Famous Like Me > Singer > G > Björk Guðmundsdóttir
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Profile of Björk Guðmundsdóttir
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Björk Guðmundsdóttir IPA: /'pjœr̥k 'kvʏðmʏnstoʊhtɪr/, (born November 21, 1965 in Reykjavík, Iceland) is an Icelandic singer/songwriter with a great expressive range and an interest in many kinds of music including popular, trip-hop, alternative rock, jazz, electronica, folk, and classical music.
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 (which means "Cork the Bitch's Ass" in Icelandic), 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 Mogensen from Þeyr. After writing songs and rehearsing for two weeks, they (under the name KUKL which means "sorceror" in Icelandic) found 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 a band called Pukl but soon changed the name to 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 in the UK and with Elektra Records in the United States, 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 album Ex:El, 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 platinum 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.
|"Crying" from Debut ()
|"Isobel" from Post ()
|"Hunter" from Homogenic ()
|"Unison" from Vespertine ()
She wrote the song "Bedtime Story" for Madonna's 1994 album Bedtime Stories, which became Madonna's first single released in 1995 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 platinum 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. The album eventually reached gold status in the States in 2001.
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 the experimental harpist Zeena Parkins for the album. Lyrical sources included the American poet E. E. Cummings and the American independent filmmaker Harmony Korine.
Vespertine spawned three singles: "Hidden Place", "Pagan Poetry", and "Cocoon". America's then-more independent and artistic music video channel, MTV2, played 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 features graphic piercings, blurred sex scenes, and Björk's exposed nipples. As a result, the clip was initially rarely shown by MTV, 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 infamous 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 was also not aired by MTV.
Family Tree/Greatest Hits
2002 saw the appearance of the CD box set Family Tree containing a "these-are-my-roots" retrospective of Björk's career, comprising many previously unreleased versions of her compositions, including some very quiet work with a string quartet, the Brodsky Quartet. Also released that year was the album Greatest Hits, a retrospective of the previous 10 years of her solo career as deemed by the public: The songs on the album were chosen by Björk's fans through a poll on Björk's website. A DVD edition of the CD was also released; it contained all of Björk's solo music videos up to that point.
In 2003 Björk released a series of low-priced DVDs and CD box set called Live Box containing live recordings of her previous albums.
2004 saw the release of Björk's 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. Shortly after, an alternate version of the song began circulating on the internet with additional vocals by Kelis. Though some were confused as to the authenticity of this collaboration, Björk's camp confirmed its legitimacy. The follow-up of "Oceania" was "Who is it" which charted at No.26 in the UK followed by "Triumph of a Heart" in 2005 charting at No.31. A video for the potential next single, "Where is the Line?", was filmed in collaboration with the Icelandic artist Gabríela Fridriksdóttir in late 2004.
Army of Me-Xes
After the disastrous tsunami which struck southeastern Asia in late 2004, Björk began working on a new project, Army of Me-Xes. This new project recruited fans and musicians from around the world as Björk posted on her website the need for the covering and remixing of the 1995 hit, "Army of Me". Björk was overwhelmed with the 600 responses which came flooding in. Out of these Björk as well as co-writer Graham Massey, picked the best 20 to appear on the album. The album was released in April in the UK and in late May 2005 the US. It peaked at No.14 on the dance albums chart in the UK.
Drawing Restraint 9
On July 25, 2005 in the UK and on August 23 in the US, Björk released the album Drawing Restraint 9. It is a soundtrack to her boyfriend Matthew Barney's movie of the same title, and found Björk exploring traditional Japanese music styles to complement the experimental film, where the two lovers find themselves on a whaling ship and cut off each other's feet.
Signifying her status as one of pop music's true originals and one of the most daring, innovative, and idiosyncratic artists of the last two decades, Björk was awarded the prestigious Inspiration Award at the Annual Q Magazine Awards in October 2005, accepting the prize from Robert Wyatt, with whom she collaborated on 2004's Medúlla album.
It was recently reported on Björk's official website that she is working on a new album and that following its completion she will embark on a lengthy tour.
Björk in Film
Björk's intermittent acting career began in 1990, when she appeared in Juniper Tree, a tale of witchcraft based on the Brothers Grimm story of the same name. Björk played the role of Margit, a girl whose mother has been killed for practising witchcraft. Björk also had an uncredited role in 1994's Prêt-à-Porter.
In 1999, Björk was asked to write and produce the musical score for the film Dancer in the Dark, a pseudo-musical about an immigrant named Selma who is struggling to pay for an operation to prevent her son from going blind. Director Lars von Trier eventually asked her to consider playing the role of Selma, a proposal she initially turned down. He then threatened to stop the project, which would have made all the musical work she had already done useless. Eventually, she accepted. Filming began in early 1999, and the film debuted in 2000 at the 53rd Cannes Film Festival. Björk received the best actress award for her role, and yet she described the shoot as so physically and emotionally trying that she has sworn off acting ever again. This was a rumour, however that was put to rest in numerous interviews. Björk later stated that she always wanted to do one musical in her life, and this was the one. She also said that she could not do movies and music at the same time. The soundtrack Björk created for the film was released with the title Selmasongs. She was invited to record Gollum's Song for the film The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, but declined the invitation, as she was then pregnant; the track was instead recorded by her fellow Icelander Emiliana Torrini.
