Born Björk Gundmundsdottir on November 21, 1965, in Reykjavik, Iceland; daughter of Gudmundur (electricians' union chief) and Hildur (homeopathic doctor and martial arts teacher); married Thor Eldon, 1986; divorced, 1988; children: (son) Sindri. Addresses: Record company--Elektra Records, 75 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, NY 10019. Website--Björk Official Website: http://www.bjork.com.
On the outside, many describe singer Björk Gundmundsdottir with metaphors like innocent fairy, Icelandic pixie, and playful sprite. On the inside, Björk describes herself as a single mother who has had to fight hard for what she has and what she wants. Mike Bieber described Björk in Audio as "waifish and cute on the outside, but a chanteuse with a demon seed, nails-on-blackboard voice."
Mim Udovitch of Rolling Stone gave Björk the title of "The World's Only Cheerful Techno Icelandic Surrealist." Björk prides herself on the contradictions. She says her three obsessions are life, death, and sex, and her philosophy is that she supports the beautiful side of anarchy. Born on November 21, 1965, in Reykjavik, Iceland, Björk was the only child of Gudmundur, an electricians' union chief, and Hildur, a homeopathic doctor and martial arts teacher. At the age of one, Björk's parents divorced, and Björk lived with her mother. When Björk turned five years old, her mother enrolled her in music school. Six years later, she released her first self-titled solo album. The eleven-year-old's LP contained a mixture of Icelandic pop tunes and made her vaguely famous in her home country.
Formed The Sugarcubes
When Björk entered her teenage years, her taste and style of music took a different turn. Punk rock and New Wave had made their mark on Iceland, and Björk responded by forming a number of different bands. At 13 years old, she had formed Exodus; at 14, Tappi Tikarrass; and at 18, KUKL. Björk and her then boyfriend Thor Eldon developed into a radical, anti-establishment, punk/Gothic rock combination. When KUKL transformed into The Sugarcubes, it became the launchpad for Björk's music career. At the same time, her personal life took a step to the next level: Björk married Thor in 1986 and became pregnant. Continuing with her rebellious edge, she performed on Icelandic television wearing a shirt that read "Like A Virgin" and left her pregnant midriff exposed. Reportedly, her appearance caused one of the show's viewers to suffer a heart attack. She later gave birth to her son, Sindri.
The Sugarcubes signed with Elektra Records in 1988, and even though Björk and Thor had just split up, the band embarked on a worldwide tour. Over the next four years, Björk released three albums with The Sugarcubes that all received worldwide success. In 1990 she recorded a compilation of songs from the 1950s and 1960s with a group of Icelandic jazz virtuosos. Two years later, The Sugarcubes disbanded. Björk decided to drop her last name and pursue a solo career in order to fulfill her urge to express her own songs. At the end of 1992, she moved to London, England, and began working on Debut.
"The Sugarcubes were a party band," Björk told Dev Sherlock in Musician. "They were about us getting hilariously drunk and simply having this permission to travel around the world because some foreigner liked us and decided that we were brilliant. It was a social band and the music reflected that. Whereas with my own record, all the songs I wrote in my home after midnight, when I'm on my own. And it's very kinda private and intimate."
Went Solo with Debut
Elektra Records released Debut, Björk's first international solo album, in July of 1993. The album ended up selling more than two and a half million copies worldwide and spawned five successful singles--"Human Behavior," "Venus As A Boy," "Big Time Sensuality," and "Violently Happy." Björk explained her lyrical inspiration to Billboard: "The lyrics for Debut were taken from my diaries over a 10-year period. It took me ages to decide to do that record. I finally figured out that I have the right to be selfish."
The following year, Björk once again ignited television controversy. The Independent Television Commission forced MTV Europe to move Björk's video for "Violently Happy" into late-night time slots. The video showed Björk mutilating a doll with scissors, and the ITC considered the video too violent for daytime audiences.
Before Björk released her next album, she made another mark on the music scene as a songwriter instead of a performer. She cowrote the number-one dance hit "Bedtime Stories" for Madonna's album of the same name. "I wrote the lyrics with Madonna in mind," Björk told Brett Atwood in Billboard. "The lyrics just sort of popped into my head. I thought of a collection of words that I have always wanted to hear Madonna say, 'Let's get unconscious, baby.' Then, I formed the song around those phrases."
In 1995 Björk released her next album, titled Post, which she wrote and coproduced with a number of other musicians, including trip-hop star and ex-Massive Attack member, Tricky, Howie Bernstein of Mo' Wax, and Graham Massey of the techno band 808 State. Post, like Debut, went platinum, selling well over one million copies. Björk recorded the album in Compass Point in Nassau, the Bahamas and finished it in London, England. Post debuted on the Billboard album charts at number 32, and the single "Army of Me" appeared as the lead track for the film Tank Girl.
Björk described the concept behind Post as a letter home to Iceland, which also explains the title. At the same time, many of her lyrics describe her friends' point of view rather than her own. "Most of my songs are written in the first person, from the point of view of my best friends," Björk explained to Jon Savage in Interview. "I find it ten times easier to express my friends' feelings than my own. If I write about myself, I usually write in the third person. It just feels natural."
The year 1995 not only launched another album for Björk, it also brought with it two lawsuits. A songwriter sued Björk for copyright infringement in February, and the case was dismissed in June. Then, a British music publisher sought royalties for a sample she used on Post. They reached a settlement by August. Björk wrote it off as another result of her success. "When people think you're rich, they just try anything," she said in People. "If they washed your socks six years ago, they send you a bill for $100,000."
