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Björk

Björk Guðmundsdóttir (pronounced "b'yerk"), (born November 21, 1965 in Reykjavík, Iceland) is an Icelandic singer/songwriter with a great expressive range and an interest in many kinds of music including popular, hip-hop, alternative rock, torch songs, folk, and classical.

Table of contents

Early career

Björk's musical career began at the age of eleven, when she began studying classical piano in elementary school. One of her instructors submitted a recording of Björk singing Tina Charles' song "I Love to Love" to Radio One, an Iceland radio station. The recording was aired nationally; upon hearing it, a representative of the record label Fálkinn contacted Björk with a record contract offer. With the help of her stepfather, who played guitar, she recorded her first album, eponymously entitled Björk, in 1977, which featured several Icelandic children's songs, and covers of popular songs such as the Beatles' "Fool on the Hill", sung in Icelandic. The album became a smash hit in Iceland, though it was virtually unknown elsewhere.

Punk music began to have an influence on Björk; at the age of fourteen, she formed the all-girl punk band Spit and Snot, shortly followed by a jazz fusion group called Exodus in 1979. In 1980, she graduated from music school at the age of fifteen, and in 1981, she and Exodus bassist Jakob Magnússon formed another band, Tappi Tíkarrass, and released an extended single, Bitið fast í vitið in the same year. Their album Miranda was released in 1983.

Björk next 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 they performed under the name KUKL (which means 'witchcraft' in Icelandic). The group found that they worked well together, and decided to continue, developing a sound that some have described as resembling Goth music. Björk began to show indications of what would become her trademark singing style, punctuated with howls and shrieks.

KUKL toured Iceland with UK anarchist band Crass, and later visited the UK in a series of performances with Flux of Pink Indians. The band produced two albums as a result of these collaborations: The Eye in 1984, and Holidays in Europe in 1986, both on Crass Records. In the summer of 1986, several members of KUKL went on to form the Sugarcubes.

Popularity

Björk singing during the 2004 Summer Olympics opening ceremony in Athens

The Sugarcubes' first single, "Ammæli" (or "Birthday" in English), became a huge hit in England. They gained a significant cult following in the US and UK, and calls from record companies began coming in. Eventually the band signed with One Little Indian, and recorded their first album, Life's Too Good, in 1988. The album propelled them into international stardom—the first Icelandic rock band to achieve such popularity. While with the Sugarcubes, Björk participated in a number of side projects. She recorded Gling-Gló, a collection of popular jazz and original work, with the bebop group Trio Guðmundar Ingólfssonar, released in Iceland. Björk also contributed vocals to 808 State's album Ex:El, a collaboration which cultivated her interest in house music.

Tensions steadily mounted between Björk and Einar Örn, however, and by 1992 the Sugarcubes dissolved. Björk moved to London and began thinking about a solo career; to this end, 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, simply entitled Debut, was released in June of 1993, to positive reviews; it was named album of the year by New Musical Express, and eventually went platinum in the United States. Debut was a mix of songs Björk had written since she was a teenager as well as newer lyrical collaborations with Hooper.

The success of Debut led 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 an extra track on a re-release of Debut) and also appeared on a track on the 1997 album Not For Threes by Plaid, which was released on the cult Warp Records label.

Björk returned to the studio during 1994 to work on her next solo album with Nellee Hooper, Tricky, Graham Massey of 808 State, and electronic music producer Howie B. The album, Post, contained songs based on Björk's relationships and songs about love (one of her favorite subjects), as well as some angry and confrontational material. Like "Debut," it was a collection partly made up of songs she had written in past years.

She wrote the song "Bedtime Story" for Madonna's 1994 album Bedtime Stories, which became Madonna's first single released in 1995 – Madonna had sought an entire album's worth of material from Björk- and performed on MTV Unplugged during this time. By 1995, the new album Post was ready; it was released in June, reaching number two on the UK's pop charts, and also went platinum in the United States. January of 1997 saw the release of Telegram, an album of uncharacteristic remixes of songs from Post.

Later that year, the minimalist electronic album Homogenic was released. 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. The album contains a string of memorable music videos, several of which received airplay on American MTV. "All Is Full of Love" became an alt-rock hit in 1999. The album eventually reached gold status in the States in 2001.

In 2001 the album Vespertine was released. This album saw Björk creating an introverted, internal, personal world of microbeats and tiny rhythms. The album featured chamber orchestras, Inuit choirs, very hushed vocals and personal, vulnerable themes. She collaborated with experimental sound manipulators Matmos, a DJ from Denmark Thomas Knak, and an experimental harpist Zeena Parkins for the album. Lyrical sources included American poet E. E. Cummings and independent filmmaker Harmony Korine.

