Björk’s Own Brand of Quirky Genius
Life Plugged In
Published: Friday, February 22, 2013
Updated: Sunday, February 24, 2013 13:02
Last year, I had one of the best experiences of my life at Bonnaroo. Being able to see some of my favorite bands, bands that I had idolized and obsessed over for years, was truly mind-blowing. On Tuesday, this summer’s Bonnaroo lineup was announced, and I tracked it closely. As I sat in class, I continuously refreshed the lineup page every few minutes after 1 p.m., when it was supposed to be officially released, while simultaneously stalking various online boards.
This year’s lineup is spectacular, including Sir Paul McCartney, Tom Petty, The Wu Tang Clan, Mumford & Sons, Nas — I could keep going, but there was one artist in particular that caused me to totally freak out. I could not even begin to contain my excitement when I saw that Björk would grace Bonnaroo with her majestic presence.
A Reykjavik native, Björk Guðmundsdóttir consistently mixes songs in her native Icelandic with songs in English on her albums. With one of the most prolific and unique career paths in the industry, she’s managed to find a great deal of success as one of the most critically acclaimed artists of her time — despite a general lack of airplay — helped along by her award-winning theatrical performances.
Her music is a near-perfect embodiment of her spirit, which is very … how should I put this? It’s weird. Like, really weird. Although she started out in a somewhat common form of alt-rock with her first solo album Debut, which spawned the hit "Human Behavior," calling that album normal is a huge stretch. It shows the beginnings of her experimental and eclectic fusion of multiple genres, which only grew throughout the rest of her career as she combined rock, jazz, electronic dance, classical and folk elements. Since her first record in 1993, Björk has blossomed into one of music’s most beloved freaks, an over eccentric and hugely talented diva constantly showcasing her powerful somersaulting voice. While that voice is what drew me in, I’ve also fallen head over heels for her distinct brand of emotive, thoughtful and experimental music.
But Björk’s voice is definitely what gives her staying power. It’s hard to describe it without using the word powerful, but it’s so much more than that. The level of passion it carries draws you in so much that, when listening to her, I find myself concentrating on her lyrics, attempting to find her often-profound and always heartfelt message. This vocal ability is only strengthened by her singing technique, which is often improvised, allowing her to simply start and letting her do whatever feels natural with her voice. My favorite album of hers, Medúlla, does the best job of showing her vocal prowess. Almost completely comprised of a cappella arrangements, only a few musical instruments are used in the entire album — a bass synthesizer on "Who Is It," piano on "Ancestors" and a gong on "Pleasure Is All Mine." This album also shows her insane ability to convey potent, contemplative feelings through music. Look to "Oceania" for the perfect example of this; though initially confusing, the clarity of meaning she achieves after just a few listens is astounding.
It’s exactly this type of genius that I love about Björk. Everything she does, she does for a specific reason. Every word, every note has feeling and thought behind it. The way she puts her entire being into her music is something I admire, and she creates such a unique sound that there’s really no comparing her to anyone else. She’s definitely not for everyone, though, and many have a hard time listening to her. However, I think anyone equipped with an open mind and a willingness to explore new musical territory will become captivated by Björk. Start slowly and listen to a bunch of songs before you rule her out. I gave my brother the same advice and, while he didn’t fall for her instantly, his enjoyment of her music developed more and more until he grew to appreciate her as much as I do.
An intro to Björk in 10 songs:
"Human Behavior," "Army of Me,"
"Hyperballad," "It’s Oh So Quiet,"
"All Is Full of Love," "Who Is It?,"
"Pleasure Is All Mine," "Oceania,"
"Earth Intruders," "Crystalline"
Zach Gordon is a sophomore in the College. LIFE PLUGGED IN appears every Friday in the guide.