Troubles in Personal Life
As Björk's fame increased, so did trouble in her personal life. In 1996, Björk made headlines worldwide when she assaulted a female reporter at the airport in Bangkok, Thailand. Despite Björk's advance request for privacy for herself and her son, reporters surrounded them upon arrival. One approached her son, and Björk assaulted the woman before being subdued by security guards. She later apologized, and the reporter chose not to sue. Later in the year, a 24-year old fan in Miami sent a homemade acid bomb to Björk's London home, and then killed himself. Björk was unharmed, but the incident was unsettling, and she took a few months off to recoup.
Björk released two albums in 1997, Homogenic and Telegram. Telegram, a remixed version of 1995's Post, was released early in the year and featured remixes from artists as varied as Tricky and the Brodsky Quartet. Homogenic, Björk's first self-produced album, followed in late 1997. The album was an unprecedented fusion of techno and classical music, heralded by Interview magazine as a work of "sprawling, encyclopedia ambition ... a near masterpiece."
Björk's artistic expression took a new form when she starred as a struggling Czechoslovakian immigrant working in an American factory in director Lars von Trier's film Dancer in the Dark in 2000. Despite her critically acclaimed performance, which won the award for Best Female Performance at the Cannes Film Festival and earned Björk an Oscar nomination, she has vowed never to act in a film again, calling the experience one of "profound cruelty" in Esquire. Björk also wrote the score for the film, which was released in 2000 as Selmasongs: Music from the Motion Picture Dancer in the Dark.
Björk released her fourth studio album, Vespertine, in 2001. Prior to recording, she spent a month in an aluminum igloo in Greenland, teaching her songs to an Inuit choir that accompanied her on several tracks on the album. The resulting album was a collage of sounds, ranging from intricate choral sequences to computer-generated noise and sampled sounds. Time International described Vespertine as "an album that for the first time is more than just the sum of Björk's many and strange parts." An accompanying book of photographs and text, which Björk had originally wanted to have glass pages, was published by Bloomsbury USA to coincide with the release of Vespertine.
Björk's career reached another milestone in 2002, with the release of her first greatest hits album, entitled Greatest Hits. Her personal life also reached a new level when Björk became pregnant with her second child, a daughter fathered by her boyfriend, Matthew Barney. Barney is an American artist and filmmaker best known for his series of Cremaster films. Björk's heart is still in her art, however. Interviewed by Stuart Husband in the London Daily Mail, she stated, "I would die for my art. There have been times when I've been touring for 15 months and I'm literally crawling on stage, and people say what's more important, your health or tonight, and I always say tonight."
With a career in music that started when she was just eleven years old, Björk has made her mark using contradictions as her striking tool. As long as she has something to sing, she plans to continue doing it for the rest of her life, whether or not she sells albums. She explained her view of the future to Jon Savage in Interview: "If I have any vision of my life, I think I'll be singing until I die, about 90 years old.... I could just as well move to a little island and live by the ocean and just be the village singer or whatever. Singing on Friday and Saturday nights, writing tunes for the rest of the week. That's my role."
by Sonya Shelton
Released first solo album, age eleven; performed with several bands during teenage years; (with others) formed theatrical/rock ensemble KUKL, mid-1980s; formed The Sugarcubes, 1986; signed with Elektra Records, 1986; released three albums, 1986-92; released first international solo LP, Debut, on Elektra, 1993; followed with Post, 1995, Telegram, 1997, Homogenic, 1997, Selmasongs, 2000, and Vespertine, 2001, all on Elektra Records; starred in film Dancer in the Dark, 2000.
- Selected discography
- Debut , Elektra, 1993.
- Post , Elektra, 1995.
- Telegram , Elektra, 1997.
- Homogenic , Elektra, 1997.
- Selmasongs: Music from the Motion Picture Dancer in the Dark (soundtrack), Elektra, 2000.
- Vespertine , Elektra, 2001.
- Greatest Hits , Elektra, 2002.
- With The Sugarcubes
- Life's Too Good , Elektra, 1986.
- Here Today, Tomorrow, Next Week , Elektra, 1989.
- Stick Around for Joy , Elektra, 1992.
- It's-It (dance remixes), Elektra, 1992.
August 31, 2004: Bjork's album, Medulla, was released. Source: All Music Guide, www.allmusic.com, September 2, 2004.
February 28, 2005: Bjork's album, Triumph of a Heart, was released. Source: All Music Guide, www.allmusic.com, April 3, 2005.
August 2005: It was announced that Bjork's swan dress from the 2001 Oscars was scheduled for Internet auction, with proceeds going to Oxfam (international aid). Source: USA Today, www.usatoday.com/life/people/2005-08-26-bjork-dress_x.htm, August 28, 2005.
March 29, 2006: Bjork starred in Drawing Restraint 9, which was released by IFC Films. Source: New York Times, http://movies2.nytimes.com/gst/movies/movie.html?v_id=335219, April 24, 2006.
- Audio, October 1993.
- Billboard, July 17, 1993; October 14, 1993; June 4, 1994; May 13, 1995.
- Daily Mail, September 1, 2002.
- Entertainment Weekly, July 9, 1993; June 23, 1995; June 30-July 7, 1995.
- Esquire, October 2000.
- Interview, June 1995; October 1997.
- Musician, May 1994.
- People, June 19, 1995; September 25, 1995.
- Rolling Stone, June 10, 1993; September 2, 1993; September 16, 1993; November 17, 1994; June 29, 1995; July 13-27, 1995.
- Time, August 2, 1993; November 7, 1994; August 14, 1995.
- "Bjork," Salon.com, http://dir.salon.com/people/bc/2001/05/01/bjork/index.html (September 20, 2002).
- Additional information was obtained from Elektra Records press information, 1995.