Being Bjork

bjork the singer

bjork the singer

Bjork’s appearance in Hong Kong marked her first concert appearance in this city in over a decade. We talked to the singer about all things good, bjad and Bjorkish…

Admidtedly, it’s hard to talk to Bjork without thinking about the humumerous comedy sketches that have sprouted up that try to imitate her with varying degrees of success.

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Among the best was a Saturday Night Live skit airing which former NBA basketball star Charles Barkley met up with Bjork in a spoof of the Sundance Channel interview program ‘Iconoclasts. In it, a guy impersonating Barkley became more and more bewildered by a woman who was imitating Bjork and her attempts to grab snow flakes.

Of course, when it comes to Bjork, the first target for ridicule is always her Icelandic-English hybrid accent, one which hasn’t really softened or changed after 20 years on the scene. During our interview, it was hard to stifle laughter when a word like ‘Introverted’ suddenly became ‘intrrrrrrrrrrrovarrrrrrrted’ when it came out of her mouth.

The second target is usually some play on the perception that Bjork has tipped the nutty scale. Days after our talk, there would be press reports that she inexplicably attacked a photographer in New Zealand, a little more than a decade after a previous attack on a woman in Bangkok.

BjorkBut Bjork come across as extremely thoughtful, articulate and eager to answer questions. In fact, there was only one comment that she made that could be perceived to be a bit… odd.

In response to a question about her interest in Asian culture, here’s what she said: ‘I’ve said this many times before. As a child in school, they thought I was a China girl.

Ever since then, I’ve had some affinity with Asia and as a teenager, I studied Chinese philosophy and was reading a lot of Japanese literature. It’s quite common for people in one part of the world to think that they have an affinity with another part on the other side.’

Volta Vs. Medulla

Hardly nutty or even that unusual. And while people continue to poke fun of Bjork’s eccentric ways, she has carved out one of the most unique and distinct solo careers in modern pop music (in addition to 13 Grammy nominations and an Academy Award nomination). Volta, her latest, saw her reclaiming her former pop stomping ground as she weaved dance beats amidst defiant declarations of independence.

That is, when she wasn’t tenderly duetting with Antony Johnson or singing about earth intruders. The latter subject was inspired by her work with tsunami victims in Indonesia and trips to record with musicians in Africa. Overall, it was certainly an eclectic release, which was met with acclaim in some circles and open disdain in others.

“It’s a work in progress,” she says in response to the album’s detractors (this writer was one of them). “More than any other album that I’ve done, its evolved. I spent a year writing Volta and toured it for a year so for. I would say it’s slowly getting better. There are 14 people on stage, with 10 brass girls, a keyboardist and a drummer. It’s an opportunity to grow. Volta is better now than when it was on the album.”

Her previous release Medulla, which was astoundingly created entirely out of human vocals, as daring a major label release as anyone could ever make. “When I was writing Medulla, I was breastfeeding and blown away by the miracle of childbirth and motherhood, ” she says thoughtfully. “It was the peak of introversion, but I had to go back into the world. ”

Bjork dancingBjork’s Changed World

That world has changed considerably since Bjork first burst on the scene with the stunning single ‘Birthday’ with her late 80s Icelandic group The Sugarcubes.

Where she was once an eclectic new voice who called London home, she is now a 42 year old mother of two who is living in New York City with partner Matthew Barney, the art film maker.

She admits that living in the turbulent United States during an election year has been a shock for her, “In Iceland, nature is way more important than politics,” she says.

“We don’t even have an army there. I happened to be in New York on 9/11. It was like, why am I being drawn into this? It felt like I was being forced to take a stand on something that is so corrupt and grown up. We live in very special times. People are disagreeing very fiercely and we are at a crossroads about decisions that will affect the next 50 years. The time of US imperialism is probably over and there’s a new order happening. ”

She’s also been paying a lot of attention to what’s happening in the music world, both on an artistic level (she feels that a lot of anti-establishment music is being made which makes for an exciting time at the moment) and on an industry level. She claims to be keeping up on how Radiohead has fared with their most recent internet release In Rainbows and hints that she may follow that model.

bjork make up“Volta is my last album with Universal and Atlantic, so for the next album I can do whatever I want,” she says. “I think everybody is at the some crossroads. I doubt a lot of artists will have the same contracts they had before.”

What that album will sound like is anyone’s guess. Even Bjork is still coming to terms with where her ongoing love affair with music will take her next. Though a collection of ‘Live Sessions’ has been mentioned as a possible release, she didn’t even mention it.

“It’s hard for me to say what the next album will sound like,” she says. “I’m booked for gigs for the next eight months and then my kid is going to school in September. We’ll see what happens then and see if I want some exterior stimulation or think it’s enough and be more introspective. The best thing about albums is that you don’t have a clue what you’re going to do… and I don’t want to jinx that wonderful lost feeling.”

Neither do fans when they hear this eclectic, eccentric, talented singer, in what was one of the best live shows of 2008.

Debut 1993

The passionate Icelandic vixen leaves her former band behind for her first solo release. Dated in parts, but an upbeat, critically acclaimed release that showed she had a career ahead of her.

Post – 1995

Tricky and Howie B. add a trip hop/electronica sheen to the proceedings that feature one of her best tracks ever (‘HyperBallad’) and range (dub into show tunes).

Homogenic – 1995

Despite one of her best ever covers, this is the darker side of the singer on this electronica-dominated release. In a year dominated by a mail bomb attack and feuding ex-boyfriends, the big beats and experimentalism was almost too much at times.

Vespertine – 2001

Bjork grows up on her fastest selling album to date. Mostly mid-tempo and infused with electronica and strings, this release made listeners work the most for the greatest listening return.

Med?lla – 2004

A superb masterpiece, but not for everyone. Here, Bjork gathered a slew of guests (including Robert Wyatt and Faith No More’s Mike Patton) for an all-vocal release that’s a work of genius for some, extremely testing for others.

Volta – 2007

The singer returns to a beat driven, defiant outgoing sound with the help of Timbaland and one memorable ballad, ‘Antony Hegarty’. When it hits, it hits, but when it misses…

Bjork has also worked with some of today’s most innovative music video producers to create some of the more memorable clips of our age. Then again, she also has suffered her shore of spoofs. Here’s a quick look at each, all of which can be found on YouTube…

All Is Full Of Love: Bjork as a robot in this stunning Chris Cunningham directed video.

Winona Ryder Imitation: Watch the actress as she does a hilarious, spot on impression of the singer in this Saturday Night Live spoof. Keywords: Winona Bjork

Hunter: A bald Bjork slowly transforms into a polar bear.

Memoirs Of A Bjork Geisha: It’s a geisha meets Bjork in this guerilla performance which took place at her boyfriend’s art exhibit in 2006. Keywords: Bjork Geisha

It’s Oh So Quiet: Spike Jonze gets Bjork in a Hollywood yesteryear setup in this technically complex video.

Bjork Eye For The Straight Guy: A bizarre Bjork meets Queer Eye hybrid. Keywords: Bjork Straight Guy

Big Time Sensuality: Bjork cruises New York City on a flatbed truck. One of her more iconic videos.

Behind The True Biography – Bjork: A clever two minute montage shot in E! documentary style of Bjork going off the rails. Keywords: Bjork True Biography