This is the eleventh article in in the series, where TCG Nordica every week introduce a famous Scandinavian artist’s life and work.
The Icelandic artist Björk has many titles: singer, musician, songwriter, composer, DJ, actress, music producer. In the 1980s she even released a fairy tale book with her own illustrations. But more than anything, her unique voice and songs have made her famous throughout the world.
Björk Guðmundsdóttir was born in Reykjavík, Iceland in 1965, and was only 11 years old when she recorded her first solo studio album, Björk. The album was a mix of covers translated to Icelandic and songs composed for the album by her musician stepfather, Sævar Árnason, and others. Although being the first album Björk recorded, Björk is not a part of her official solo discography and since the album was only released in less than 10.000 copies it was rare to find outside Iceland before the advent of streaming services.
During her teens in the late 1970s and start 1980s, Björk formed and participated in numerous different music groups playing different genres and mixing them: Punk, rock, jazz, funk. It was during this period Björk started developing her unique singing style: a great variety in sounds and colors, sometimes almost childish and sometimes combined with shrieks and howls.
1986 was an eventful year in Björk’s life. 20 years old she was married to the guitarist, Þór Eldon, whom she had known for some years already, working and playing in bands together. The 8th of June 1986 Björk gave birth to their son, Sindri Eldon Þórsson, the very same day as the band, The Sugarcubes, was formed with Björk as lead singer and Þór Eldon on guitar. However, the life with a newborn baby and the establishment of an ambitious band did not take Björk’s breath away. Soon after the birth (we’re still in 1986), Björk was shooting her first movie as an actress; an Icelandic medieval fantasy film, The Juniper Tree. And the 21st of November 1986 (Björk’s 21st birthday), The Sugarcubes released their first double-sided single Einn mol’á mann containing two songs Ammæli (Birthday) and Köttur (“Cat”).
Even though Björk and Þór Eldon were divorced soon after the birth of their son, they kept playing together in The Sugarcubes, and the band had lots of success. The Sugarcubes’ debut studio album, Life’s Too Good, from 1988 sold more than one million copies, and the band became famous internationally.
In 1992 The Sugarcubes split up, and Björk proceeded with her solo career. She moved to London and in 1993 she released her first adult solo studio album Debut. Though Björk had already recorded many albums with different music groups, Debut, was something new:
“… for me it was very much like the songs I had kept in darkness and locked in my little diary, only to be seen by myself. The first time they were out on their own and had to figure out how to survive their own way.”– Björk to ZTV, 1995.
Debut was generally received positively by many critics and was praised for its musical diversity. The genres electronic, pop, house music and jazz were mixed and explored, giving the album a dance-like appearance. Examples of the alternative and experimenting style of the album are the songs Venus as a Boy featuring an ensemble of Indian instruments, and The Anchor song where Björk’s voice is accompanied by a saxophone ensemble.
After releasing her second and third album, Post in 1995 (continuing the style from her first album) and Homogenic in 1997 (much more extrovert and experimental than her former albums), Björk was asked to both write and produce the music AND to play the main role for the film Dancer in the Dark (2000) directed by Danish director Lars von Trier. She accepted and received the Cannes Best Actress Award for her role as Selma who suffers from a genetic eye disease that makes her almost blind and is saving up for her young son to get an operation and escape from his mother’s fate.
Three studio albums (Vespertine (2001), Medúlla (2004), Volta (2007)), another film made together with her then-partner and father of her daughter, Matthew Barney (Drawing Restraint 9, 2005), more documentaries, several award nominations later, Björk released her seventh studio album Biophilia (2011). Biophilia is however not only a regular album but also the first ever “app album” giving the user a possibility to explore both music, nature and technology. Also, the project is an educational program for inspiring children to explore their creativity through music and science. The interest in nature does not seem far away for a person who grew up in a place like Iceland with its erupting volcanoes and enormous glaciers. No wonder, Björk is active in the battle to protect Iceland’s landscape.
Since Biophilia Björk has released two more albums: Vulnicura (2015) and Utopia (2017) and is working on new projects, experimenting and exploring new ways of music and performance as she always did.
- Birthday – single by The Sugarcubes (1986)
- Venus as a Boy – from the album Debut by Björk (1993)
- All Is Full of Love – from the album Homogenic by Björk (1997)
- I’ve Seen It All – from the film Dancer in the Dark directed by Lars von Trier (2000)
- Moon – from the album Biophilia by Björk (2011)
Text: Freja Katrine Arendt