Björk Guðmundsdóttir (pronounced "b'yerk"), (born November 21, 1965 in Reykjavík, Iceland) is a 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.
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 Morgensen 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.
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 recording Ooops, 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 gold 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 gold 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.
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, spun 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 featured 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. "It's In Our Hands" was released in the winter of 2003, peaking at #20 in the U.S., and the singer found herself with a major American success.
On the topic of deafening buzz in America, 2004 saw the release of her new album titled 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, but has also been included on her latest album, Medulla. "Oceania" was released as the album's first single shortly after the Olympics. At around the same time, an alternate version of the song began circulating on the internet which claimed to have had guest vocals from Kelis. Though some were confused as to the authenticity of this collaboration, Björk's camp eventually confirmed its legitimacy. The alternate version of the song was not included on Björk's album, however, because of lack of space.
The single "Who Is It (Carry My Joy On The Left, Carry My Pain On The Right)" was released in October 2004. The song stalled at charts, but the follow-up "Where Is The Line?" reached #9 in December of 2004.