I grew up listening to whatever was on MTV because those were the kind of songs that all the kids at my school had decided were cool. I always felt like I was a part of something whenever I was able to talk about the NSFW lyrics and music videos of songs such as Christina Aguilera’s “Dirrty,” 112’s “Peaches and Cream,” Nelly’s “Hot in Herre,” 50 Cent’s “In Da Club,” and Ginuwine’s “In Those Jeans” in hushed voices at the back of the class. My brother and sister were the complete opposite and I always wondered what shop they bought their CD’s from. It is because of them that I became exposed to all kinds of musical genres and when I heard The Fray’s “How to Save a Life” for the first time, it was like I had stepped into an alternate universe. It is this same universe that I returned to the first time I listened to a song by Bjork.
Bjork Gudmundsdottir, known widely as Bjork, is an Icelandic singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and actress who was on the music scene long before The Black Eyed Peas sang about humps and long after R. Kelly had been trapped in the closet. The Icelandic musician was born on 21 November 1965, and at the age of six when most of us where still trying to figure out how to tie our shoelaces, Bjork who went on to become a multi-award nominee and winner, was studying classical piano and flute. I bet that finally getting the bunny into the hole doesn’t seem so important to you now. Her self-titled debut, Bjork, was released in 1977 when she was 11. When I was 11, I was still trying to figure out bras.
Bjork has had her fair share of musical experiences—she started an all-girl punk band during her teen years called Spit and Snot, she once was a part of Exodus, a jazz fusion group, and in 1982 she formed another group with bassist Jakob Magnússon. But it was with the alternative rock band, The Sugarcubes, that she rose to prominence aided by their hit single “Birthday.” The Sugarcubes toured North America, appeared on Saturday Night Live, opened for U2 and played a concert at the Ritz in New York.
After The Sugarcubes split up, Bjork moved to London to pursue a solo career. She worked with producer Nellee Hooper on her first international solo hit, “Human Behaviour,” a dance track with a music video by Oscar-winning film director Michel Gondry. The song was frequently played on MTV, my long-time childhood friend. Her solo album, Debut, which was released in June 1993, garnered many positive reviews and was named album of the year by NME. Björk’s experiences from being in numerous bands during her teens and early twenties must have made an impact on her solo career because Debut featured a mix of genres. The third track on the album, “Venus as a Boy,” could easily be a soundtrack for a Bollywood movie. “Aeroplane” features brass like you’ve never heard it before, “The Anchor Song,” stuns with the saxophone and “Big Time Sensuality” is pure techno genius.
Today, Bjork still possesses a wonderful and eclectic musical style and has mastered techno, pop, jazz, trip-hop, and dance music, among many other genres. I know, I know, Bjork is everything you wish you were. She is experimental, she is multi-talented, she is a risk taker and it doesn’t hurt that she has all those UK Music Video, BRIT and MTV Video Music awards either. However, Debut, was not immediately received with open hands. In 1993, Rolling Stone (Yes, THE Rolling Stone) called the album the “utterly disappointing result” of her solo career and accused Nellee Hooper of sabotaging “a ferociously iconoclastic talent with a phalanx of cheap electronic gimmickry.” In fact, even her label, One Little Indian, estimated that the album would only sell up to 40,000 copies. But the album which has sold over 4 million copies, was certified gold in Canada and platinum in the United States. Clearly, she is the queen of experimental music and is pop culture magic.
The Icelandic singer-songwriter started working on a project to help raise money for a relief fund after a tsunami struck Southeast Asia in 2004. She recruited fans and musicians from around the world to cover the 1995 song, “Army of Me.” Bjork and her co-writer Graham Massey compiled some of the covers into an album and the proceeds raised were put towards UNICEF's work in Southeast Asia. In 2005 she collaborated with Matthew Barney on an experimental art film which was an exploration of Japanese culture. In 2014, she played a vital role in “Stopp, Let's Protect the Park,” an event that was organized to raise money and awareness towards the preservation of Icelandic nature.
In 2015, New York's Museum of Modern Art paid tribute to her wonderfully eclectic style and music in a major exhibition. The audio-visual retrospective at MoMA ran from March 8 to June 7. Bjork, as it was titled, gave viewers an unforgettable experience of music with instruments, a theatrical presentation, a thrilling sound experience, an audio guide, and related visualizations including photography and music videos. The exhibition showcased major highlights from her experimental and audacious career by bringing together music, videos, images, costumes and musical instruments that express Bjork’s innovative music.
You should know that everything isn’t always blossom, bubbles and buttercup for Bjork. She went through a messy breakup with her partner of 13 years, Matthew Barney, with whom she has a 12-year-old daughter. In an interview with Pitchfork, she said the split from Barney was “the most painful thing” she has ever experienced. The breakup influenced her most recent album, Vulnicura (which was nominated for a Grammy this year), and she has said that writing about the breakup was a “survival mechanism.” The songs on Vulnicura feature poignantly raw lyrics that might turn you into an emotional mess.
The “Ice Queen of Pop” announced in a statement late last year that she had started writing new songs and I am keeping my fingers crossed for a Grammy Award this time.
[Image Credit: Nick Knight, Bjork.com]
Posted on April 15, 2016 in Music-Marvelous by Adesuwa Okoyomon