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Who Is It (Björk song)

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"Who Is It"
Whoisit Bjork.jpg
Single by Björk
from the album Medúlla
Released18 October 2004
LabelOne Little Indian
Björk singles chronology
"It's in Our Hands"
"Who Is It"
"Triumph of a Heart"

"Who Is It" (sometimes "Who Is It (Carry My Joy on the Left, Carry My Pain on the Right)") is a song recorded by Icelandic singer Björk for her fifth studio album Medúlla. It was released as the lead single from the album on 18 October 2004 by One Little Indian Records. Björk wrote "Who Is It" during the recording sessions for her previous album, Vespertine (2001), when it was known as "Embrace Fortress"; she left it off the album it as she felt it came from "a different family". The final version features throat singer Tanya Tagaq and beatboxer Rahzel, and lyrics reflecting the dialogue between mother and child.

Critics praised "Who Is It" as exuberant and catchy. It peaked in the top five on the single charts in Spain and reached the top 30 in Italy and the United Kingdom. The music video was directed by Dawn Shadforth and shot outdoors in Iceland, and features Björk in a bell-shaped dress designed by Alexander McQueen. During the promotional campaign for Medúlla, Björk performed the song on a number of occasions, such as Friday Night with Jonathan Ross and L'Album de la semaine. She performed it on subsequent tours. It has been covered by Bon Iver and Kurt Elling.


The initial version of "Who Is It" was written with artist Bogdan Raczynski. Björk approached him during a show in London in 2000, and months later, they met in New York and wrote a song titled "Embrace Fortress" during the final recording sessions for her fourth studio album Vespertine (2001). She decided not to put the song on the album, because she felt it was from "a different family"; according to Björk, Vespertine was "introverted and shy and not a very physical record", and she felt this was a physical song that she wrote when she was feeling strong again.[1] Raczynski also said he did not want his version of the song to be available. He said "It was a beautiful thing we did together, but for that reason alone it should be left in the clouds. People need mystery and romance".[2] However, it eventually received a limited vinyl release by Rephlex Records.[3]

Björk then approached the song again during the recording sessions for Medúlla and renamed it as "Who Is It". Electronic music duo Matmos also contributed to the song – they did "fruit-machine-noises" that are in the choruses with synthesizers that she later imitated with her voice.[1] It was also the first song that Rahzel sang, doing the beat in one take. Björk said that after he recorded, "we just all fell on the floor, we couldn't believe it. There's no overdubs, no treatment – this is it. I felt quite proud – if you're gonna have a human beatboxer, at least get the real thing".[1]


"Who Is It" features contributions by throat-singer Tanya Tagaq and beatboxer Rahzel.[4] Some lyrics of "Who Is It" — "Who is it that never lets you down?" — may be understood to reflect a "mother's unconditional love" in a dialogue between mother and child.[5] The echo effects in "Who Is It" may additionally reflect the "scattered sense of self the mother may experience as she carries the burden of constant care for her child".[5] Ethan Brown from New York magazine considered the line "Who is it that gave you back your crown?" as a kind of feminist self-validation.[6] According to The Village Voice's Laura Sinagra, the "child-welcoming" song "nods to "world music" warmth with its throat-sung yelps".[7] Pitchfork's Dominique Leone said "Who Is It" reminded him of "Alarm Call" from Homogenic (1997), in the way it "applies Björk's idiosyncratic performances to a traditionally pleasant sounding template", though he felt 'Who Is It' featured a "much more interesting" chord progression during the verses, and an "altogether incredible rhythm track".[8] John Mulvey from Yahoo! Launch noted that the song recalled the "kind of strident hook that Björk favoured during her commercial heyday of the mid-'90s".[9]

Critical reception[edit]