The album spawned three singles: "Hidden Place", "Pagan Poetry", and "Cocoon". America's then-more independent and artistic music video channel, MTV2, played the album's first video, "Hidden Place", pretty heavily, despite its somewhat controversial lyrics and imagery. 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, blurred sex scenes, and Björk's exposed nipples. As a result, the clip was initially rarely played in America, even by MTV2, and certain parts (for example, Björk's breasts) were censored out 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. Previously banned or censored videos were shown in their entirety during the TV-MA-rated special which aired on MTV2 regularly on weekends between 1 and 5 AM, until the scandalous Janet Jackson incident at the 2004 Super Bowl. The video for "Cocoon" also featured a naked Björk, this time with her nipples secreting a red thread that eventually enveloped the singer herself in a cocoon. The video received no American airplay.

In 2003 Björk released a series of low-priced DVDs and CD box set called "Family Tree". Greatest Hits saw the release of a retrospective of the previous 10 years of her solo career. A DVD edition of the CD was also released; it contained all of Björk's solo music videos up to that point.

2004 saw the release of Björk's Medúlla, in late August. "Medúlla" was a more impromptu piece of work after two concept albums, and in the midst of production, Björk decided the album would work best as an entirely vocal-based album. She used the vocal skills of Hip hop Beatboxer Rahzel, avant-rocker Mike Patton, Soft Machine drummer/singer Robert Wyatt, and several choirs; she again appropriated text from poet E. E. Cummings for the song Sonnets/Unrealities XI.

In August 2004 Björk performed the song "Oceania" (from her Medúlla album) at the Opening Ceremony of the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece. In typical Björk style, her performance was one of the more unique of the event. As she sang, her dress slowly unravelled to reveal a 10,000 square foot (900 m²) map of the world, which she let flow over all of the Olympic atheletes. The song "Oceania" was written especially for the occasion. "Oceania" was released as the album's first single shortly after the Olympics. Shortly after, an alternate version of the song began circulating on the internet with additional vocals by Kelis. Though some were confused as to the authenticity of this collaboration, Björk's camp confirmed its legitimacy. The follow-up of "Oceania" was "Who is it" which charted at #26 in the UK followed by "Triumph of a Heart" in 2005 charting at #31.

Björk in film

Björk in Lars von Trier's Dancer in the Dark

Björk's intermittent acting career began in 1990, when she appeared in 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 pseudo-musical 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, a proposal she initially turned down. He then threatened to stop the project, which would have made all the musical work she had already done useless. Eventually, she accepted. Filming began in early 1999, and the film debuted in 2000 at the 53rd Cannes Film Festival. Björk received the best actress award for her role, and yet she described the shoot as so physically and emotionally trying that she has sworn off acting ever again. The soundtrack Björk created for the film was released with the title Selmasongs. She is currently working on a new film "Drawing Restraint 9" along with boyfriend Matthew Barney.

Name

Björk usually goes by her first name only. This is not a stage name or affectation; it is normal for an Icelander to be referred to by his or her first name, as the last name simply indicates the name of the father. See Icelandic naming conventions.

Björk means "a birch tree" in Icelandic (the meaning of Icelandic names is often transparent), cognate with Old English beorc and the modern English word. Though many English-speakers pronounce her name "Byork", a more accurate approximation would be "Byerk", which she has pointed out rhymes with "jerk". Guðmundsdóttir is pronounced roughly "Gvooth-muns-doe-ter", and means "Guðmundur's daughter".

Discography

Early bands

Spit and Snot (1979)

  • No official releases.

Exodus (1979-1980)

  • Homemade recording – MC format – unknown content.

Jam-80 (1980)

  • No official releases.

Cactus (period 1982)

  • No official releases.

Stigrim – (period 1982)

  • No official releases.

Discography of Tappi Tíkarrass (1981-1983)

EP:

  • 1982 – Bítið Fast í Vítið (Spor)

Album:

Featuring:

Rokka Rokka Drum (1984)

  • One recording: a demo – MC format – unknown content, apparently lost in 1986.

Discography of KUKL (1983-1986)

Single:

Albums:

Featuring:

The Elgar Sisters (1983-1986)

  • No official releases. – 11 songs were recorded but only three went released during Björk’s solo career: "Glóra", "Stígðu Mig", and "Síðasta Ég" (MP3)

“Stígðu Mig” (MP3) appears on the single Venus as a Boy “Síðasta Ég” and “Glóra” appear in Family Tree, a CD box set.

Discography of The Sugarcubes (1986-1992)

Albums:

Singles:

  • 1986 – Einn Mol'á Mann (Smekkleysa), under the name of Sykurmolarnir.

