Björk Guðmundsdóttir [?pjœr?k ?kv?ðm?nts?to?ht?r] (born 21 November 1965) is a critically acclaimed Icelandic avant-garde singer-songwriter, composer, actress and music producer, whose work includes seven solo albums and two film soundtracks.
She is best known for her expressive vocals, broad soprano vocal range, and a diverse and eclectic musical style, which incorporates influences from many different genres, including pop, alternative rock, jazz, ambient, electronic, classical, folk and trip hop, as well as her eccentric costumes and music videos. Her singles "It's Oh So Quiet", "Army of Me" and "Hyperballad" all charted in the UK Top 10.
Her record label, One Little Indian, reported in 2003 that she had sold more than 15 million albums worldwide. She has been nominated for 13 Grammy Awards, an Academy Award and two Golden Globe Awards (including one for acting). For her performance in Dancer in the Dark, Björk won the Best Actress Award at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival. She was ranked #36 on VH1's "The 100 Greatest Women in Rock and Roll" and #8 on MTV's "22 Greatest Voices in Music". Her most recent album, Volta, was released worldwide on 8 May 2007.
Björk was born and raised in Reykjavík, Iceland. Her musical career began when she was eleven with her study of classical piano in elementary school. One of her instructors sent a recording of Björk singing Tina Charles' song "I Love to Love" to RÚV, then the only radio station in Iceland. The recording was broadcast on radio nationally; after hearing it, a representative of the record label Fálkinn contacted Björk to offer a record contract. An album, Björk, was recorded and released in 1977.
In her teens, Björk was influenced by punk; at 14 she formed the all-girl punk band Spit and Snot, shortly followed by the jazz fusion group Exodus in 1979. In 1980 she graduated from music school. In 1981 she and bassist Jakob Magnússon formed another band called Jam-80, which later became Tappi Tíkarrass (which means "Cork the Bitch’s Arse" in Icelandic), and released an extended single, "Bítið Fast í Vítið" in the same year. Their next album, Miranda, was released in 1983.
Afterward, Björk collaborated with Einar Örn Benediktsson and Einar Melax from Purrkur Pillnikk, and Guðlaugur Óttarsson, Sigtryggur Baldursson, and Birgir Mogensen from Þeyr. After writing songs and rehearsing for two weeks, the new band, KUKL ("sorcery" in Icelandic), developed a sound described as Gothic rock. Björk began to show indications of her trademark singing style, which was punctuated by howls and shrieks.
KUKL toured Iceland with anarchist UK punk band Crass, and later visited the UK in a series of performances with Flux of Pink Indians. They produced two albums as a result of these collaborations: The Eye in 1984, and Holidays in Europe in 1986, both on Crass Records.
The band was eventually dissolved, in part due to the closure of their label, Gramm. In mid-1986, several members of KUKL and the surrealist group Medusa got together to create the arts collective Smekkleysa (Bad Taste). They created a musical division, a band again called KUKL, but soon changed the name to The Sugarcubes.
The Sugarcubes' first single, "Ammæli" (meaning "Birthday" in Icelandic), became a surprise hit in the UK after being declared single of the week by Melody Maker. The Sugarcubes were immediately signed up by One Little Indian, a new label set up by Derek Birkett, the former bass player of Flux of Pink Indians. They gained a cult following in the U.S. and UK, and calls from larger record companies began coming in. They rejected all these offers, and instead chose to have complete creative control by remaining with a friend's label. Björk is still signed to this label. The Sugarcubes also signed a distribution deal with Elektra Records in the United States, and recorded their first album, Life's Too Good, in 1988. Its release propelled them into international stardom—an unprecedented success for an Icelandic rock band. While with the Sugarcubes, Björk participated in several side projects. She recorded Gling-Gló, a collection of popular jazz and original work, with the jazz group Trio Guðmundar Ingólfssonar (an octogenarian jazz group), released in Iceland. Björk also contributed vocals to 808 State's album ex:el, with whom she cultivated her interest in house music. She contributed vocals on the songs "Qmart" & "Ooops" which was released as a single in the UK and was later included on 808 State's "Best Of" album, 808:88:98.