"Who Is It" received positive reviews from music critics. Michael Paoletta from Billboard magazine called the song "exuberant",[4] whilst John Mulvey from Yahoo! Launch found it "euphoric".[9] Melanie Haupt commented that Björk's "trills in her native Icelandic work well on "Who Is It," which underscores this disc's experiment in taking the raw power of the human voice".[10] Time Out's John Lewis stated that "Who Is It" has a melody that Cathy Dennis would kill to write.[11] Spence D. of IGN Music said that despite the "strangely haunting" intro, the song was the most "straight forward, accessible number" on the album.[12] Jennifer Vineyard from MTV News shared a similar sentiment, stating that despite its "cumbersome title", it was the "most immediate and catchy number, with a pure sense of seize-the-day joy: If there is to be a single released from the album, this should be it".[13]

The Guardian's Michael Cragg stated that its verses "melt into a big, melodious chorus that showed that despite her disappearance from daytime radio, Björk still knew how to make something resembling a crowd singalong".[14] Matthew Gasteier of Prefix magazine was also positive, calling the song a "mostly typical Bjork anthem", replacing her previous electronic sound with the "concept-appropriate but still conventional human beat".[15] AllMusic's Heather Phares noted that the song, along with promotional single "Oceania", "have an alien quality that is all the stranger considering that nearly all of their source material is human (except for the odd keyboard or two)".[16] Jon Pareles from The New York Times stated that, along with "Where Is the Line", "Who Is It" is a "wide open [song] with complex superstructures, catchy but ghostly, and they probably haven't seen their final incarnation".[17] BBC Music's David Hooper called the song "enjoyable", citing it as one of the only "really immediate tunes" on Medúlla.[18]

Chart performance[edit]

In the United Kingdom, "Who Is It" debuted at its peak of number 26 on the UK Singles Chart on the issue dated 24 October 2004. It became her highest peaking single since "Hidden Place", which reached number 21 in 2001.[19] The song also obtained the same position in Italy, on the issue dated 2 December 2004, but fell to number 40 the next week, before falling off the chart.[20] In France, "Who Is It" debuted at its peak of number 62, before spending two other weeks and falling off the chart.[21]

Music video[edit]

Björk in the music video for "Who Is It"

The accompanying music video for "Who Is It" was shot in early September 2004 in Hjörleifshöfði, Iceland and directed by Dawn Shadforth. It premiered at the grand opening of the "Islande de glace et de feu" event at the Palais de la Découverte, in Paris, France, on 27 September 2004.[22] For the video, Björk approached her friend and collaborator Alexander McQueen to design a dress she would wear for it. She asked him for an outfit "that looked like a bell". He then did a brief outline sketch of the shape, and after Björk approval, it was sent to Iceland for the shoot, with no other discussion or fittings. Their close relationship made Björk feel secure that his dress would work. She accessorised the outfit with leather boots and a mask made from hair.[23][24]

The video is divided into scenes in the day and night in a desert, with Björk wearing the bell-shaped dress designed by McQueen,[25] dancing playfully to the song. At some moments of the video she can be seen playing bells and holding two Siberian Huskies. Throughout the clip, several children can be seen playing bells and dressed in clothes covered in small jingle bells. The bell choir was formed by Júnia, Salka, Kaktus, Örnólfur, Daði and Gabríel of The Bústaðakirkja Bell Choir.[2] The version of the song played in the video is different from the album version, removing almost all the vocal music and replacing it with bells.[23] The bell-shaped dress was shown in Björk's MoMA retrospective in 2015.[26] It was sold for £44,000, as part of Kerry Taylor Auctions "Passion for Fashion" sale in London, in June 2016.[27]

Live performances[edit]