From Life's Too Good:

From Here Today, Tomorrow, Next Week!:

From Stick Around for Joy:

Collaborations and featuring:

  • 1987 – Snarl 2 (Erðanumúsík), Icelandic compilation. Featuring under the name of Sykurmolarnir.
  • 1987 – Luftgítar (Smekkleysa), album by Johny Triumph.
  • 1987 – Skytturnar (Gramm), soundtrack to the movie directed by Friðrik Þór Fríðriksson.
  • 1988 – One Little Indian – Greatest Hits Volume One (One Little Indian), greatest hits (volume 1) released by One Little Indian.
  • 1990 – Hættuleg Hljómsveit & Glæpakvendið Stella (Megas), album by Megas.
  • 1990 – World Domination or Death Volume 1 (Smekkleysa/Workers Playtime PLAY), compilation.
  • 1990 – One Little Indian – Greatest Hits Volume Two (One Little Indian), greatest hits (volume 2) released by One Little Indian.
  • 1990 – Rubáiyát – Elektra's 40th Anniversary (Elektra Records), Elektra Records anniversary compilation.
  • 1993 – Welcome to the Future (One Little Indian), compilation.

Other releases:

  • 1988 – Sugarcubes Interview Disc (Baktabak)
  • 1998 – The Great Crossover Potential (One Little Indian)
  • 1998 – Avengers (Soundtrack) (WEA/ATLANTIC)
  • 1998 – Music Inspired by the Motion Picture: The Avengers (BIG EAR)

Hljómsveit Konráðs B – (period 1989/1990)

  • No official releases.

Björk Guðmundsdóttir & Tríó Guðmundar Ingólfssonar

Björk solo discography (1977-present)

Albums:

Singles:
From Debut:

From Post:

From Homogenic:

From Vespertine:

From Greatest Hits:

From Medúlla:

Other releases:

Hit singles

Chart positions are for the UK.

  • 1993 "Human Behaviour" #36
  • 1993 "Venus as a Boy" #29
  • 1993 "Play Dead" (with David Arnold) #12
  • 1993 "Big Time Sensuality" #17
  • 1994 "Violently Happy" #13
  • 1995 "Army of Me" #10
  • 1995 "Isobel" #23
  • 1995 "It's Oh So Quiet" #4
  • 1996 "Hyperballad" #8
  • 1996 "Possibly Maybe" #13
  • 1997 "I Miss You" #36
  • 1997 "Bachelorette" #21
  • 1998 "Alarm Call" #33
  • 1999 "All is Full of Love" #24
  • 2001 "Hidden Place" #21
  • 2001 "Pagan Poetry" #38
  • 2002 "Cocoon" #35
  • 2002 "It's in Our Hands" #37
  • 2004 "Who Is It" #26
  • 2005 "Triumph of a Heart" #31

Note:: Big Time Sensuality peaked at #88 in the US — it is her only top 100 chart hit there. Australian Chart Peaks:: Debut: #10 Post: #2 Homogenic: #6 Vespertine: #9 Medulla: #17

Björk collaborations and featuring:

Promo releases:

White labels:

  • 1993 – Play Dead/Cold Cold Heart (PolyGram), Jukebox Promo Single.
  • 1993 – Big Time Sensuality/Run Baby Run (PolyGram), Jukebox Promo Single.
  • 2002 – All Is Full Of Love (salaciouscrumb69@hotmail.com), mix by Sasha.
  • 2002 – All Is Full Of Love, mezcla de Cass Breakz.
  • 2003 – Pagan Poetry (limited_1000@hotmail.com), mix by Sasha y Oakey. Limited edition: 1,000 copies.
  • 2003 – Emotional Soundscape (Dirty Bass Records), mix by Dirty Bass. Contact: lawrie@curvepusher. More information: here
  • 2003 – Kindness Kind, remix of “Kindness Kind” (“Undo”) performed by Delicate Imposters.

Bootlegs:

  • There are thousands of bootlegs in the world. On 1977Ísland, page of Björk.com, there is a complete listing of these unofficial releases organized according to each stage in the music career of Björk.

Videography

Television

  • 1987 – Glerbrot character: María. (Ríkisútvarpíð) – National Icelandic Television.

Films / shortcuts

Bibliography

  • 1984 – Um Úrnat frá Björk (free distribution)
  • 2001 – Björk (Little-i)
  • 2003 – Björk Live Book (???)

Related bibliography

  • Post, by Sjón Sigurðsson/Björk Ltd. Bloomsbury (1995).
  • Björk – The Ilustrated Story, by Paul Lester. Hamlyn (1996).
  • Björk – An Ilustrated Biography, by Mick St. Michael. Omnibus Press (1996).
  • Björk Björkgraphy, by Martin Aston. Simon & Schuster (1996).
  • Björk, Colección Imágenes de Rock, N°82, by Jordi Bianciotto. Editorial La Máscara (1997).
  • Dancer in the Dark, by Lars von Trier. Film Four (2000).*Lobster or Fame, by Ólafur Jóhann Engilbertsson. Bad Taste (2000).
  • Army of She, by Evelyn McDonnell. Random House (2001).
  • Human Behaviour, by Ian Gittins. Carlton (2002).
  • Wow and Flutter, by Mark Pytlik. ECW (2003).

Internal links

  • 4um, official Björk discussion board.

External links

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