The Ice(landic) Queen: Bjork and the method behind the madness

Molly Tie continues her Music Herstory series

Björk is one of those artists – no, in fact, one of those humans – who defies all previously existing knowledge and sense. She still looks 18 years old but she’s actually 54. On paper, her music doesn’t seem like the sort of sound that would get worldwide, mainstream success but she’s one of the most recognisable and successful female artists of all time. Her switch to acting should have gone the way in often does when singers turn to film – a bit shaky. But instead, she won the 2000 Cannes Film Festival award for Best Actress for her role in Dancer in the Dark. She’s a creative powerhouse; a style icon and considered a little bit on the kooky side. Is there anything she can’t do?

First a bit of background. Björk Guðmundsdóttir was born in Iceland in 1965 to two very politically active parents – her mother was a prominent political activist and her father was a local union leader. She has always had a flare for music and has trained classically on instruments such as the flute and piano. Her talent for vocals was spotted at an early age – she had her first recording contract at 11 and released her first album at the same age (self-titled Björk in 1977).

Björk has been experimenting with different genres from the beginning- in the 1980s she dabbled in punk (in all-girl band Snot) and jazz (Exodus) as well as performing more avant garde style experimental spoken-word scores with Icelandic poets.

Björk’s career has been one of collaboration. She has been in numerous bands (other than those mentioned above, she was notably in a band called The Sugarcubes in the late 1980s) and spent her early career working with various Icelandic producers and musicians on a variety of projects.

However, in the early 1990s, Björk left the Sugarcubes, moved to London and pursued a solo career. Her debut solo album Debut was released in 1993 and was widely well-received. So much so, that in 1994 Björk won two Brit Awards – one for Best International Female and one for Best Newcomer.

Björk has been prolifically producing music since then. She has made 10 solo studio albums as well as countless other collaborations, guest appearances, bespoke experimental projects and writing credits. Some music has charted, other releases perhaps only known to those who follow her particularly closely. Either way, she continues to record, release and perform and 99% of the time, to much critical acclaim.

Björk is an artist who is perhaps better known by most people for her visuals and aesthetics than for her musical nuance. Her videos are surrealist and trippy; her outfits are bold and expressive (of course we all remember the Swan dress at the 2001 Academy Awards – the Lady Gaga meat dress of its time) and her image and sound changes with the wind. I have always considered her to be a more futuristic, abstract Kate Bush with the musical range of a PJ Harvey and a slightly cuddlier weirdness than Grace Jones.

Her private life has been, for the most part, just that- private. She’s not one for giving heartfelt tell-all interviews to OK! Magazine whilst sprawled on her sofa clutching her children but we do know some basics. She is politically active and supports a variety of left-wing, progressive causes such as environmental protections, self-determination for various nations fighting independence struggles such as Kosovo and Tibet. She has used her platform to raise money for several disaster relief appeals following natural disasters such as the Southeast Asian tsunami in 2004.

Björk’s career has had a major impact on European music and her eclecticism runs through both her musical output and visual style. Björk broke ground in the electronic scene by pushing the boundaries and interweaving other musical styles as well as her impressive soprano vocal range. Unapologetically weird, Björk encouraged and celebrated all forms of creativity through all mediums, acting as a mentor to several musical acts including Iranian producer Leila Arab and Inuit throat-singer Tanya Tagaq. Björk champions diversity via the projects she pursues and her fearless striving for effortless individuality has made the musical world a little bit more magical.

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