I think it’s clear from the title that today’s topic, or rather, today’s birthday girl, is Björk, born on November 21, 1965.
But the title is not of random choice. It was 1995 and I was entering my adolescence when I saw a disturbing, mysterious video that struck me a lot: Army of Me, by Björk. From that moment I got hooked, I discovered a lot of interesting things about this Icelandic singer-songwriter and actress, which I want to share today.
Army of Me has also become an incredible humanitarian project, which we will explain in a few paragraphs.
So let’s get started!
Life and career of Björk
Beginnings to adult age
Björk Guðmundsdóttir was born on November 21, 1965 in Reykjavik, Iceland. Having grown up in a highly musical family, Björk made a compilation of traditional Icelandic folk songs when she was only 11 years old. A precocious talent, a bit like that of Arthur Rimbaud, about whom we talked to you about last week.
During her teens, Björk sings with a number of anarchy punk bands, including KUKL. With some of the KUKL members, in 1986, Björk formed the pop group Sugarcubes, flanked by Magga Örnólfsdóttir, Bragi Ólafsson and guitarist Thór Eldon. That same year, Björk and Eldon got married and on June 8 they welcomed their first child. The couple divorced the following year.
Sugarcubes, in the late 80s and early 90s, achieved some success in the United States and the United Kingdom.
In 1993, Björk released her first adult solo album, aptly titled Debut, selling nearly 3 million copies worldwide. After moving to London, Björk released the Post album in 1995, which boasts innovative collaborations with techno gurus Graham Massey, Howie B and Tricky.
The year 2000 and acting career
In 2000, the Icelandic singer-songwriter also appeared on the big screen, in the critically acclaimed film Dancer in the Dark by Danish director Lars von Trier. There were rumors that there had been disagreements between the director and his star (who also composes the soundtrack of the film). The story goes that, during filming, Björk spit in front of Lars Von Trier every day and told him “I despise you, Mr. Von Trier”, so much so that she had to go away from filming for some time.
Despite the problems on the set, the positive results are not lacking. Björk won Best Actress Award at the Cannes Film Festival and a Golden Globe nomination for her performance.
Björk gained further acclaim in early 2001. She and Von Trier are nominated for an Oscar (best song) for “I’ve Seen It All“. On that occasion, the singer and actress also made fashion history by wearing the infamous “swan dress” while performing the song at the Academy Awards that same year. Also in 2001 Björk released her first album in four years, Vespertine.
In 2004, Björk performed “Oceania“, a single from Medúlla, at the Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece. At the 55th edition of the Grammy Awards in 2013, Biophilia won the award for the best “recording package”, also receiving a nomination for best alternative album.
Vulnicura was released in 2015 while in 2017 Utopia. It is quite interesting to know that Utopia has been described by Björk herself as the “Tinder album”, stating that “it’s about that quest (for utopia) and being in love. Spending time with someone you like is when the dream comes true. “
Björk is currently ready to embark on her 11th tour, called Björk Orkestral, in which she will perform orchestral arrangements of pieces from her career up to now. As part of the tour, Björk was expected to perform at the Bluedot Festival in July 2020, however the event was postponed to 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
I don’t know what you readers are thinking, but I have an incredible desire to go to good concert!
Following the rescheduling, the singer announced a series of online streaming concerts for charity. Each concert will have a different set of musicians and instruments and a unique lineup.
A few months ago, in August 2020, Björk joined the cast of The Northman, where she will play the Witch Slav alongside Alexander Skarsgård, Nicole Kidman and Willem Defoe.
After the tsunami that hit Southeast Asia in late 2004, Björk began to work on a new project called Army of Me: Remixes and Covers to raise money for this emergency.
This project recruited fans and musicians from all over the world to cover or remix the 1995 song, the one that shocked my adolescence! Björk and Graham Massey chose the best twenty to be included in the album, released between 2004 and 2005 in various countries.
By January 2006, the album raised around £ 250,000 to help UNICEF work in the South East Asian region. In the same year, Björk goes to the places affected by the tragedy to visit the children.
On July 2, 2005, Björk took part in the Live 8 concert series, directing the Japanese show with Do As Infinity, Good Charlotte and McFly.
The Icelandic artist is also very active from a political point of view. Although she hesitates to be seen as an overtly political figure (as mentioned several times on her website), she supports numerous liberation movements, including independence for Kosovo.
Björk has also been interested in environmental issues in her native country, raising funds for Icelandic nature conservation, which will be used to establish a national park.
Why we do love Björk?
Over the course of his more than 40-year career, Björk has embodied the ideal of the free-spirited artist. Her work has never bowed to the will of commercial trends or the tastes of the mass market.
Björk has one of the most distinctive voices of recent years, and is also a distinctive voice in contemporary “pop art”. Her work is difficult even to translate into words, but it is impossible not to recognize the emotion and innovation when you see … and hear!
As noted in Rick Poynor’s “Cyber Björk” article, in a photographic album by the artist herself, tells about what is the greatest source of inspiration of today’s protagonist.
The first great master of mutant identity, which is still today a founding example for all his followers: he was David Bowie. Even before he became famous, Bowie always looked for different images, from the mod, to the hippie, to the singer-songwriter Bob Dylan style …. The feeling that for Bowie it was something vital, and that the image changes were an almost involuntary reflex, deeply involved those who looked at him.
Speaking of images, part of Björk’s rise to stardom can certainly be attributed to the incredibly quirky music videos she made with the help of directors like Michel Gondry and Spike Jonze.
The 90s certainly helped artists like Björk, Radiohead and Nirvana for example, to enter the mainstream market via MTV.
Despite the entry through videos (including my beloved Army of me) into the more commercial market, actually Björk has never been commercial, and its production has gradually become less accessible, but no less appreciable.
Thanks to the strangely raw soprano voice, surreal, conflicting and sometimes childish lyrics, the work of this Icelandic artist is incredibly avant-garde.
As already pointed out by numerous critics, getting into Björk’s world of sound can be difficult and unusual. However, strange as it may seem, what’s constantly compelling about her music is how truly human it is.