Björk first performed "Who Is It" on the 2001 Vespertine World Tour during her stops in Parma and Rome, Italy, in November.[28][29] During the promotional campaign for Medúlla, a bell choir mix of "Who Is It" was performed with Rahzel and an English bell choir at BBC's Friday Night with Jonathan Ross on 8 October 2004,[30] and at Maida Vale Studios during a set of songs for Gilles Peterson's radio show on BBC Radio 1, two days later.[31] The song was also performed at Canal+'s L'Album de la semaine in France on 15 October, along with other tracks from Medúlla, airing some days later.[32] "Who Is It" has been performed on the Volta Tour in 2007 and 2008.[33] Additionally, the "Bell Choir" version was performed using the gameleste on the Biophilia Tour.[34]

Cover versions[edit]

In 2011, indie band Bon Iver performed a cover version of the song during a concert in Brooklyn, New York and subsequently covered it on an iTunes live session.[35] In 2015, Kurt Elling released a cover version on his album Passion World.[36]

Track listing[edit]


Credits adapted from Medúlla album booklet.[41]


Chart (2004) Peak
France (SNEP)[21] 62
Italy (FIMI)[20] 26
Scotland (OCC)[42] 37
Spain (PROMUSICAE)[43] 5
UK Singles (OCC)[19] 26
UK Indie (OCC)[44] 3