In 2005, Björk collaborated with her New York-based long-time boyfriend Matthew Barney on the experimental art film Drawing Restraint 9, a no-dialogue exploration of Japanese culture. She was also responsible for the film's soundtrack, her second after 2000's Selmasongs.
Björk usually goes by her first name only. This is not a stage name or affectation; it is normal for an Icelander to be referred to by his or her first name, as the last name simply indicates the name of the father. See Icelandic naming conventions.
Björk means "a birch tree" in Icelandic (the meaning of Icelandic names is often transparent), cognate with Old English beorc and the modern English word. Though many English-speakers pronounce her name "Byork", a more accurate approximation would be "Byerk", which she has pointed out rhymes with "jerk". Guðmundsdóttir is pronounced roughly "Gvuth-muns-doe-tir", and means "Guðmundur's daughter".
Björk and her contemporary media artist boyfriend Matthew Barney have a daughter, Isadora, born October 3, 2002. Björk also has a son, Sindri, born June 8, 1986, by Þór Eldon who was her bandmate in the 1980s post-punk group "The Sugarcubes"
- See Björk discography or Official Website for an extensive listing of albums and singles.
With The Sugarcubes
- Life's Too Good (1988)
- Here Today, Tomorrow, Next Week! (1989)
- Stick Around for Joy (1992)
- It's It (1992)
- The Great Crossover Potential (1998)
- Björk (1977)
- Gling-Gló (with Tríó Guðmundar Ingólfssonar) (1990)
- Debut (1993)
- Post (1995)
- Telegram (1997)
- Homogenic (1997)
- Selmasongs: Music From the Motion Picture Soundtrack Dancer in the Dark (2000)
- Vespertine (2001)
- Björk's Greatest Hits (2002)
- Family Tree (2002) [Box Set]
- The Live: 1993-2002 (2003) [Box Set]
- Medúlla (2004)
- Army of Me: Remixes and Covers (2005)
- Drawing Restraint 9 (2005) [Original Soundtrack]
- 1987 - Glerbrot character: María. (Ríkisútvarpíð) - National Icelandic Television.
Films / Shortcuts
- 1987 - The Juniper Tree, character: Margit. (Rhino Home Video)
- 1994 - Prêt-à-Porter, featuring Björk as a model. (???)
- 2000 - Dancer in the Dark, character: Selma Jezková. (Zentropa Entertainment)
- 2005 - Anna and the Moods, Björk performs the voice of Anna Young. (CAOZ Ltd.)
- 2005 - Drawing Restraint 9, character is known as the "Guest." (Matthew Barney)
- 1984 - Um Úrnat frá Björk (free distribution)
- 2001 - Björk (Little-i)
- 2003 - Björk Live Book (???)
- Post, by Sjón Sigurðsson/Björk Ltd. Bloomsbury (1995).
- Björk - The Illustrated Story, by Paul Lester. Hamlyn (1996).
- Björk - An Illustrated Biography, by Mick St. Michael. Omnibus Press (1996).
- Björk Björkgraphy, by Martin Aston. Simon & Schuster (1996).
- Björk, Colección Imágenes de Rock, N°82, by Jordi Bianciotto. Editorial La Máscara (1997).
- Dancer in the Dark, by Lars von Trier. Film Four (2000).
- Lobster or Fame, by Ólafur Jóhann Engilbertsson. Bad Taste (2000).
- Army of She, by Evelyn McDonnell. Random House (2001).
- Human Behaviour, by Ian Gittins. Carlton (2002).
- Bjork: There's More to Life Than This : The Stories Behind Every Song, by Ian Gittins. Imprint (2002).
- Wow and Flutter, by Mark Pytlik. ECW (2003).
- 4um, the official Björk discussion board
- Björk Guðmundsdóttir & Tríó Guðmundar Ingólfssonar
- List of best-selling music artists
- List of Number 1 Dance Hits (United States)
- List of artists who reached number one on the US Dance chart
- Official Website
- Björk News
- Björk Lyrics
- Björkish.net, news, specials videos, photographs and forums.
- Björk Digimer, it features MP3 and MIDI samples of Björk's entire music career.
- All is Full of Björk, Mexican fansite frequently updated including downloads.
- MTV Unplugged (1994), songs recorded during a presentation on MTV.
- BjörkJsnet, lots of information in English and Portuguese.
- Björk's Purple Lodge Discography, discography including videos and other releases.
- bjoerk.ch, fan site with image gallery.
- b-j-o-r-k.com, fan site including downloads, icons, images, and a forum.
- bjorklossless, fan site for users of bjorkhub.no-ip.info: offers over 150 non-commercial live CDs and DVDs.
- sofftchevaliers.net, great french website.
- Björk at the Internet Movie Database
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