Born: November 21, 1965
Birthplace: Reykjavík, Iceland
Björk Guðmundsdóttir (/bjɜːrk/; ; born 21 November 1965) is an Icelandic singer, songwriter, composer, actress, record producer, and DJ. Over her four-decade career, she has developed an eclectic musical style that draws on a range of influences and genres spanning electronic, pop, experimental, classical, trip hop, IDM, and avant-garde music, while collaborating with a range of artists and exploring a variety of multimedia projects.
Born and raised in Reykjavík, she began her music career at age 11 and first gained international recognition as the lead singer of the alternative rock band the Sugarcubes, whose 1987 single "Birthday" was a hit on US and UK indie stations and a favorite among music critics. After the band's breakup, Björk embarked on a solo career in 1993 with the pop albums Debut and Post (1995). Initially being branded as a "pixie" by press, she boldly changed her artistic direction with the 1997 album Homogenic, adopting a much darker sound and image. Her follow up albums, Vespertine (2001) and Medúlla (2004), were much more toned down in nature, described by Björk herself as more “introverted”.
Several of Björk's albums have reached the top 20 on the Billboard 200 chart, the most recent being Vulnicura (2015). Björk has had 31 singles reach the top 40 on pop charts around the world, with 22 top 40 hits in the UK, including the top 10 hits "It's Oh So Quiet", "Army of Me", and "Hyperballad". She is reported to have sold between 20 and 40 million records worldwide as of 2015[update]. She has won the 2010 Polar Music Prize from the Royal Swedish Academy of Music in recognition of her "deeply personal music and lyrics, her precise arrangements and her unique voice." Björk was included in Time's 2015 list of the 100 most influential people in the world. She was ranked both sixtieth and eighty-first in Rolling Stone's 100 greatest singers and songwriters lists respectively. Björk also won five BRIT Awards, and has been nominated for 14 Grammy Awards.
Outside her music career, she starred in the 2000 Lars von Trier film Dancer in the Dark. She won the Best Actress Award at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival, and was nominated for an Academy Award for her soundtrack contribution, "I've Seen It All". Her 2011 album Biophillia was marketed as an interactive app album with its own education program. Björk has also been an advocate for environmental causes in her home country Iceland. A full-scale retrospective exhibition dedicated to Björk was held at the New York Museum of Modern Art in 2015.Björk was born on 21 November 1965 in Reykjavík, where she grew up. Björk's mother is activist Hildur Rúna Hauksdóttir, who protested against the development of Iceland's Kárahnjúkar Hydropower Plant. Björk's father is Guðmundur Gunnarsson, a union leader and electrician. They divorced when Björk was born and she moved with her mother to a commune where she was the only child. Her stepfather is Sævar Árnason, a former guitarist in a band called Pops. At six, Björk enrolled at Reykjavík school Barnamúsíkskóli, where she studied classical piano and flute. After a school recital in which Björk sang Tina Charles' 1976 hit "I Love to Love", her teachers sent a recording of her singing the song to the RÚV radio station - then, Iceland's only radio station. The recording was nationally broadcast and, after hearing it, a representative of the Fálkinn record label offered Björk a recording contract. Her self-titled début, Björk, was recorded and released in Iceland in December 1977 when she was 11 years old.
During her teens, after the diffusion of punk rock music in Iceland, she formed the all-girl punk band Spit and Snot. A year later, in 1980, she formed a jazz fusion group called Exodus and collaborated in another group called JAM80. During the same year she also graduated from music school. In 1982, she and bassist Jakob Magnússon formed another group, Tappi Tíkarrass ("Cork the Bitch's Ass " in Icelandic), and released EP Bitið fast í vitið ("Bite Hard Into Hell" in Icelandic), in August 1982. Their album Miranda was released in December 1983. The group was featured in the documentary Rokk í Reykjavík, with Björk being featured on the cover of the VHS release. Around this time, Björk met guitarist Þór Eldon and surrealist group Medusa, which also included poet Sjón, with whom she started a lifelong collaboration and formed a small group called Rokka Rokka Drum. Björk appeared as a featured artist on "Afi", a track from the Björgvin Gíslason 1983 record Örugglega.