  1. ^ a b c "Björk on XFM". Radio X 104.9 FM. London. 25 August 2004. Radio X (United Kingdom). 104.9. Archived from the original on 19 September 2004.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  2. ^ a b " /// who is it". Archived from the original on 15 November 2004. Retrieved 24 September 2004.
  3. ^ "'Shooting Stars & Asteroids' remix of 'Who Is It'". 13 October 2005. Archived from the original on 20 December 2005. Retrieved 25 September 2016.
  4. ^ a b Paoletta, Michael (11 September 2004). "Björk - Medúlla". Billboard. Archived from the original on 2 September 2005. Retrieved 1 October 2016.
  5. ^ a b Malawey, Victoria (2007). Temporal Process, Repetition, and Voice in Bjork's "Medúlla". Indiana University. p. 48. ISBN 978-0549466277.
  6. ^ Brown, Ethan (20 September 2004). "Top of the Vox". New York. Retrieved 10 August 2017.
  7. ^ Sinagra, Laura (24 August 2004). "Breath Fed". The Village Voice. Retrieved 10 August 2017. Cite has empty unknown parameter: |1= (help)
  8. ^ Leone, Dominique (30 August 2004). "Björk: Medulla". Pitchfork Media. Retrieved 2 October 2016.
  9. ^ a b Mulvey, John (10 September 2004). "Björk - 'Medulla'". Yahoo! Launch. Archived from the original on 11 September 2004. Retrieved 10 August 2017.
  10. ^ Hauph, Melanie (15 October 2004). "Phases & Stages". Austin Chronicle. Archived from the original on 30 September 2007. Retrieved 8 October 2016.
  11. ^ Lewis, John (August 2004). "Phases & Stages". Time Out. Archived from the original on 23 August 2006. Retrieved 8 October 2016.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link)
  12. ^ D., Spence (1 September 2016). "Bjork - Medulla". IGN Music. Retrieved 8 October 2016.
  13. ^ Vineyard, Jennifer (12 August 2004). "Bjork Album Preview: Beautiful, Baffling and Bothersome Medúlla". MTV News. Retrieved 2 October 2016.
  14. ^ Cragg, Michael (26 March 2014). "10 of the best: Björk". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 October 2016.
  15. ^ Gasteiser, Matthew (31 August 2004). "Bjork - Medulla". Prefix. Retrieved 2 October 2016.
  16. ^ Phares, Heather. "Medúlla - Björk". AllMusic. Retrieved 2 October 2016.
  17. ^ Jon, Pareles (29 August 2004). "MUSIC; Bjork Grabs The World By the Throat". The New York Times. Retrieved 8 October 2016.
  18. ^ Hooper, David. "Bjork Medúlla Review". BBC Music. Retrieved 2 October 2016.
  19. ^ a b "Official Singles Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 6 January 2016.
  20. ^ a b " – Björk – Who Is It (Carry My Joy on the Left Carry My Pain on the Right)". Top Digital Download. Retrieved 6 January 2016.
  21. ^ a b " – Björk – Who Is It (Carry My Joy on the Left Carry My Pain on the Right)" (in French). Les classement single. Retrieved 6 January 2016.
  22. ^ "Paris Premiere Of 'Who Is It'". 24 September 2004. Archived from the original on 23 November 2005. Retrieved 8 October 2016.
  23. ^ a b "Björk's Alexander McQueen 'Bell' dress, 2004, worn for the 'Who Is It (Carry My Joy on the Left)' video". The Saleroom. Retrieved 8 October 2016.
  24. ^ Builder, Maxine (25 February 2015). "The 11 Iconic Bjork Outfits That I'll Be Looking For At Her Upcoming MoMA Retrospective". Bustle. Retrieved 8 October 2016.
  25. ^ Wilson, Mackenzie. "Björk Pays Tribute to Fashion Designer Alexander McQueen". BBC America. Retrieved 8 October 2016.
  26. ^ "Björk's MoMA Retrospective Is All About the Costumes". InStyle. Retrieved 8 October 2016.
  27. ^ Allitt, Frances (15 June 2016). "Madonna and Bjork shine with pop star style at London fashion auction". Antiques Trade Gazette. Retrieved 8 October 2016.
  28. ^ "What is it? A new song, that's what". 9 November 2001. Archived from the original on 23 November 2005. Retrieved 25 September 2016.
  29. ^ "gigOgraphy: Vespertine Tour summary". Archived from the original on 6 January 2010. Retrieved 25 September 2016.
  30. ^ "Graham Norton trips the light fantastic". BBC Online. 8 October 2004. Retrieved 25 September 2016.
  31. ^ "Gilles Peterson :: Tracklisting 10/10/04". BBC Radio 1. 10 October 2004. Retrieved 25 October 2015.
  32. ^ "L'Album de la semaine". L'Album de la semaine. Season 1. 25 October 2004. 19 minutes in. Canal+.
  33. ^ "gigOgraphy: Volta Tour summary". Archived from the original on 28 March 2010. Retrieved 27 December 2015.
  34. ^ "gigography". Retrieved 25 September 2016.
  35. ^ Lopez, L.V. "Two Brief Highlights: Bon Iver at Prospect Park". Frontier Psychiatrist. Archived from the original on 16 March 2012. Retrieved 11 August 2011.
  36. ^ "Review: Kurt Elling-Passion World". Retrieved 28 September 2015.
  37. ^ "Who Is It (Carry My Joy on the Left, Carry My Pain on the Right)" (UK CD1 single liner notes). Björk. One Little Indian Records. 2004. 446TP7CD1.CS1 maint: others (link)
  38. ^ "Who Is It (Carry My Joy on the Left, Carry My Pain on the Right)" (UK CD2 single liner notes). Björk. One Little Indian Records. 2004.CS1 maint: others (link)
  39. ^ "Who Is It (Carry My Joy on the Left, Carry My Pain on the Right)" (UK/European DVD single liner notes). Björk. One Little Indian Records. 2004. 9868815.CS1 maint: others (link)
  40. ^ "Who Is It (Carry My Joy on the Left, Carry My Pain on the Right)" (European/Japanese CD single liner notes). Björk. One Little Indian Records. 2004. 9868786.CS1 maint: others (link)
  41. ^ Medúlla (European album liner notes). Björk. One Little Indian Records. 2004. 9867589.CS1 maint: others (link)
  42. ^ "Official Scottish Singles Sales Chart Top 100". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 24 December 2018.
  43. ^ " – Björk – Who Is It (Carry My Joy on the Left Carry My Pain on the Right)" Canciones Top 50. Retrieved 5 March 2017.
  44. ^ "Official Independent Singles Chart Top 50". Official Charts Company. Retrieved 24 December 2018.

External links[edit]