If whatever I'm saying to you now helps women, I'm up for saying it. For example, Vespertine, I did 80 percent of the beats on that album and Matmos came in right at the end. […] They are credited everywhere as having done the whole album. […] I spend 80 percent of the writing process of my albums on my own. I write the melodies—I'm outside. I'm by the computer, I edit a lot. That for me is very solitary, and I enjoy it a lot. […] The 20 percent of the album process when I get in the string orchestras, the extras, that's documented more. That's the side people see.
In a similar vein, Matthew Cole of Slant Magazine adds that her voice has been "preserved quite well," however he also stipulates that "her once-formidable wail is too hoarse and shouty to be the ace in the hole that it once was," also adding "it's only where her most dramatic vocal pyrotechnics are concerned that there's any question of physical ability". National Public Radio counted Björk among its list of "50 Great Voices" and MTV placed her at number 8 on its countdown "22 Greatest Voices in Music." She has been ranked 60th as one of the 100 greatest Singers ever, and 81st as one of the 100 greatest songwriters ever by Rolling Stone, who praised her voice as being unique, fresh and extremely versatile, fitting and being influenced by a wide range of influences and genres.
Björk was born on 21 November 1965 in Reykjavík, where she grew up. Björk's mother is Activist Hildur Rúna Hauksdóttir, who protested against the development of Iceland's Kárahnjúkar Hydropower Plant. Björk's father is Guðmundur Gunnarsson, a union leader and electrician. They divorced when Björk was born and she moved with her mother to a commune. Her stepfather is Sævar Árnason, a former Guitarist in a band called Pops. At six, Björk enrolled at Reykjavík school Barnamúsíkskóli, where she studied classical piano and flute. After a school recital in which Björk sang Tina Charles' 1976 hit "I Love to Love", her teachers sent a recording of her singing the song to the RÚV radio station – then, Iceland's only radio station. The recording was nationally broadcast and, after hearing it, a representative of the Fálkinn record label offered Björk a recording contract. Her self-titled début, Björk, was recorded and released in Iceland in December 1977 when she was 11 years old.
Although Björk was in various post-punk and alternative rock bands during the late 1980s, her contact with London's underground club culture helped her find her own musical identity. Reflecting on this, she stated in 2015: "...as a music nerd, I just had to follow my heart, and my heart was those beats that were happening in England. And maybe what I'm understanding more and more as I get older, is that music like Kate Bush has really influenced me. Brian Eno. Acid. Electronic beats. Labels like Warp. And if there's such a thing in pop music as a Music Tree, I see myself on the same branch, you know. And for me it's almost like you know, I've been calling it 'matriarch electronic music.' So I think that was the heart I was following." According to i-D, the music of Debut and Post "couldn't have existed without Aphex Twin, Black Dog, A Guy Called Gerald, LFO and all the other producers who reshaped the language of music since 1988." Collaborator Marius de Vries said: "She's very au fait with contemporary avant-garde music and the more pioneering electronic stuff. She's always been very comfortable and enthusiastic about both, and it's also a passion I share. To find someone who is making pop records but was prepared to accommodate such influences was very exciting for me."
