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Artist Spotlight: The evolution of Björk

Björk is not an unfamiliar name in households across the U.S. 

From her well-known swan dress to her growing discography, Björk is a name many simply cannot forget. With hits such as "Big Time Sensuality," "Human Behavior" and "Army of Me," Björk has explored various sounds and emotions throughout her 10 studio albums and 41 singles. 

Born in Iceland, Björk Guðmundsdóttir has showcased her numerous talents since the age of 11, beginning with the release of her album "Björk" in 1977. The album gained national recognition in Iceland because of the impressive vocals from an 11-year-old. 

In her later years, she joined the band The Sugarcubes, which consisted of five other members. The establishment of The Sugarcubes would mark Björk's shift into maturity and into what many would consider alternative music. Björk led the Sugarcubes to national fame as their lead singer with her unique style of singing and vocal ability. The group would go on to release three albums before ultimately splitting in 1992 as a result of Björk's desire for a solo career.

Following the disbandment of The Sugarcubes, Björk soon released her album "Debut" with songs such as "Venus as a Boy," "Human Behavior" and a cover of Bill Evans' "Like Someone in Love" in 1993. This would mark yet another shift in Björk's musical direction as the music of "Debut" heavily contrasted with the music by The Sugarcubes. In her podcast "Sonic Symbolism," Björk describes the album "Debut" with the words 'shy' and 'beginner.' Throughout many of the songs on this album, youthful love is a recurring concept shown in many of the lyrics. "Debut" received many awards and acclaim for its creativity.

Two years after the release of Debut, Björk released her album "Post." This album is arguably Björk's most popular album and critically acclaimed album. "Post" consists of songs like "It's Oh So Quiet," "Army of Me" and "Hyperballad." In "Sonic Symbolism," Björk describes "Post" as "urban, promiscuous and greedy." 

In "Post," multiple genres, sounds, and elements are heard, making it a staple in Björk's discography. For example, in "Army of Me," which Björk describes as 'promiscuous,' the grunge and angsty sound along with its lyrics make it an iconic piece that stands out from many of her other songs. On the contrary, the song "It's Oh So Quiet" (originally by Betty Hutton), is a dynamically powerful piece with strong brass and sporadic yells by Björk but also filled with moments of quiet and whispers. An album with such dynamic contrast and creativity is well deserving of the acclaim it received.

The following year, in 1996, Björk's public image would take a drastic turn. In February, Björk's infamous paparazzi controversy took place. During that incident, she attacked a reporter for what appeared to be nothing but was later revealed to be a result of the reporter's previous harassment. While many applauded her behavior and agreed with her actions, many found it to be aggressive and unnecessary. Later on in the year, Björk would run into another issue. Ricardo Lopez was a Björk superfan whose obsession with the singer took a turn for the worse when Björk started seeing singer Goldie. Upon finding out this news, Ricardo mailed a "letterbomb" to the singer's house in an attempt to end her life. Lopez then took his own life on tape. This frightened and upset her, but she still sent her best wishes to Lopez's family.

Despite this hiccup in her career, she still released "Homogenic" on Sept. 20, 1997. That date was a year after Ricardo Lopez attempted to kill her. Björk describes "Homogenic" with the words' warrior' and 'active.' In "Joga," she sings of a "state of emergency" and how it's where she wants to be. She writes this after living the hyper lifestyle of a Londoner after being in the silence and seclusion of Iceland for all of her life. 

"Homogenic" is definitely a fan favorite along with her album "Vespertine," which explores sensuality as a whole and in the controversial yet popular song, "Pagan Poetry." The song earns its controversy due to the music video, which is widely considered explicit. In an interview, Björk says she purposefully crafted "Vespertine" into a comfortable and intimate album, which she describes as an "introvert euphoria" and "paradise in your home." 

Following the releases of "Medulla" and "Drawing Restraint # 9" in 2004 and 2005, respectively, Björk released "Volta," a somewhat unpopular album among fans. Instead of her cozy and more avant-garde tunes, "Volta" presents as more upbeat and lighter than her other albums. This album is filled with brass, boat sounds and tribal beats. 

With a faster tempo of about 109, "Earth Intruders" contains many tribal elements and upbeat elements as well as boat sounds. The ending of the song is purely boat and ocean sounds. The boat sounds are a result of her sailing the oceans with her family after living in the fast-paced environment of New York for a while. In her sonic symbolism episode for "Volta," she explains how she wasn't fond of the events of 9/11 which prompted her to move when her second child was born. 

In her song "Declare Independence" from Volta, Björk chants, "Raise your flag! Don't let them do that to you!" while strong, impactful beats plague the background. In 2008, while performing a concert, Björk shouted "Tibet! Tibet!" This brewed controversy due to the occupation of Tibet by China for many years. As a result, Björk was told she would not be able to perform in China if such behavior was repeated.

After "Volta," Björk then released "Biophilia" in 2011, "Vulnicura" in 2015 and "Utopia" in 2017 before going on a five-year hiatus. During this hiatus, she experienced the devastating loss of her mother, Hildur Rúna Hauksdóttir in 2019. The loss of her mother is one of the factors that prompted her to release the emotional album, "Fossora," in 2022. In "Fossora," Björk explores the feelings of grief as well as the inability to connect to certain things. The sounds of "Fossora" range from orchestral to what some would call "bass clarinet reggaeton." In an interview with Pitchfork, Björk describes "Atopos" as a song to express how she would often "use her bright outlook to shut down tricky situations." 

In the same interview, she discusses how she was "thrown into a whirlwind of grief" and struggled to create a service she desired to attend since she isn't a fan of funerals. Björk uses "Fossora" to beautifully express her mother's death and the emotions that came with it. It's enough to assist listeners in creating an understanding of this situation from the depths of Björk's mind.

As of 2023, Björk is set to release a collaboration with Rosalía called "Oral." Björk recorded this track in her 30's about 20 years ago. 

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