5 times björk predicted the future
We celebrate the Icelandic icon's birthday not by looking back, but forward.
Today is icon, hero, supreme creature Björk's birthday. To celebrate 50 years of her being the most magical person on earth, we're not so much looking at the past, but rather her uncanny connection to the future. Eternally ahead of her time, the Icelandic singer has a pretty impressive track record of knowing what music, the arts, and humanity will flock to next. Here are five times that Björk knew what we needed before we did.
She knew electro and pop were made for each other: Before coming together on Björk's first grown-up album Debut — and the critical and commercial success it attracted — the two genres were seen as very different beasts. But from the dawn of her solo career Björk set out to rip down any creative barriers, and show that elitism had no place in making music. That early success of melting pop and electronica has inspired musicians everywhere, including Madonna. The superstar followed Björk's lead on her sixth studio LP, Bedtime Story, released a year later than Debut. Björk actually wrote the title track, where Madonna sweetly sings "Let's get unconscious honey." While the album saw a patchy reception, it put Madonna on the path that would lead to Ray of Light — the album that ushered in one of her many career renaissances. The Madonna collaboration isn't even the most unexpected of Björk's career. She worked with hip-hop producer Timbaland on her sixth studio alum, Volta, and even had plans to collaborate with Beyonce on Medúlla, her fifth LP. Unfortunately, they din't come to fruition due to scheduling difficulties — but there's always time.
She knew Michel Gondry would be a music video god: While we're all now well aware that the Oscar-winning French director is the patron saint of genre-defying music videos, in 1993 he was just starting out. Before Björk brought him on board to create the "Human Behavior" clip, Gondry had only made one music video for the French band Oui Oui — and he was the drummer. The two immediately established a creative connection though, and Michel went on to make videos for several other tracks. Of course, recruiting Gondry isn't the only time Bjork has played talent scout. She introduced the world to Micachu and the Shapes in 2009, when she debuted their beautiful song "Turn Me Well" on her own YouTube channel. "It is always good to do something different. And to hear new stuff," the singer wrote. A decade earlier in 1997, she asked Alexander McQueen — then just appointed as creative director of Givenchy — to design the clothing she'd wear on the cover of Homogenic.
She knew that albums would evolve into full media projects: Before Lemonade there was Biophilia. The 2011 album was a full multimedia project that merged music and tech in a way that hadn't been seen before, or really since. It's often called the first "app album" — Björk made 10 different applications that related to specific songs. They all linked to essays, lyrics, detailed musical breakdowns and even instrumental versions of the tracks. In a personal touch, David Attenborough (Björk's personal hero) welcomed users to the project. Biophilia also holds the honor of being the first downloadable app to join MoMA's permanent collection.
And she knew that things wouldn't stop there: After Biophilia, Björk pushed media, tech, and imaginations further with Vulnicura by taking on virtual reality. The singer can claim the impressive feat of releasing the first major 360 degree music video. That was in 2015, for the Vulnicura song "Stonemilker." But of course, that wasn't all. She released a 'moving album cover' for the record, and created another seven videos to be released on VR platforms. At the same time the artist developed the Björk Digital exhibition, a traveling show which allowed her fans to view the music videos as she intended: through VR headsets, given few people have them lying around at home. In the year since Björk went virtual, The Weeknd has tried his hand at a VR music video, as have Duran Duran, Jack White, and Avicii. Just as she helped merge electronic music with pop, she's fused music and technology in a way that no other artist has. But to her, the feat probably isn't so impressive. In 2014, she explained her view of technology in a Facebook post, writing, "the word 'nature' and the word 'techno' mean the same thing....for example, a little cabin in the mountains: an ape thinks it's techno, it is the future, but for us it has become nature." To her, she's just looking at things from a different angle. "We must live with both," she concluded. "It is very important. We can't be just nature or just techno."
Oh, did we mention her looks: Björk's not just ahead of her time sonically, she runs ahead of the curve aesthetically too. But you already knew that. Those signature space buns return to fashion every two or three years without fail, and she'd been doing it well before Gwen Stefani got there, bringing legions of American teens with her. More recently, she been a champion of the artist James Merry, who's behind many of the elaborately embroidered headpieces Björk's worn at live shows and DJ sets. The singer was also an early supporter of the possibilities 3D printing presented to fashion. Over the past few years, her live wardrobe has been provided almost exclusively by the designer Iris van Herpen, who could fairly be described as the pre-eminent creative using 3D printing in fashion. Björk has worn dresses from Iris' collections dating back to 2009 (the fall/winter 2010 offering, Synesthesia) and their relationship continues to this day. Van Herpen served as wardrobe designer on Björk's ten-minute epic Black Lake. Actually, the singer is still ahead of us on this one, because we're yet to see 3D printed clothing hit the mainstream.
Text Wendy Syfret and Isabelle Hellyer
Photography Lorenzo Agius