In 1986, Björk wed Þór Eldon. On 8 June the same year, she gave birth to their son, Sindri Eldon Þórsson. Soon after Sindri was born, Björk performed in her first acting role on The Juniper Tree, a tale of witchcraft based on the Brothers Grimm story, directed by Nietzchka Keene. Björk played the role of Margit, a girl whose mother has been killed for practicing witchcraft. That summer, former band member Einar Örn and Eldon formed the arts collective Smekkleysa ("Bad Taste" in Icelandic), created with the intention of being both a record label and book publishing company. Various friends, namely Melax and Sigtryggur from Kukl, along with Bragi Ólafsson and Friðrik Erlingson from Purrkur Pillnikk, joined the group and a band coalesced in the collective solely to make money. They were initially called Þukl, but they were advertised as Kukl (the name of the previous band). At a later concert supporting Icelandic band Stuðmenn (managed by Einar Örn) they addressed themselves as Sykurmolarnir ("The Sugarcubes" in Icelandic). To fund the release of their first double A-side single "Einn mol'á mann", which contained the songs "Ammæli" ("Birthday") and "Köttur" ("Cat"), Smekkleysa printed a postcard bearing the image of Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan during the Reykjavík Summit. The single was released on 21 November 1986, Björk's 21st birthday. At the end of that year, the band was signed by One Little Indian, a new label set up by Derek Birkett, the former bass player of Flux of Pink Indians, but soon after Erlingson left the band. Their first English single, "Birthday", was released in the United Kingdom on 17 August 1987; a week later, it was declared single of the week by Melody Maker. The Sugarcubes also signed a distribution deal with Elektra Records in the United States and recorded their first album, Life's Too Good, which was released in 1988. After the release of the album, Margrét "Magga" Örnólfsdóttir, Eldon's new girlfriend (he and Björk had divorced soon after the birth of their child despite being in the same group), replaced Einst Melax as the band keyboardist. The album went on to sell more than one million copies worldwide. Björk contributed as a background vocalist on 1987 album Loftmynd by Megas, for whom she provided background vocals also on his subsequent album Höfuðlausnir (1988) and Hættuleg hljómsveit & glæpakvendið Stella (1990).
In the last quarter of 1988, The Sugarcubes toured North America to positive reception. In September, the band played at The Ritz in New York, a concert attended by David Bowie and Iggy Pop. On 15 October, the band appeared on Saturday Night Live. Björk alone contributed a rendition of the Christmas song "Jólakötturinn" ("The Christmas Cat") on the compilation Hvít Er Borg Og Bær. The band's second album, Here Today, Tomorrow Next Week! was released in October 1989. Unlike their debut album, it was not well received by critics. Due to negative backlash regarding Einar Örn by music critics, the band started to ponder about splitting up and went on hiatus after a promotional tour in 1990. During the hiatus the band members formed a light-hearted big-band named Hljómsveit Kondráds B, in which Björk played clarinet. During the hiatus Björk started working on her solo projects. In 1990 she provided background vocals on Gums, an album by a band called Bless. In the same year she recorded Gling-Gló, a collection of popular jazz and original work, with the jazz group Tríó Guðmundar Ingólfssonar, which as of 2011 was still her best-selling album in her home country. Björk also contributed vocals to 808 State's album ex:el, with whom she cultivated her interest in house music. She contributed vocals on the songs "Qmart" and on "Ooops", which was released as a single in the UK in 1991. She also contributed vocals to the song "Falling", on the album Island by Current 93 and Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson. In the same year she met harpist Corky Hale, with whom she had a recording session that ended up on her début album.
During her career beginnings, Björk performed in bands from various musical genres: punk rock in Spit and Snot, jazz fusion in Exodus, post-punk in Tappi Tíkarrass and gothic rock in Kukl. When working with Tappi Tíkarrass, she was heavily influenced by such British new wave bands as Siouxsie and the Banshees, Wire, The Passions, The Slits, Joy Division, and Killing Joke. The studio album Gling-Gló (1990) was recorded with Tríó Guðmundar Ingólfssonar and featured jazz and popular standards sung "very much in the classic Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan mould." The Sugarcubes' style has been described as avant-pop and alternative rock.
At this point, Björk had decided to leave the band to pursue her solo career, but their contract included the making of one last album with a subsequent promotional tour, which Björk agreed to do. Stick Around for Joy was released in February 1992. The record received positive reviews. The Sugarcubes opened for U2 during the US leg of their Zoo TV Tour in October and November, playing to a grand total of 700,000 people. Coinciding with this string of concerts, their label released a remix album named It's-It. Björk was featured on two tracks of the Soundtrack for the 1992 film Remote Control (known as Sódóma Reykjavík in Iceland). After the Sugarcubes played one last show at the Reykjavík club Tunglið in December, they split up. Rolling Stone has called them "the biggest rock band to emerge from Iceland."
