"Hyperballad" (also known as "'Hyper-Ballad") is the fourth single from the studio album Post by Icelandic recording artist Björk. Like the rest of her songs, the song was written by Björk and co-produced by long-time collaborator Nellee Hooper. The recording sessions of Post and hence "Hyperballad" were set in Compass Point Studios, The Bahamas, to save tax money. "Hyperballad" infuses folktronica and acid house. The lyrical content discusses a dream that Björk experienced, in which she wakes early before her lover and throws small objects off a cliff, watching them smash. She imagines her body in their place, which makes her feel better about returning to her safe home and the arms of her lover.
"Hyperballad" was heavily lauded from contemporary music critics, who stated that it was the best song of Björk's career. The song's lyrical content, vocal performance and experimentation in its production and composition were also highly praised. The song was moderately successful in the countries it charted in, including Finland, Australia, United States, Sweden and the United Kingdom (where it was the last of three top-10 hits, after "Army of Me" and "It's Oh So Quiet"). A music video was shot for the single, featuring a digitalized Björk running through a field.
One of Björk's most acclaimed compositions, "Hyperballad" features morbid lyrics which actually reveal the singer's joie de vivre.Pitchfork wrote: "The song is full of tension - traditional balladry backed by pulsing house music; modernity contrasted with the natural world; Björk's voice vacillating between focused discipline and unrestrained expression."
"Hyperballad" was written by Björk, like the rest of her previous songs. The song was also co-produced by Björk and Nellee Hooper, who had contributed in other Björk albums. Like the rest of the album, recording sessions of the song was set in Compass Point Studios, The Bahamas to save tax money. Musically, the song alters from folktronica to acid house. The chords and lyrics in the verses move in three-bar phrases. The choruses are in four-bar phrases. It combines a house beat with a string section conducted by Brazilian musician Eumir Deodato. Heather Phares from Allmusic compared the song to the work of Aphex Twin. Lorraine Ali from Rolling Stone said that Björk "turns fantasy into morbid but honest wonderment for 'Hyperballad.' Here's what she sings over a sweeping, panoramic vista: 'I imagine what my body would sound like slamming against the rocks, and when it lands, will my eyes be closed or open?'" A reviewer from Sputnikmusic said "The lines inspiration and importance are mysterious to everyone but Björk herself. As “Hyper-Ballad” begins to draw to an end the rhythmic beat begins to pick up pace and gives hypnotic vibe, while at the same time features elements of dance music."
While listing the song at number 69 on their 100 Best Songs of the 1990's, a reviewer from NME said "'Hyperballad' was an earnest attempt to try and make old love alive once more. She said it was about the art of "not forgetting about yourself" in a relationship and this was reflected in the music which altered from gentle folktronica to drum and bass-tinted acid house."
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In the lyrics, Björk describes living at the top of a mountain and going to a cliff at sunrise. She throws objects off while pondering her own suicide. The ritual allows her to exorcise darker thoughts and return to her partner. Björk stated that "I feel that words can have a mysticism or a hidden meaning. On Hyperballad, the idea that I'm throwing car parts from a cliff is about getting out my frustrations."
Björk explains: "I guess that song is about when you're in a relationship and it's going really well and you're really happy and maybe you have given up parts of yourself. To fall in love and be in a relationship for a long time is like giving a lot of parts of you away because the relationship becomes more important than you as individuals. It's a bit of a tricky balance. I think everyone in a relationship needs to know not to forget themselves..." (from an interview by David Hemingway)
She also explained how the song relates to the hiding of an aggressive part of oneself from a lover.
Basically, 'Hyper-ballad' is about having this kind of bag going on and three years have passed and you're not high anymore. You have to make an effort consciously and nature's not helping you anymore. So you wake up early in the morning and you sneak outside and you do something horrible and destructive, break whatever you can find, watch a horrible film, read a bit of William Burroughs, something really gross and come home and be like, 'Hi honey, how are you?'
"Hyperballad" was heavily acclaimed from music critics. Eric Henderson from Slant Magazine was favorable, saying "Without missing a beat, Björk puts herself into the role of fragile suicidist on "Hyper-Ballad," as she throws tchotchkes over a cliff to approximate the nature of her own plunge. A phenomenal journey, the track begins with lightly shuffling drum n' bass before expanding into an immense house groove." Mike Diver from BBC Music said "Hyper-Ballad – single four of six taken from this 11-tracker – is similarly striking, and remains among the very finest songs in Björk’s canon [...] perfectly is an indelibly excellent example of music meeting art. It’s a benchmark of successful audio-visual synergy." Glenn Swan from Allmusic gave it a separate review, and awarded it 4 stars out of five, making it Björk's highest-viewed single on the website.
Drowned In Sound listed it at number 8 on their top ten Björk singles.XFM Radio listed it at number 686 on their The XFM Top 1,000 Songs Of All Time.
"Hyperballad" was the song receiving most votes from Björk fans on the overall survey for her Greatest Hits album's song list. In September 2010 Pitchfork Media included the song at number 11 on their "Top 200 Tracks of the 90s".
The video was directed by Michel Gondry. It features Björk as a video game character who runs through an obscure, two-dimensional landscape of pylons before throwing herself off a cliff. This sequence, along with several others (including blinking lights and some of herself performing the song), are projected onto a three-dimensional shot of Björk lying amongst a mountainous landscape.
The video was filmed at Telecine Cell in London, using a motion control system. The entire video and all the effects were shot on a single 400 ft roll of film, by multiple exposure and frame-accurate backwinding of the film strip. The graphics were shot as a series of secondary exposures using a TV monitor, and the flashing lights were created with an LED strip board, also exposed on the same piece of film. At Gondry's insistence, no edits were made after the film was exposed; the only post-processing consisted of colour correction during transfer of the piece to videotape.
Björk sings live in the video. This new vocal take was later featured in the CD2 of the Hyperballad single, and in the 5.1 edition of Surrounded. Mike Diver from BBC Music gave it a positive review, saying "its accompanying video is a masterstroke of suggestive simplicity, evocative elegance; that it suits its skittering beats and contorting vocal [...]" A reviewer D File wrote: "Due partially to my personal puzzlement in understanding this video and the construction of its imagery, I’ve concluded that “Hyperballad” is, if nothing else, one of the most avant-garde pieces of music video in the late 20th century. At one glance, the composites completely coalesce with the elements of the song. Yet the imagery is so transcendent of any other pop promo. Upside, inside out."
Brodsky Quartet contributed their talents to a remix of the song, which first appeared on Björk's Post album, and later on Telegram. The song is mistitled "Hyperballad (Brodski Quartet Version)" on all pressings of the limited 2-CD edition Australian of Post.
Indonesian band Mocca covered this song on their 2007 album Colours. The same year also saw an Australian collaboration album named No Man's Woman, featured male vocalists covering some of the most famous songs performed by women. Folk singer Whitley delivered an arrangement of Hyperballad for this project. In 2008, the Spanish group Celtas Cortos made a cover of it in their album 40 de abril, under the title of "Abismo" (meaning "Cliff"). Dirty Projectors also covered the song on Enjoyed: A Tribute to Björk's Post.