On the eve of her MoMA retrospective – which covers 20 years of her career – we look at the music videos that have cemented her place in culture.
“She seems to come from water,” Sean Penn once said of the Icelandic enigma. Bjork herself has said that she spent a lot of her childhood in nature, which might or might not explain why her persona and music and art is so otherworldly. Maybe it really is the landscape, which is isolated and lonely and also pristine. On how her people approach music, she once said: “They (Icelanders) kinda sneak and listen to American radio, and they get what’s going on in Europe as well, and they kinda like misunderstand it in a very beautiful way.”
We couldn’t have said it any better. Enjoy the videos.
Birthday by The Sugarscubes, directed by Kristin Jóhannsdóttir. Her band from Iceland, but they split up in 1993. Weirdly, The Sugarcubes was an indie favourite in American colleges.
Human Behavior, directed by Michel Gondry. Here’s her performing it live on Late Night With Conan O’Brien. This was her first hit from her second solo album Debut – she released her first album (cover versions) when she was 11 years old – but called it thus because she deemed it a fresh start.
Big Time Sensuality, directed by Stephane Sednaoui. Most notable for being filmed on a truck going around New York City, and for Bjork’s prancing dancing. On her Debut album, she says “I kinda became selfish on this album and wrote everything myself.”
It’s Oh So Quiet, directed by Spike Jonze. It’s a cover version of Betty Hutton’s Blow A Fuse from 1951, done as a lark with Broadway choreography. But Bjork quietly disowned the song and left it off her 2002 Greatest Hits album, because she wanted to put more importance on making new music.
All is Full of Love, directed by Chris Cunningham. Her dad is an electrician, her mom is a fortune teller, if that clears up anything for you.
Pagan Poetry, directed by Nick Knight, the highlight of the Vespertine album. It’s about a woman “preparing herself for marriage and for her lover.” The dress is designed by the late Alexander Mcqueen.
Wanderlust, directed by Encyclopedia Pictura. From an animation point of view, this is one of my favourites ever. It was shot in 3D and is mesmerising right from the foghorn start to the last image. It is seemingly inspired by Maurice Sendek’s cartoon creatures.
Mutual Core, directed by Andrew Thomas Huang. Bjork’s buried in sand, there’s volcanoes and explosions, signifying birth and the cosmos. Or something. But check out the tongues on those ragged creatures!
Cosmogony, directed by Michel Gondry, from the Biophilia album. Releases with 10 different apps (for each song), the album broke new ground in how music can be appreciated and experienced by listeners. It included a 3D galactic interface, and you can access music scores with karaoke playback.
Black Lake trailer, to debut at her MoMA show on Mar 8.
The Björk retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art is from March 8 to June 7.
A version of this story first appeared in Female‘s March issue, out now.
Okay we couldn’t resist. Here’s Triumph of a Heart, directed by Spike Jonze. Featuring Icelandic beatboxing… And a cat.