Pop and dance beginnings: 1992–1996
In 1992 The Sugarcubes split up. They still remain friends and are all still involved in the management of Smekkleysa/Bad Taste. Björk moved to London to pursue a solo career; she began working with producer Nellee Hooper, who had produced for Massive Attack, among others. Their partnership produced Björk's first international solo hit, "Human Behaviour". Her solo debut album, Debut, was released in June 1993 to positive reviews; it was named album of the year by NME, and eventually went platinum in the United States.
Debut was the leap Björk made from being in numerous bands during her teens and early twenties, to her solo career. But although this was far from her real debut as a singer and musician, having released her very first solo album at the age of 11, she set the title to Debut to signify a start of something brand new.
At the 1994 BRIT Awards Björk won the awards for Best International Female and Best International Newcomer. Debut had a mix of songs Björk had been writing since she was a teenager, as well as more recent lyrical collaborations with Hooper.
The success of Debut enabled her to collaborate with other artists on one-off tracks. She worked with David Arnold on "Play Dead", the theme to the 1993 film The Young Americans (which appeared as a bonus track on a re-release of Debut), collaborated on two songs for Tricky's Nearly God project, appeared on a track on the 1997 album Not For Threes by Plaid, which was released on the cult Warp Records label, and co-wrote the song "Bedtime Story" for Madonna's 1994 album Bedtime Stories.
Building on the success of her previous album Debut, Björk continued to pursue different sounds, taking particular interest in dance and techno. Production by Tricky and Howie B also provided trip hop/electronica-like sounds on tracks like "Possibly Maybe". It was these producers' influence that gave Björk impetus to create material like the storming "Army of Me" and "Enjoy".
It was ranked #26 in Spin's "100 Greatest Albums, 1985–2005". Post and Homogenic were placed back to back on Pitchfork's "Best of the 90's" list. In 2003, the album was ranked number 373 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.
Embracing beats and strings: 1997–2002
In 1997, the album Homogenic was released. It marked a dramatic shift from her earlier "pixie" image cultivated on the Debut and Post albums. Björk worked with producers Mark Bell of LFO and Howie B on the album, as well as Eumir Deodato; numerous remixes followed. Homogenic was her first conceptually self-contained album and is regarded as one of Björk's most experimental and extroverted works to date, with enormous beats that reflect the landscape of Iceland, most notably in the song "Jóga", which fuses lush strings with rocky electronic crunches.
The emotionally-charged album contains a string of music videos, several of which received airplay on MTV. The video for "Bachelorette" was directed by frequent collaborator Michel Gondry, while "All Is Full of Love" was directed by Chris Cunningham. The single "All is Full of Love" was also the first DVD single to ever be released in the U.S., which paved the way for other artists to include DVD video and other multimedia features with their singles.
In an interview with Spin magazine, Radiohead singer Thom Yorke called the song "Unravel" from this album his favourite song ever, claiming "I'm trying to get Radiohead to do a cover because I think it's one of the most beautiful songs I've ever heard." In November 2007, the band covered the song as part of a live webcast. The video can be seen on YouTube.
The album reached gold status in the U.S. in 2001 and platinum in 2006.
In 2001, Björk released the album Vespertine. The album featured chamber orchestras, choirs, hushed vocals and personal, vulnerable themes. She collaborated with experimental sound manipulators Matmos, Denmark-based DJ Thomas Knak, and the experimental harpist Zeena Parkins for the album. Lyrical sources included the works of American poet E. E. Cummings, the American independent filmmaker Harmony Korine and English playwright Sarah Kane's penultimate play, Crave. To coincide with the album's release, Björk released a coffee table book of loose prose and photographs titled Björk. Björk embarked on a tour of theatres and opera houses in Europe and North America in support of the album, accompanied by the musicians Matmos, Zeena Parkins and an Inuit choir, whom she had held auditions for on a trip to Greenland prior to the tour. At the time Vespertine was Björk's quickest selling album ever, having sold two million copies by the end of 2001.