The first Example of this was most evident with Iranian-born electronica Producer Leila Arab. Leila was initially recruited to play keyboards and provide backing vocals on Björk's first international solo tour in 1993 in support of Debut. In 1995, Björk recalled Leila to be part of her second touring band for her next tour in support of Post. This time Leila was given the opportunity to experiment with the live output mixing from the stage, rather than playing keyboards. This was to be Leila's first encounter with live mixing and would later form the basis of her own solo music career where she has integrated live mixing into her own compositions and live shows. Leila has gone on to release three international solo albums throughout the 1990s and appears on the influential electronica labels Rephlex Records, XL Recordings, and Warp Records.
At the 1994 Brit Awards, Björk won the awards for Best International Female and Best International Newcomer. The success of Debut enabled her to collaborate with British and 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 a bonus track on a re-release of Debut), collaborated on two songs for Tricky's Nearly God project, appeared on the track "Lilith" for the album Not for Threes by Plaid, and co-wrote the song "Bedtime Story" for Madonna's 1994 album Bedtime Stories. Björk also had an uncredited role as a runway model in 1994's film Prêt-à-Porter.
The 1995 album Post, known for its eclecticism, is considered to be the "quintessential Björk" release, due to its protean form – more than any of her albums — and its "wide emotional palette". The entirety of the album was written after Björk's move to England, and intended to reflect the faster pace of her new urban life. The Guardian wrote that "Post tapped into the vortex of multicultural Energy that was mid-90s London, where she had relocated and where strange hybrids such as jungle and trip-hop were bubbling." Post built on the dance-pop blueprint of Debut, but pushed its production and beats to the fore, "adding influence from all over the world." While the "distant echoes" of IDM and trip-hop were present in Debut, Post is characterized by Björk's fuller incorporation of these styles. Referred to as a "genre roulette" by the San Francisco Chronicle, it touches on various musical styles, including industrial music, big-band jazz, trip-hop, chillout, and experimental music. The balance between synthetic and organic elements in the album – generated through the combination of electronic and "real" instruments – is a recurring characteristic in Björk's output.
When asked if she was inspired by David Bowie, Björk replied that she could not associate herself with his artistry, saying: "Obviously, [David Bowie] is a musical legend, and I really respect him as an Artist, especially the visual aspect of what he does. But for me, it is part of the patriarchal world that is rock 'n' roll. I never listened to a lot of rock. I prefer electronic music, which is less virile. I feel more belonging to this family than that of David Bowie. At home I mostly Listen to instrumental music, experimental, I like to discover sounds I had never heard before." In 1996, when asked about the musical influences of her album Post, Björk stated:
With her 1997 album Homogenic, Björk intended to make a "simple record with 'only one flavour'", in contrast with her previous releases. Conceptually focused on her native Iceland, the album is a "fusion of chilly strings (courtesy of the Icelandic String Octet), stuttering, abstract beats, and unique touches like accordion and glass harmonica". Björk incorporated a traditional singing method used by Icelandic choir men, a combination of speaking and singing as illustrated in the song "Unravel". While Homogenic still showed Björk "steeping in the cutting edge of electronic dance-music culture, her embrace of techno futurism, her time spent pulling all-nighters in London clubs", Neva Chonin of Rolling Stone stated the album was "certain to be rough going for fans looking for the sweet melodies and peppy dance collages of her earlier releases."
In 1998, Björk established her own short-lived record label, Ear Records, which operated under the One Little Indian Records umbrella. Her only signee that received a release was her long-time friend, Magga Stína. Magga Stína recorded her debut solo album under the production of Björk's longtime collaborator, Graham Massey (of the British electronica act 808 State.) The album was simply titled An Album and featured just one single release, "Naturally". In 1998, Björk invited Magga Stína to perform as her support act on the Homogenic Tour, and in 2004 Magga Stína contributed to the production of Medúlla. Magga Stína is presently still performing and recording in Iceland.
