1999 1999 *
Technikart 50 Albums from the Last 10 Years 1997 *
Trax The 50 Best Techno Albums 1989-1999 1999 *
Dancedelux Spain The 50 Best Electronic Records of 1985-2005 2005 14
Iguana Albums of the Year 1993 1
The 25 Best Albums of the 90's 2000 *
Plásticos y Decibelios The 80 Best Albums of All Time 2000 67
Rockdelux Albums of the Year 1993 3
The 150 Best Albums from the 90s 2000 6
The 200 Best Albums of All Time 2002 146
(*) designates lists that are unordered.


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External links[edit]