has a profile of Björk in this week's New Yorker
*, which does a good job of cutting through the pop star's popular image -- perhaps best epitomized by the SNL
parody ("I throw nee-kels in the oh-ven and eet eez myoo-zeek!"), and what Ross generalizes as "a cyclone of elfin zaniness."
It reminded me that I'd put together a piece almost three years ago, right after Vespertine
was released, exploring the dualities in this image through 33 quotes in the popular press (and a couple of lyrical extracts). At the time, I had no venue to publish it; with Medulla
on the way, it seems as good a time as any to revisit it.
*Link to come as soon as it's archived.
Contradiction is the crux of Björk’s art, as is synthesis
The age-old duel between technology and nature has fascinated her since 1993’s “Human Behavior” – the song’s video still governs perceptions of her. (2)
All the modern things / Like cars and such / Have always existed / They’ve just been waiting in a mountain / For the right moment … / To come out / And multiply / And take over
Iceland has come into the technological present fairly recently. Björk’s grandfather, for example, lived in a mud house. Out of this sped-up modernization sprang both an almost mythological relationship to nature and a brand-new fixation on technology. (4)
You know, I would tour Asia and see a very similar things as I see in Iceland: farmers who’ve got really modern roads with lights and everything, but the roads have got a bend in them around a rock because they think elves live in it. And they’ve got a mobile telephone. It’s these two extremes.
She communicates a character and a knowledge that is centuries old and seemingly wise at the same time that the telegenic presence bursting through her music heralds the new and the not-yet-defined. The middle ages reached through the virtuality of the information age. (5)
I want to go on a mountain top / With a radio and good batteries.
Yet Björk, unlike so many before her, doesn’t demonize the artificial and assign innocence to the natural. Instead, she keeps refining her more comfortably developed view, a vision that’s neither tormented by machines nor too squished-up by hippie dogma. She senses cutting-edge sophistication in trees and hears a lovably daft awkwardness in drum machines. (2)
For me, techno and nature is the same thing … It’s just a question of the future and the past. You take a log cabin in the mountains. Ten thousand years ago, monkey-humans would have thought, that’s fucking techno. Now in 1997 you see a log cabin and go, Oh, that’s nature. There is fear of techno because it’s the unknown. I think it is a very organic thing, like electricity.
To Björk, the charge that techno is inherently cold and soulless – the typically rockist, typically American criticism formerly known as “disco sucks” – is patently absurd. There is no soul in a guitar, she points out; someone has to play it soulfully. (4)
You know, electricity and electronics should be electronic, they shouldn’t try to be like Japanese flute and violin. They should be proud of what they are. Almost like sincere and honest techno noises, ‘cause often people use them as cold and nasty. I think technology is very warm and sentimental, as well. It can be very mushy and emotional.
* * *
She seems to be very much the perpetual outsider who fascinates the natives. (1)
North America is like the moon, or China. It’s very exotic. I definitely feel like a visitor here. And I really like it. It’s like if you go to China or something, and you’ve been invited to a fireworks event, you just go for it.
While all the other bands on the block were bruising it up a la Courtney Love and thrashing ‘Teen Spirit’ angst, Bjork just wiggled her antennae at the MTV kids, gave them a baby dinosaur wink and blasted off in shimmery rave gear. Clearly, she was not from the neighborhood. (8)
The English are very easily embarrassed, and anything that’s not exactly like them is alien and weird and strange. I can’t help myself teasing the English – especially when people stare at you, waiting for antennae to pop out of your forehead.
Earth girls may be easy but the mercurial techno fantasist known simply as Bjork is anything but. (4)
I have walked this earth and watched people / I can be sincere and say I like them
She is a one-woman polyglot whose speech unites a melange of accents from French to Scottish to Cockney, although she is in fact Icelandic. (9)
I think I just picked the words from all the different accents that sound most interesting.
She misses Iceland, especially the blizzards, and being able to walk around at night singing at the top of her lungs. (9)
Björk learned to sing running past the otherworldly landscape of volcanoes and fjords, and she’s been blasting the boundaries of music into the outer regions of space ever since. In a single gulp she’ll swallow you whole and then hurl you with her galactic chords. (8)
Her dead-on musical instincts have skipped her music across boundaries worldwide, delighting her admirers and confusing everyone else (5)
It’s like Björk leaves Iceland – it’s like a Tin Tin book – and goes to these other countries. Björk in America, Björk in Congo. I knew I was going to go on a mission, which was very hard for me, ‘cause I’m a very family-oriented person and though people may think I’m raving mad – and I probably am – I’ve always had a basic, little village upbringing.
She appears to be deeply strange, and not so strange at all. (4)
What probably confuses people is they know a lot about me, but it quite pleases me that there’s more they don’t know
Frowning, rubbing her face, picking her noise, bending her neck to work out a crick, you realize that far from being a space cadet, Bjork is extremely down to earth. (5)
* * *
Her question moves through the photo studio like a command from a child queen. (5)
Can you imagine being brought up by seven grown-ups who all hate work, and all they want to do is play games with you all day long, and tell you four-hour-long stories, and make kites?
“The second time I met her, I came to her place in Reykjavik to meet a friend. She sat me down for tea, and a few minutes later, my friend came out of her bedroom, and it was a little embarrassing because he was all covered in blue leopard spots. What happened was she had woken up before him and had just a little fun with him while he was sleeping, decorated him in this way." (9)
Suddenly, she goes all girlish and demure. Last February we started going out together.
She bats her eyelashes, and puts her hands over her mouth. (4)
Things that surprise you right away upon meeting Björk: 1. She is not short 2. She has the second deepest laugh you’ve ever heard come from a girl. (4)
While it is clearly more fun to emphasize the first rather than the second element in terms like magical-realism and childwoman when applying them to Björk, it does her slight, but nonetheless real disservice. (9)
When I was 5 or so, I had a key around my neck, and I took the bus myself to school and I did all my homework, and dressed and fed myself, I became my own mum very early, and I developed a relationship to myself where I was the mum and the child. People see the kid in me; they think I’m innocent and naïve and all those things, but being organized and hard-working is completely second nature to me.
(1) James Servin, NYLON
, June/July 2001
(2) James Hunter, SPIN
, Oct. 1997
(3) Björk, “All The Modern Things,” Post
(4) Jonathan Van Meter, SPIN
, Dec. 1997
(5) Ken Micallef, Raygun
, Sept. 1997
(6) Björk, “Alarm Call,” Homogenic
(7) Paul Elliot, Q
, Nov. 1997
(8) Julia Chaplin, Paper
, Sept. 1997
(9) Mim Udovitch, Rolling Stone
, Jul. 13, 1995