Vespertine spawned three singles: "Hidden Place", "Pagan Poetry", and "Cocoon." MTV2 played the album's first video, "Hidden Place", which was subsequently released as a DVD single. However, the next video, for "Pagan Poetry", brought Björk to an even higher level of controversy with the channel. The song's video features graphic piercings and Björk's exposed nipples, as well as distorted images of sexual acts, which included vaginal penetration and fellatio. As a result, the clip was initially rarely shown by MTV, and certain parts (for example, Björk's breasts) were censored during the rare occasions when it was played. In 2002, the clip finally enjoyed unedited American airing as part of a late night special on MTV2 entitled "Most Controversial Music Videos". The video for "Cocoon" also featured a seemingly naked Björk (actually wearing a close fitting bodysuit), this time with her nipples secreting a red thread that eventually enveloped the singer in a cocoon. The video was directed by Japanese artist Eiko Ishioka, and was not aired by MTV.
2002 saw the appearance of the CD box set Family Tree containing a retrospective of Björk's career, comprising many previously unreleased versions of her compositions, including her work with the Brodsky Quartet. Also released alongside Family Tree was the album Greatest Hits, a retrospective of the previous 10 years of her solo career as deemed by the public: the songs on the album were chosen by Björk's fans through a poll on her website. A DVD edition of the CD was also released; it contained all of Björk's solo music videos up to that point. The new single from the set, "It's In Our Hands", charted in the UK at #37. The video, directed by Spike Jonze, features a heavily pregnant Björk.
Vocal development: 2003–2006
In 2003, Björk released a box set called Live Box, consisting of four CDs containing live recordings of her previous albums and a DVD featuring a video of one track from each CD. Each of the four CDs were later released separately at a reduced price.
In August 2004, Björk released Medúlla. During production, Björk decided the album would work best as an entirely vocal-based album. However, this initial plan didn't materialize exactly that way, as the majority of the sounds on the album are indeed created by vocalists (although these sounds are often electronically distorted) but several feature prominent basic electronic programming. Björk used the vocal skills of throat singer Tagaq, hip hop beatboxer Rahzel, Japanese beatboxer Dokaka, avant-rocker Mike Patton, Soft Machine drummer/singer Robert Wyatt, and several choirs; she again appropriated text from E. E. Cummings for the song "Sonnets/Unrealities XI." At the time Medúlla became her highest charting album in the U.S., debuting at number 14. It has since been surpassed by Volta, which debuted at number nine in the U.S.
In August 2004, Björk performed the song "Oceania" at the Opening Ceremony of the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece. As she sang, her dress slowly unfurled to reveal a 10,000 square foot (900 m²) map of the world, which she let flow over all of the Olympic athletes. The song "Oceania" was written especially for the occasion and features the talents of Shlomo, a Leeds-based beatboxer, and a London choir. An alternate version of the song began circulating on the Internet with additional vocals by Kelis. It originally appeared on the promotional "Oceania" single released to radio stations and later became available to the public as a B-side of the "Who Is It" single, which charted at number 26 in the UK. This was followed in early 2005 by "Triumph of a Heart", charting at number 31. A video for the potential next single, "Where Is the Line?", was filmed in collaboration with the Icelandic artist Gabríela Fridriksdóttir in late 2004. This was initially a sequence from an art installation movie of the artists, but was released exclusively on the Medúlla Videos DVD as an official promo for the track.
Other than these few performances, no concerts or tours were arranged to promote Medúlla. Björk said in numerous interviews that this was because she wished to immediately continue writing and recording yet another new album. She spoke to Rolling Stone in June 2004: "Every album I've done, the minute that it's done, I feel really lubricated and, like, 'Wow, now I can write an album in five minutes'... And I just want to find out if that's just a fantasy or if it's true." Also, Björk thought it would be too difficult to play the songs live.
In 2006, Björk remastered her first three solo studio albums (Debut, Post, Homogenic) and her two soundtrack albums (Selmasongs and Drawing Restraint 9) in 5.1 surround sound for a re-issue in a new box-set titled (____surrounded):, released on 27 June. Vespertine and Medúlla were already available in 5.1 as either DVD-A or SACD but are also included in the box set in repackaged format. The DualDiscs were also released separately.