Due to the imminent discontinuance of radio show Áfangar, two radio personalities, Ásmundur Jónsson and Guðni Rúnar, called out to musicians to play on a last live radio show. Björk joined with Einar Melax (from the group Fan Houtens Kókó), Einar Örn Benediktsson (from Purrkur Pillnikk), Guðlaugur Kristinn Óttarsson and Sigtryggur Baldursson (from Þeyr), and Birgir Mogensen (from Spilafífl) to perform on the concert. The group developed a gothic rock sound. During this experience, Björk began to develop her vocalisation - punctuated by howls and shrieks.[better source needed] The project performed as Gott kvöld during the concert but later decided to keep playing together as a group and they used the name Kukl ("Sorcery" in Icelandic). Björk's acquaintance gave the group their studio to record in and released their first single in 1983. Their first big performance was at a festival in Iceland which was headlined by English anarchist punk band Crass, whose record label, Crass Records offered the band a record deal. The Eye was released in 1984 and was followed by a two-month tour in Europe, which also included a performance at Roskilde Festival in Denmark, making Kukl the first Icelandic band to play at the festival. During this period Björk published a hand-coloured book of poems. Um Úrnat frá Björk was distributed in 1984. In 1985, Björk discovered she was expecting a child from Eldon, but continued touring with Kukl. Their second album, called Holidays in Europe (The Naughty Nought), came out in 1986. The band split up due to personal conflict, with Björk keeping a collaboration with Óttarsson, which was named The Elgar Sisters. Some of the songs they recorded ended up as B-sides to Björk solo singles.
Over her three-decade solo career, Björk has developed an eclectic and avant-garde musical style that incorporates aspects of electronic, dance, alternative dance, trip hop, experimental, glitch, jazz, alternative rock, instrumental, and contemporary classical music. Her music has since been subject to critical analysis and scrutiny, as she consistently defies categorization in a musical genre. Although she often calls herself a pop artist, she is considered a "restlessly experimental creative force." According to The New Yorker's Taylor Ho Bynum, "no contemporary artist so gracefully bridges the divide as Björk." Her album Debut, which incorporated electronic, house, jazz, and trip hop, has been credited as one of the first albums to introduce electronic music into mainstream pop. Her work has been described as "frequently explor the relationship between nature and technology." Broadly summarizing her wide-ranging integration of art and popular music, Joshua Ostroff suggested that "there is no better descriptor for what Björk does than artpop." She is considered an important figure of the genre, having been variously referred to as the "high priestess of art-pop," "art-pop queen", and "art-pop boss"; She has also been referred to as "a shimmering shining beacon in progressive pop over the last 25 years." while in 2005, the NME called her output a "consistently progressive pop agenda."
Björk's work is idiosyncratically collaborative, having worked with various producers, photographers, fashion designers and music video directors. This, however, has sometimes led to the lack of acknowledgment of auteurship in her music, something Björk attributes to being a woman. She has discussed this in a 2015 The Pitchfork Review interview:
If whatever I'm saying to you now helps women, I'm up for saying it. For example, Vespertine, I did 80 percent of the beats on that album and Matmos came in right at the end. They are credited everywhere as having done the whole album. I spend 80 percent of the writing process of my albums on my own. I write the melodies—I'm outside. I'm by the computer, I edit a lot. That for me is very solitary, and I enjoy it a lot. The 20 percent of the album process when I get in the string orchestras, the extras, that's documented more. That's the side people see.
"Human Behaviour", the lead single from Debut (1993). An underground dance hit, it showcases Björk's interest in house music early in her solo career, evident in its four on the floor rhythm pattern.|
"Hidden Place" The first single from Vespertine (2001), "Hidden Place" shows a general meshing of organic and synthetic textures, a recurring motif in Björk's music.
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During her career beginnings, Björk performed in bands from various musical genres: punk rock in Spit and Snot, jazz fusion in Exodus, post-punk in Tappi Tíkarrass and gothic rock in Kukl. When working with Tappi Tíkarrass, she was heavily influenced by British new wave bands such as Siouxsie and the Banshees, Wire, The Passions, The Slits, Joy Division, and Killing Joke. The studio album Gling-Gló (1990) was recorded with Tríó Guðmundar Ingólfssonar and featured jazz and popular standards sung "very much in the classic Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan mould." The Sugarcubes' style has been described as avant-pop and alternative rock.
Debut has been credited as one of the first albums to introduce electronic music into mainstream pop. Being a fan of dance music since the early days of acid house, Björk used dance music as the framework for her songs in Debut, stating in 1993 that it was "the only pop music that is truly modern" and "house is the only music where anything creative is happening today." However, in a Rolling Stone interview she also stated that " was more influenced by ambient music than what you'd call dance music, and by things that were happening way back in Chicago and Detroit that were sensual and daring and groundbreaking in their time." The music of Debut "reflects the contemporary musical environment of London, where lived in the early 1990s, especially the burgeoning trip-hop scene of bands like Portishead and Massive Attack. Michael Cragg of The Guardian has described it as an "indefinable conflation of electronic pop, trip-hop, world music and otherworldly lyrics"; while The Face's Mandi James said it was "a delightful fusion of thrash metal, jazz, funk and opera, with the odd dash of exotica thrown in for good measure."
