Hey everyone! I’m honoured that I get to join in Hendrik’s party. This tumblr has featured some exciting and thoughtful music writing; I’ll try to keep up the good work.
I have too much to say about Björk. She has produced an enormous amount of material through her six solo albums (plus the one of Icelandic folk songs she did as a child and the one coming out), the Sugarcubes albums, her soundtracks, her remix and live albums, and B-sides and rarities. I cannot cover all of them. So my personal challenge will be to limit my posts to a manageable number and lengths. I have chosen ten themes to talk about, centering my discussions either on a single album or representative work. I’ll also post a few odds and bobs. You’ll see how it works out as I go along, and hopefully it won’t be too nutty and confusing.
That’s basically it. I’m a little nervous. Some of you might find what I’m saying too basic; others might find it too inside baseball. I’m a fan, but I’ll try to bring the critic’s gimlet eye to bear on her. And I’m probably going to get things wrong. This is the world of Björk as I see it, and all factual mistakes are the author’s alone.
To start you off, here’s a video of Björk from the 1994 Brit Awards telling you how to pronounce her name. (Hint: you are probably saying it wrong.)
Björk - “Big Time Sensuality”
Debut is such a debut.* Björk’s career is defined by the intersection of the organic and the technological - it’s surprising that she’s only now releasing an album of electronic music called “Biophilia.” But on Debut and her first releases, she pursued it as a narrative: Björk is the daughter of nature searching for the technological world’s heart. At the time of Debut, it mirrored her own departure from laidback, tiny Iceland and her immersion in the buzzy dance clubs of London. And it’s a positive journey. Debut does not see conflict between nature and technology; at least nothing that can’t be fixed by a few upbeat choruses. The journey gives the free spirit Björk excitement and delight as she discovers the enchantments of the wider world. Debut is wonder-full.
It was perfectly timed. While Björk’s later releases would step out of the zeitgeist, Debut and “Big Time Sensuality” (among tracks by other artists) helped open Gen Xers to utopian dance music. Back then, Gen Xers saw the world created by baby boomers as inherently hypocritical and corrupt. But technology, drugs and dance music were seen as a possible way to bring about a street-smart social paradise. Björk stormed the U.S. dance charts with her proclamation, “I don’t know my future after this weekend/And I don’t want to.” After a decade of hip-hop and dance pop songs describing the elaborate and conservative social codes of “da club,” it’s refreshing to remember that dance clubs used to be idealized as places of political, moral and social freedom.
In the iconic video for “Sensuality,” Björk unself-consciously dances (predating Robyn by over a decade) along a moving truck as it drives through some banal New York City streetscapes. But Björk’s alien beauty, rapturous expressions and personal electricity elevate the video into the opening chapter of a movie. This is the beginning; here the magic starts. Can’t you feel it? Meanwhile, the synths boom and lift, soaring and swirling over Björk’s voice, inviting her to join them. Her voice growls and purrs, trying to hold back all of the childish delight it feels just being in this place of possibilities. It ranges around, up and down, confused by the unexpected pleasure coming from every side. Her voice is ecstasy. She sings, “It takes courage to enjoy it!” These are words, my friends, that are no longer possible on a club hit. Debut and “Sensuality” might be nearly twenty years old, but they still punch with an over-the-top exuberance you know you’ve been missing all these years.
*Yeah, yeah. She had a solo album when she was a kid and there’s the Sugarcubes. But this was her real introduction to the world.
Björk - “Big Time Sensuality (Live)”
Some early footage of Björk performing “Sensuality.” Back then, her eyebrows were a little out of control and she is wearing an off-the-rack, unflattering party dress (the couture came later). Everything else is on point. If you’ve had a bad Monday, stick around to hear how she sings “I just don’t want to/I just don’t want to” at 3:35 or so. Yay!
Björk and PJ Harvey - “Satisfaction (Live at the Brit Awards 1994)”
At the age of sixteen, this performance encapsulated everything I adored about pop music, and it still does. It’s impossible for me to talk about it; just watch it.
Björk attacks a reporter, Bangkok 1996.
Long before Britney and her golf umbrella, Björk claws at reporter Julie Kaufmann in Bangkok’s airport. It wasn’t her last attack, either. She attacked another reporter in an Australian airport in 2008. Lesson? Do not talk to Björk after a long haul flight.
I could watch this all day. Anyone have a gif?
Ane Brun – “Jóga (Live at Polar Music Prize, 2010)”
If you’ve been following this blog since the beginning of the week, you might have expected my post for Homogenic to come here. So far, I’ve been working through Björk’s discography in order. But for various reasons, I’ve decided to move that to the end of the week’s posts. In its stead, watch this performance of Ane Brun performing “Jóga” at the Polar Music Prize ceremony celebrating Björk’s accomplishments (in another video, you can see that the award itself looks like a glassed-in diorama). I’ve said that Björk is hard to cover, but Brun has a rich enough timbre that she can make this song believably hers. While Björk’s version is powerful and uplifting, Brun’s is delicate and heartfelt. It may not be to everyone’s tastes (the Youtube comments are divided), but it points in the direction of the only way to properly cover Björk: by bringing one’s own full-throttled eccentricity to it.