During this era, Björk earned another BRIT Awards nomination for Best International Female Solo Artist. She was also awarded the Inspiration Award at the Annual Q Magazine Awards in October 2005, accepting the prize from Robert Wyatt, with whom she collaborated on Medúlla.
Björk's former band, The Sugarcubes, reunited for a one-night-only concert in Reykjavík on 17 November 2006. Profits from the concert were donated to The Sugarcubes' former label, Smekkleysa, who according to Björk's press statement "continue to work on a non-profit basis for the future betterment of Icelandic music".
Recent work: 2007–present
Björk's sixth full-length studio album, Volta, was released on 7 May 2007. It was primarily written and produced by Björk herself and features 10 new tracks, containing electronic, kora, pipa, and brass compositions. The disc features input from acclaimed producer Timbaland, Antony Hegarty and Sjón, among other artists.
The first single from the album, "Earth Intruders", was released digitally on 9 April 2007 and became her second-ever Billboard Hot 100 entry in the United States. Volta debuted at number nine on the Billboard 200 albums chart, becoming her first Top 10 album in the U.S., netting week-one sales of 43,000. The album also reached number three on the French albums chart with sales of 20,600 albums sold in its first week, and number seven in the UK Albums Chart with 20,456 units sold. The second single from the album, "Innocence", was digitally released on 23 July 2007, with an accompanying music video chosen from a contest conducted through her official website. "Declare Independence" was released on 1 January 2008 in a super deluxe packaging including 2 x 12" Vinyls, a CD and a DVD featuring Oscar-winning French director Michel Gondry's "Declare Independence" video. "Wanderlust" was subsequently released in a similar format, featuring Encyclopedia Pictura's short film directed for the track, shot in stereoscopic 3D. The fifth single released from the album was "The Dull Flame of Desire", featuring vocals by Antony Hegarty. Upon its 27 September 2008 digital release, it topped the Billboard Hot Dance Singles Sales chart and reached number three on the Billboard Hot Singles Sales chart.
Björk then completed an 18 month world tour, having performed at many festivals and returning to Latin America after nine years, playing in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Curitiba, Guadalajara, Lima, Santiago de Chile and Buenos Aires as part of different events. She also returned to Australia and New Zealand for the first time in 12 years in January 2008, touring the nations with the Big Day Out Festival. She played a one-off intimate show at the Sydney Opera House, as part of the Sydney Festival.
Announced via an eBay auction, a new Björk track was discovered under the title Náttúra. Björk commented the song was "composed especially to encourage active support for a more environmental approach to Iceland’s natural resources than those suggested by parties who are aloof and blind to the consequences of their actions."
The song was initially labeled as a new single by Björk with backing vocals from Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke. Björk's official website later confirmed that the single would be released on October 27, 2008, through iTunes, however the track was eventually made available at nattura.grapewire.net, exclusively.
According to an October 2008 interview with Pitchfork magazine, Björk plans to take the next three to four years to record her next album.
In a statement released by bjork.com, a limited edition boxset entitled Voltaïc from One Little Indian Records was announced, with a release date in North America of April 20, 2009 (later delayed to mid-June). The release will consist of various live recordings of performances in Paris and Reykjavík. The live set was also recorded at the Olympic Studio in London. The release will be available as Standard, Deluxe and Deluxe Vinyl, including up to four discs, depending on format. Disc 1 (AUDIO) Songs From The Volta Tour Performed Live At Olympic Studios Disc 2 (DVD) The Volta Tour Live In Paris, Live in Reykjavik Disc 3 (DVD) The Volta Videos and the video competition Disc 4 (CD) The Volta Mixes. 
Björk in film
Björk's intermittent acting career began in 1990, when she appeared in The Juniper Tree, a tale of witchcraft based on the Brothers Grimm story of the same name. Björk played the role of Margit, a girl whose mother has been killed for practicing witchcraft. Björk also had an uncredited role in 1994's Prêt-à-Porter.