The 1995 album Post, known for its eclecticism, is considered to be the "quintessential Björk" release, due to its protean form - more than any of her albums — and its "wide emotional palette". The entirety of the album was written after Björk's move to England, and intended to reflect the faster pace of her new urban life. The Guardian wrote that "Post tapped into the vortex of multicultural energy that was mid-90s London, where she had relocated and where strange hybrids such as jungle and trip-hop were bubbling." Post built on the dance-pop blueprint of Debut, but pushed its production and beats to the fore, "adding influence from all over the world." While the "distant echoes" of IDM and trip-hop were present in Debut, Post is characterized by Björk's fuller incorporation of these styles. Referred to as a "genre roulette" by the San Francisco Chronicle, it touches on various musical styles, including industrial music, big-band jazz, trip-hop, chillout, and experimental music. The balance between synthetic and organic elements in the album - generated through the combination of electronic and "real" instruments - is a recurring characteristic in Björk's output.
Björk's influences have been described "as diverse as those she inspires". The Big Issue wrote that: "her passion from everything from minimalist techno to free jazz has been well documented." For his biography of her, Björk told Mark Pytlik: "If I were to say who influenced me most, I would say people like Stockhausen, Kraftwerk, Brian Eno and Mark Bell." Some "confessional singer-songwriters" Björk commends include Abida Parveen, Chaka Khan, Joni Mitchell and Kate Bush, the latter being a definitive influence in her career. According to The Big Issue, "the artist that inspired to start writing her own songs was Joni Mitchell." She said: "Growing up in Iceland I had no knowledge of Joni's impact on the whole hippy era and the Californian folk scene. Most of the music around at that time was created by men and the few female songwriters what were around were usually backed by male musicians. In comparison, Joni created her own musical universe with female emotion, energy, wisdom courage and imaginations. I found that very liberating."
Her favorite albums include Steve Reich's Tehillim, Kate Bush's The Dreaming, Nico's Desertshore, Joni Mitchell's Don Juan's Reckless Daughter and, The Black Dog's Bytes, among others. According to Alex Ross of The Guardian, this list "circumnavigates the globe and, at the same time, it overruns the boundaries separating art from pop, mainstream from underground, primeval past from hi-tech present." Through her mother —who had embraced many aspects of the counterculture of the 1960s—, Björk was exposed to rock music such as Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and Deep Purple during her childhood; a style of music she disliked. Instead, during her formative years at music school, Björk became interested in avant-garde, classical, and minimalistic music; also becoming a "jazz freak". Although her music is more consistently tonal and has more crossover appeal, she is considered indebted to avant-garde composers Karlheinz Stockhausen, Meredith Monk, Sun Ra and Philip Glass. In a 2008 article for The Guardian, Björk considered Stockhausen as the root of electronic music, writing "he sparked off a sun that is still burning and will glow for a long time." Early in her career, Björk cited Sir David Attenborough as her biggest musical influence, saying "she identified with his thirst for exploring new and wild territories."
Although Björk was in various post-punk and alternative rock bands during the late 1980s, her contact with London's underground club culture helped her find her own musical identity. Reflecting on this, she stated in 2015: "...as a music nerd, I just had to follow my heart, and my heart was those beats that were happening in England. And if there's such a thing in pop music as a Music Tree, I see myself on the same branch, you know. And for me it's almost like you know, I've been calling it 'matriarch electronic music.' So I think that was the heart I was following." According to i-D, the music of Debut and Post "couldn't have existed without Aphex Twin, Black Dog, A Guy Called Gerald, LFO and all the other producers who reshaped the language of music since 1988." Collaborator Marius de Vries said: "She's very au fait with contemporary avant-garde music and the more pioneering electronic stuff. She's always been very comfortable and enthusiastic about both, and it's also a passion I share. To find someone who is making pop records but was prepared to accommodate such influences was very exciting for me."