In 1999, Björk was asked to write and produce the musical score for the film Dancer in the Dark, a musical drama 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, convincing her that the only true way to capture the character of Selma was to have the Composer of the music play the character. Eventually, she accepted. Filming began in early 1999, and the film debuted in 2000 at the 53rd Cannes Film Festival. The film received the Palme d'Or, and Björk received the Best Actress Award for her role. It was reported that the shoot was so physically and emotionally tiring that she vowed never to act again. She stated about Trier, who among other things shattered a monitor while it was next to her, "...you can take quite sexist film Directors like Woody Allen or Stanley Kubrick and still they are the one that provide the soul to their movies. In Lars von Trier’s case it is not so and he knows it. He needs a female to provide his work soul. And he envies them and hates them for it. So he has to destroy them during the filming. And hide the evidence." Björk later stated that she always wanted to do one musical in her life, and Dancer in the Dark was the one. The Soundtrack Björk created for the film was released with the title Selmasongs. The album features a duet with Thom Yorke of Radiohead titled "I've Seen It All", which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Original Song and was performed at the 2001 Oscars (without Yorke), while Björk was wearing her celebrated "swan dress", a copy of which was auctioned off for international aid agency Oxfam on eBay and sold for $9,500 in 2005.
In 2001, Björk became aware of Canadian Inuit throat singer Tanya Tagaq and invited her to perform on several dates of Björk's Vespertine World Tour as a special guest. In 2004, Tagaq was invited to collaborate on the a cappella album, Medúlla, in which the duet "Ancestors" was recorded. "Ancestors" was later featured on Tagaq's first solo album, Sinaa, in 2005.
In 2002 the CD box set Family Tree appeared, containing a retrospective of Björk's career, comprising many previously unreleased versions of her compositions, including her work with the Brodsky Quartet. Also released alongside Family Tree 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 her website. A DVD edition of the CD was also released. It contained all of Björk's solo music videos up to that point. The new single from the set, "It's in Our Hands" charted in the UK at number 37. The video, directed by Spike Jonze, features a heavily pregnant Björk. Björk gave birth to daughter Isadora Bjarkardottir Barney on 3 October 2002. Björk and the Brodsky Quartet recorded a composition written, especially for her, by Composer John Tavener called "Prayer of the Heart" in 2001, and it was played then for a slide show presentation in 2003 for the American Photographer, Nan Goldin. In 2003, Björk released a box set called Live Box, consisting of four CDs containing live recordings of her previous albums and a DVD featuring a video of one track from each CD. Each of the four CDs was later released separately at a reduced price.
In 2004, Leila discovered the work of Finnish multimedia Artist Heidi Kilpeläinen, who had taken her combination of lo-fi, homemade electro pop with her own self-produced music videos and combined them under the alter ego character, HK119. Leila soon referred HK119's work to Björk, who started mentioning HK119 in various press and interviews. In 2004, Björk announced HK119 as her favourite act of 2004 and cited her as "The Perfect Blonde Woman". HK119 was soon signed to Björk's parent label One Little Indian Records, which released her debut album in 2006. HK119 and Björk appeared in a joint interview in Dazed & Confused magazine in 2006, where Björk stated about HK119's work, "It's unique. Even if I gave you $3 million, you couldn't improve on it... [Its] simplicity is [its] strength." HK119 later released her albums, Fast, Cheap and Out of Control in 2008 and Imaginature in 2013, both on One Little Indian Records.
On 2 July 2005 Björk took part in the Live 8 series of concerts, headlining the Japan show with Do As Infinity, Good Charlotte, and McFly. She performed eight songs with Matmos, a Japanese string octet, and Zeena Parkins.