In 1999, Björk was asked to write and produce the musical score for the film Dancer in the Dark, a musical drama about an immigrant named Selma who is struggling to pay for an operation to prevent her son from going blind. Director Lars von Trier eventually asked her to consider playing the role of Selma, convincing her that the only true way to capture the character of Selma was to have the composer of the music play the character. Eventually, she accepted. Filming began in early 1999, and the film debuted in 2000 at the 53rd Cannes Film Festival. The film received the Palme d'Or, and Björk received the Best Actress Award for her role. It was reported that the shoot was so physically and emotionally tiring that she swore off acting ever again. Björk later stated that she always wanted to do one musical in her life, and this was the one.
The soundtrack Björk created for the film was released with the title Selmasongs. The album features a duet with Thom Yorke of Radiohead titled "I've Seen It All", which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Song and was performed at the 2001 Oscars, while Björk was wearing her celebrated "swan dress," which was recently auctioned off on eBay, for charity. She was invited to record "Gollum's Song" for the film The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers but declined the invitation, as she was then pregnant; the song was instead recorded by another Icelander, Emilíana Torrini.
Björk also appeared in the 2005 documentary Screaming Masterpiece, which delves into the Icelandic music scene. The movie features archive footage of The Sugarcubes and Tappi Tíkarrass, and an ongoing conversation with Björk herself.
Her husband Matthew Barney is a contemporary artist based in New York. Björk collaborated with him on the experimental art film Drawing Restraint 9, a dialogueless exploration of Japanese culture. Björk and Barney both appear in the film. The film was released in 2005. She is also responsible for the film's soundtrack, her second after Selmasongs.
After the tsunami which struck Southeast Asia in late 2004, Björk began work on a new project entitled Army of Mixes to help raise money for a relief fund. This project recruited fans and musicians from around the world to either cover or remix the 1995 track, "Army of Me". From over 600 responses Björk and her co-writer Graham Massey picked the best twenty to appear on the album. The album was released in April in the UK and in late May 2005 in the US. By January 2006, the album had raised around £250,000 to help UNICEF's work in the south east Asian region. Björk visited Banda Aceh in February 2006 to view some of UNICEF's work with the children who were affected by the tsunami.
On 2 July 2005 Björk took part in the historic Live 8 series of concerts, headlining the Japan show with Do As Infinity, Good Charlotte and McFly. She performed eight songs with Matmos, a Japanese string octet and Zeena Parkins.
Björk has also taken an interest in environmental issues in her native country. In 2004 Björk took part in the "Hætta" concert in Reykjavik, organised in protest against the building of Alcoa aluminium smelters in the country, which would make Iceland the biggest smelter in Europe. She founded the organization "Nattura" which aims to promote Icelandic nature and grassroots industries. On October 28, 2008 Björk wrote an article for The Times discussing the state of the Icelandic economy, and her thoughts on the proposed use of natural resources to get the country out of debt. Björk, in collaboration with Audur Group, set up a venture capital fund titled "BJÖRK" to support the creation of sustainable industries in Iceland. She has written the foreword to the English translation of the Iceland bestseller by Andri Snaer Magnason entitled "Dreamland."
Björk's father, Guðmundur Gunnarsson, is a well-known union leader in Iceland and was nationally recognized before his daughter became famous. Her mother, Hildur Rúna Hauksdóttir, has also been politically active.
Björk and her partner, artist Matthew Barney, have a daughter, Ísadóra Bjarkardóttir Barney, born 3 October 2002. Björk also has a son, Sindri Eldon Þórsson, born 8 June 1986, with Þór Eldon, who was her band mate in The Sugarcubes. Sindri is a journalist and plays bass for several bands.
Paparazzi and controversies
Björk has complained of being hounded by paparazzi. In 1996, two separate incidents involving them brought media attention. First, after a long flight to Thailand, an exhausted Björk emerged from her aircraft at Don Muang Airport with her then nine-year-old son to find a group of journalists and cameramen waiting to greet her. When one reporter greeted her with the words, "Welcome to Bangkok," and then laughed, Björk attacked the reporter and landed several blows before she was pulled away. Björk even tried to go back and continue attacking the woman, but was put on to a bus. Her record label alleged the reporter had been pestering her for four days. Björk later apologized for the attack.