When asked if she was inspired by David Bowie, Björk replied that she could not associate herself with his artistry, saying: "Obviously, is a musical legend, and I really respect him as an artist, especially the visual aspect of what he does. But for me, it is part of the patriarchal world that is rock 'n' roll. I never listened to a lot of rock. I prefer electronic music, which is less virile. I feel more belonging to this family than that of David Bowie. At home I mostly listen to instrumental music, experimental, I like to discover sounds I had never heard before." In 1996, when asked about the musical influences of her album Post, Björk stated:
I'm influenced by everything. By books, by the weather, by the water, by my shoes, if they're comfortable or not. Everything. One of it is music, but I think it is very important with people who are dealing with making music that they are not only influenced by music. And I find it very sad when you find a record, and it says on : "this record was inspired by Miles Davis." Because it's like making... If you make a film, you don't make a film about a film, you make a film about real life. And you wouldn't sit down and write a book about a book, it's like recycling, it misses the point. And music isn't brilliant unless it goes beyond the point of being music and becomes real life. So I'm influenced by real life. And when people listen to my music and say "Oh, I can see great influence from this artist in there", I read that and I say "Okay, I didn't succeed". But if people listen to my music and say "Oh, this made me feel like this and that ", that's right. It should be beyond style, beyond influence, it should be about pure emotion, and real life.
Björk has a soprano vocal range spanning from E3 to D6, which has been described as both "elastic" and "somersaulting" in quality as well as having been praised for her scatting ability, unique vocal stylings and delivery. In a review for her live performance at the 2011 Manchester International Festival, Bernadette McNulty of The Daily Telegraph commented, "the 45-year-old still uses electronic dance beats with a full-blooded raver's passion and the elemental timbre of her voice has grown more powerful with age". Björk has been known to reach notes beyond the seventh and eighth octave through her use of reverse phonation.
In late 2012, it was reported that Björk had undergone surgery for a polyp on her vocal cords. Commenting on the success of the procedure after years of maintaining a strict diet and using vocal exercises to prevent vocal injury, she stated, "I have to say, in my case anyway: surgery rocks! I stayed quiet for three weeks and then started singing and definitely feel like my cords are as good as pre-nodule, it's been very satisfying to sing all them clear notes again." However, in a review for Biophilia, Kitty Empire of The Guardian stated that pre-surgery Björk still sounded strong, commenting that her voice was "spectacular and swooping", particularly on the song "Thunderbolt".
In a similar vein, Matthew Cole of Slant Magazine adds that her voice has been "preserved quite well," however he also stipulates that "her once-formidable wail is too hoarse and shouty to be the ace in the hole that it once was," also adding "it's only where her most dramatic vocal pyrotechnics are concerned that there's any question of physical ability". National Public Radio counted Björk among its list of "50 Great Voices" and MTV placed her at number 8 on its countdown "22 Greatest Voices in Music." She has been ranked 60th as one of the 100 greatest singers ever, and 81st as one of the 100 greatest songwriters ever by Rolling Stone, who praised her voice as being unique, fresh and extremely versatile, fitting and being influenced by a wide range of influences and genres.
After the tsunami which struck Southeast Asia in late 2004, Björk began work on a new project titled Army of Me: Remixes and Covers 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 southeast 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 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's years in Kukl aligned her with the anarchist Crass Collective. While she has since been hesitant to be seen as an overtly political figure, and has said so on her website, she is strongly supportive of numerous 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 created international controversy after she dedicated "Declare Independence" to the Tibet freedom movement during a Shanghai concert, chanting "Tibet! Tibet!" during the song. China's Culture Ministry issued a denunciation through state news agency Xinhua, stating that Björk "broke Chinese law" and "hurt Chinese people's feelings" and pledged to further tighten control over foreign artists performing in China. A later statement accused Björk of "whipping up ethnic hatred". In 2014, Björk made a Facebook post dedicating the song to the people of Scotland as they neared the referendum on their independence that year. In October 2017, she posted a tweet dedicating the song to Catalonia on account of the Catalan independence referendum.
Björk has also taken an interest in environmental issues in her native country. In 2004, she took part in the "Hætta" concert in Reykjavík, 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 "Náttúra", which aims to promote Icelandic nature and grassroots industries. In October 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 Capital, 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 Snær Magnason titled "Dreamland".
On 21 May 2010, Björk wrote an open letter in the newspaper The Reykjavík Grapevine, calling on the Icelandic government to "do everything in its power to revoke the contracts with Magma Energy", the Canadian company which now has complete ownership of Icelandic geothermal company HS Orka.
In 2014, Björk helped to organize Stopp, Let's Protect the Park, an event that aimed to raise money and awareness towards the preservation of Icelandic nature. The event included a show at Harpa Concert Hall at which Björk herself also performed three songs. The concert initially raised $310,000 and the project went on to raise £3 million overall, with plans to use the money to establish a national park.
Over her extensive career, Björk has frequently used her position and influence to help launch new acts or mentor them as they establish themselves as recording artists.