In 2005, Björk collaborated with partner Matthew Barney on the experimental art film Drawing Restraint 9, a dialogueless exploration of Japanese culture. Björk and Barney both appear in the film, playing two occidental guests on a Japanese factory whaling vessel who ultimately transform into two whales. She is also responsible for the film's Soundtrack, her second after Selmasongs. Björk also appeared in the 2005 documentary Screaming Masterpiece, which delves into the Icelandic music scene. The movie features archive footage of the Sugarcubes and Tappi Tíkarrass and an ongoing conversation with Björk herself. During this era, Björk earned another BRIT Awards nomination for Best International Female Solo Artist. She was also awarded the Inspiration Award at the Annual Q Magazine Awards in October 2005, accepting the prize from Robert Wyatt, with whom she collaborated on Medúlla. In 2006, Björk remastered her first three solo studio albums (Debut, Post, Homogenic) and her two Soundtrack albums (Selmasongs and Drawing Restraint 9) in 5.1 surround sound for a re-issue in a new box-set titled Surrounded, released on 27 June. Vespertine and Medúlla were already available in 5.1 as either DVD-A or SACD but are also included in the box set in repackaged format. The DualDiscs were also released separately. Björk's former band, the Sugarcubes, reunited for a one-night-only concert in Reykjavík on 17 November 2006. Profits from the concert were donated to the Sugarcubes' former label, Smekkleysa, who according to Björk's press statement, "continue to work on a non-profit basis for the Future betterment of Icelandic music".
Volta, released in 2007, received coverage after the inclusion of R&B Producer Timbaland; however, NME wrote that "this is not Björk 'going hip-hop' or having a late-breaking pop reinvention." It has been said that the album: "finds the perfect balance between the vibrancy of her poppier work in the '90s and her experiments in the 2000s." Björk wanted the album's beats to be "effortless, primitive, lo-fi style", in contrast with Vespertine. It combines a large brass ensemble with live and programmed drums and "ethnic instruments" like likembé, pipa and kora. Volta alternates between potent, joyful songs, and moodier, more contemplative tracks, "all of which are tied together by found-sound and brass-driven interludes that give the impression that the album was recorded in a harbor".
Björk has also taken an interest in environmental issues in her native country. In 2006, she took part in the "Hætta" concert in Reykjavík, organised in protest against the building of Alcoa aluminium smelters in the country, which would make Iceland the biggest smelter in Europe. She founded the organization "Náttúra", which aims to promote Icelandic nature and grassroots industries. On 28 October 2008, Björk wrote an article for the Times discussing the state of the Icelandic economy and her thoughts on the proposed use of natural resources to get the country out of debt. Björk, in collaboration with Audur Capital, set up a venture capital fund titled "BJÖRK" to support the creation of sustainable industries in Iceland. She has written the foreword to the English translation of the Iceland bestseller by Andri Snær Magnason titled "Dreamland".
In 2009, Björk used her website and various radio interviews throughout the year to promote two more new acts. The first was fellow Icelandic musician, Ólöf Arnalds, who is also a member of Icelandic folktronica band múm. In 2006, Arnalds released her debut solo album Við Og Við in Iceland, which Björk citied as one of her favourite recent new acts of the last few years during a radio interview, and encouraged One Little Indian Records to reissue the album in the UK and Europe in 2009. On the same radio show for the American NPR channel, Björk also praised the works of emerging English Artist Micachu and the more obscure, Omar Souleyman. Björk later used her official website to host the premier of Micachu's debut video on the Rough Trade Records, "Turn Me Well".
On 21 May 2010, Björk wrote an open letter in the newspaper The Reykjavík Grapevine, calling on the Icelandic government to "do everything in its power to revoke the contracts with Magma Energy", the Canadian company which now has complete ownership of Icelandic geothermal company HS Orka.
Björk has a Soprano vocal range spanning from E3 to D6, which has been described as both "elastic" and "somersaulting" in quality as well as having been praised for her scatting ability, unique vocal stylings and delivery. In a review for her live performance at the 2011 Manchester International Festival, Bernadette McNulty of The Daily Telegraph commented, "the 45-year-old still uses electronic dance beats with a full-blooded raver's passion and the elemental timbre of her voice has grown more powerful with age". Björk has been known to reach notes beyond the seventh and eighth octave through her use of reverse phonation.