On 13 January 2008, Björk made headlines when she attacked a photographer who had photographed her arrival at Auckland International Airport in New Zealand for her scheduled performance at the Big Day Out festival. Björk allegedly tore the photographer's shirt down the back, and in the process she fell to the ground. There were no charges filed by the photographer, or her employer The New Zealand Herald, and Auckland police did no further investigation.
In an interview with Diva magazine in October 2004, she said:
|“||I think everyone's bisexual to some degree or another; it's just a question of whether or not you choose to recognize it and embrace it. Personally, I think choosing between men and women is like choosing between cake and ice cream. You'd be daft not to try both when there are so many different flavours.||”|
On 12 September 1996, obsessed fan Ricardo López mailed an acid-spraying letter bomb to Björk's London home and then killed himself, but the package was intercepted by the Metropolitan Police Service. López filmed himself in the process of making the acid bomb intended to kill her. The nearly 18 hours of videotape described López's obsession with Björk, the construction of the device, his thoughts on love and other subjects, including racial remarks against Björk's then-boyfriend Goldie. The video footage continues after his mailing the bomb to Björk's London home and ends dramatically as López applies face paint, shaves his head and commits suicide by shooting himself on camera. Excerpts from his videotapes were leaked onto the internet in January 2008.
While Björk has been hesitant to be seen as a political figure and has denied being a politician on her website, she is strongly supportive of numerous separatist and national liberation movements across the globe, including support for independence for Kosovo.
She dedicated her song "Declare Independence" to Greenland and the Faroe Islands, which caused a minor controversy in the Faroes. When Björk twice dedicated "Declare Independence" to the people of Kosovo during a concert in Japan, a planned performance of hers was cancelled at Serbia's Exit Festival, reportedly due to safety concerns.
In 2008 Björk set off an international controversy after she dedicated "Declare Independence" to the Tibet freedom movement during a Shanghai concert, singing "Tibet! Tibet!" during the song. China's Culture Ministry planned to implement a crackdown on foreign musicians and so in May 2008 the Midi concert was cancelled.
Björk has been noted as an influence on artists as diverse as Madonna, Elton John, 30 Seconds to Mars particularly Jared Leto, The Flaming Lips, Patrick Wolf, Incubus, Skye Edwards, Skin, Lily Allen, Kele Okereke of Bloc Party, Gwen Stefani, Missy Elliott, Timbaland, Regina Spektor, Lauri Ylönen of The Rasmus, Kate Earl, Kylie Minogue, Bat for Lashes, Róisín Murphy, New Found Glory, Dave Longstreth of Dirty Projectors, M.I.A, Chris Martin of Coldplay, Sam Sparro, Corinne Bailey Rae, Natasha Bedingfield, Thom Yorke of Radiohead, pop singer Christina Aguilera, Cedric Bixler-Zavala of The Mars Volta, Anthony Green of Circa Survive, Elisa, Lights, Natalia Lafourcade , Amy Lee of Evanescence, Antony Hegarty of Antony and the Johnsons, actor Sean Penn and comedian Margaret Cho.
Awards and nominations
Films, including cameos
- 1982 – Rokk í Reykjavík (Íslenska Kvikmyndasamsteypan), film directed by Friðrik Þór Friðriksson.
- 1983 – Nýtt Líf (Nýtt Líf ehf.), film directed by Þráinn Bertelsson.
- 1987 – The Juniper Tree, character: Margit. (Rhino Home Video)
- 1994 – Prêt-à-Porter, featuring Björk as a model. (Robert Altman)
- 2000 – Dancer in the Dark, character: Selma Ježková. (Lars von Trier)
- 2005 – Drawing Restraint 9, character is known as the "Guest". (Matthew Barney)
- 2005 – Screaming Masterpiece, herself.
- 2005 – Arakimentari, documentary on Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki.
- 2006 – Matthew Barney: No Restraint, documentary on the making of Drawing Restraint 9.
- 2007 – Anna and the Moods, Björk performs the voice of Anna Young. (CAOZ Ltd.)
- 1984 – Um Úrnat frá Björk (free distribution)
- 1995 – Post
- 2001 – Björk (Little-i)
- 2003 – B
Biography from Wikipedia