The first example of this was most evident with Iranian-born electronica producer Leila Arab. Leila was initially recruited to play keyboards and provide backing vocals on Björk's first international solo tour in 1993 in support of Debut. In 1995, Björk recalled Leila to be part of her second touring band for her next tour in support of Post. This time Leila was given the opportunity to experiment with the live output mixing from the stage, rather than playing keyboards. This was to be Leila's first encounter with live mixing and would later form the basis of her own solo music career where she has integrated live mixing into her own compositions and live shows. Leila has gone on to release three international solo albums throughout the 1990s and appears on the influential electronica labels Rephlex Records, XL Recordings, and Warp Records.
In 1998, Björk established her own short-lived record label, Ear Records, which operated under the One Little Indian Records umbrella. Her only signee that received a release was her long-time friend, Magga Stína. Magga Stína recorded her debut solo album under the production of Björk's longtime collaborator, Graham Massey (of the British electronica act 808 State.) The album was simply titled An Album and featured just one single release, "Naturally". In 1998, Björk invited Magga Stína to perform as her support act on the Homogenic Tour, and in 2004 Magga Stína contributed to the production of Medúlla. Magga Stína is presently still performing and recording in Iceland.
In 2001, Björk became aware of Canadian Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq and invited her to perform on several dates of Björk's Vespertine World Tour as a special guest. In 2004, Tagaq was invited to collaborate on the a cappella album, Medúlla, in which the duet "Ancestors" was recorded. "Ancestors" was later featured on Tagaq's first solo album, Sinaa, in 2005.
In 2004, Leila discovered the work of Finnish multimedia artist Heidi Kilpeläinen, who had taken her combination of lo-fi, homemade electro pop with her own self-produced music videos and combined them under the alter ego character, HK119. Leila soon referred HK119's work to Björk, who started mentioning HK119 in various press and interviews. In 2004, Björk announced HK119 as her favourite act of 2004 and cited her as "The Perfect Blonde Woman". HK119 was soon signed to Björk's parent label One Little Indian Records, which released her debut album in 2006. HK119 and Björk appeared in a joint interview in Dazed & Confused magazine in 2006, where Björk stated about HK119's work, "It's unique. Even if I gave you $3 million, you couldn't improve on it... simplicity is strength." HK119 later released her albums, Fast, Cheap and Out of Control in 2008 and Imaginature in 2013, both on One Little Indian Records.
In 2009, Björk used her website and various radio interviews throughout the year to promote two more new acts. The first was fellow Icelandic musician, Ólöf Arnalds, who is also a member of Icelandic folktronica band múm. In 2006, Arnalds released her debut solo album Við Og Við in Iceland, which Björk citied as one of her favourite recent new acts of the last few years during a radio interview, and encouraged One Little Indian Records to reissue the album in the UK and Europe in 2009. On the same radio show for the American NPR channel, Björk also praised the works of emerging English artist Micachu and the more obscure, Omar Souleyman. Björk later used her official website to host the premier of Micachu's debut video on the Rough Trade Records, "Turn Me Well".
|1990||The Juniper Tree||Margit|
|2000||Dancer in the Dark||Selma Ježková||Also composer of the Soundtrack Selmasongs|
|2005||Drawing Restraint 9||Occidental Guest||Also composer of the soundtrack Drawing Restraint 9|
|2007||Anna and the Moods||Anna Young|
|2014||Björk: Biophilia Live||Herself||Concert film|
|1982||Rokk í Reykjavík||Cameo with the Tappi Tíkarrass|
|1983||Nýtt líf||Features music of the Tappi Tíkarrass|
|1994||Prêt-à-Porter||Cameo as a model (uncredited)|
|1994||Tank Girl||Features "Army of Me"|
|1998||The X-Files: The Album||Features "Hunter"|
|1999||Being John Malkovich||Features "Amphibian" (2 mixes on soundtrack)|
|2001||Space Ghost Coast to Coast||"Knifin' Around", Björk plays herself|
|2005||Screaming Masterpiece||Features "All Is Full of Love", "Pluto" and "Oceania"|
|2005||Arakimentari||Documentary on Japanese photographer Nobuyoshi Araki|
|2006||Huldufólk 102||Features "One Day" (Wood & Metal Version)|
|2006||Matthew Barney: No Restraint||Documentary on the making of Drawing Restraint 9|
|2008||Dagvaktin||Björk plays herself, one episode|
|2010||Moomins and the Comet Chase||Features "The Comet Song"|
|2011||Sleepless Nights Stories||Cameo in Jonas Mekas film|
|2011||Sucker Punch||Features the remixed version of "Army of Me"|