In late 2012, it was reported that Björk had undergone surgery for a polyp on her vocal cords. Commenting on the success of the procedure after years of maintaining a strict diet and using vocal exercises to prevent vocal injury, she stated, "I have to say, in my case anyway: surgery rocks! [...] I stayed quiet for three weeks and then started singing and definitely feel like my cords are as good as pre-nodule, it's been very satisfying to sing all them clear notes again." However, in a review for Biophilia, Kitty Empire of The Guardian stated that pre-surgery Björk still sounded strong, commenting that her voice was "spectacular and swooping", particularly on the song "Thunderbolt".
In July 2013, she featured in a Channel 4 documentary programme along with Sir David Attenborough called When Björk Met Attenborough, as part of their Mad4Music season of programmes. Björk and Attenborough discussed the human relationship with music, focusing around Biophilia, and also featuring scientist Oliver Sacks. In 2014, the apps were the first ever to be inducted into the Museum of Modern Art's permanent collection. In June, Björk recorded original vocal samples for Death Grips, which they used on all 8 songs of Niggas on the Moon, the first part of their double LP, The Powers That B. In late 2014, a concert film, Björk: Biophilia Live, was released worldwide, including in more than 400 cinemas.
In 2014, Björk helped to organize Stopp, Let's Protect the Park, an event that aimed to raise money and awareness towards the preservation of Icelandic nature. The event included a show at Harpa Concert Hall at which Björk herself also performed three songs. The concert initially raised $310,000 and the project went on to raise £3 million overall, with plans to use the money to establish a national park.
Björk's work is idiosyncratically collaborative, having worked with various producers, Photographers, fashion designers and music video Directors. This, however, has sometimes led to the lack of acknowledgment of auteurship in her music, something Björk attributes to being a woman. She has discussed this in a 2015 The Pitchfork Review interview:
On 7 March 2016, Björk announced in an interview that she and Arca were working on her next full-length studio album. "The last album, we sort of call it 'hell'. It was like divorce!" she said. "So we are doing paradise now. Utopia. We have done hell, we have earned some points." On 3 June 2016, Björk launched Björk Digital, a virtual reality exhibit showcasing all the VR videos completed for Vulnicura thus far, including the world premiere of "Notget", directed by Warren du Preez and Nick Thornton Jones, at Carriageworks for Vivid Sydney 2016 in Sydney, Australia. She DJ'd the opening night party and did the same when the show traveled to Tokyo, Japan on 29 June, showing at Miraikan. During the Miraikan residency, Björk made history by featuring in the world's first ever virtual reality live stream broadcast on YouTube. She gave a live performance of Vulnicura's final song "Quicksand", and the footage was incorporated into the "Quicksand" VR experience. Björk Digital has traveled the world with stops in London, Montreal, Houston, Los Angeles and Barcelona.
On 2 August 2017, Björk announced her unnamed new album with a hand-written note on social media, stating that the album "will be out very soon." The news broke a day before Dazed magazine released their August 2017 issue featuring Björk on the cover. She described it as her "Tinder album" and stated that "it's about that search (for utopia) – and about being in love. Spending time with a person you enjoy is when the dream becomes real." The album was produced by Björk and Arca, whom she collaborated with on Vulnicura. Björk has described her collaborative journey with Arca as "the strongest musical relationship [she's] had", likening it to that of Joni Mitchell and Jaco Pastorius during the albums Hejira and Don Juan's Reckless Daughter ("It's that synergy when two people lose their ego"), which have both been praised by Björk. With the announcement came pre-order links to Björk's official online stores featuring blank place-holder images and the news that the album will be released on vinyl and two different CD versions. Four song titles have been revealed: "Allow", "Loss", "Features Creatures" and "The Gate", the latter of which has had a music video shot for it by visual Artist Andrew Thomas Huang. The lead single of her upcoming album, "The Gate", was released at midnight on 15 September, three days earlier than the originally announced release date. A single-sided 12" vinyl of the song was released on 22 September and was made available for pre-order. On September 15, the album title was announced as Utopia. It was released on November 24, 2017.