Style

Great Moments in Björk History

And this is only clothing-wise.

Björk, amazing as ever in 2011.

Perhaps it’s because her voice is so otherworldly that Björk is so often portrayed as something other than an adult woman; she is a faerie, a pixie, a sprite, a magic other, a child—never an exacting pop star making pop art. What really she is, however, is more like a superhero. Just when music is getting perfectly boring, she shows up with a new album, and reminds you that you could stand to be living a more imaginative life—or least being more creative with your look. In honor of the enigmatic Icelandic singer’s latest, Biophilia, and the giant orange afro wig that has been engulfing her head of late, here are 10 inspiring moments from her musical past.
 
 
1982: Performing with Tappi Tíkarrass. What’s a more subversive onstage look than the classic ’90s kinderwhore babydoll dress? I’ll tell you: literally dressing like a baby doll. Here, a 16-year-old Björk, in her first serious band, takes what set her apart—her femininity and her youth—and exaggerates them for a feminist, fuck-you effect. It’d be like if Lana Del Rey started performing in full-on Toddlers & Tiaras drag.


 
 
1985: On TV with her band Kukl. Björk’s being 19 years old and seven months pregnant is not necessarily inspiring on its own. That she is performing with her anarcho-feminist punk band in a half-shirt on national television is.


 
 
1988: Björk’s Mr. Wizard Moment on a European Christmas special. When Björk’s band the Sugarcubes becomes famous, she uses a TV interview to explain how television works and the changing nature of her relationship to it. Her nerd mind and her fantasy mind intersect. She needs her own Mr. Wizard-style show about household science where she debunks myths and disembowels small machines. I would get cable just to watch Björk’s Everyday Science. Also: Her au naturel brows are a solid argument against tweezing. Also also: she’s wearing a watch on both wrists.


 
 
1989: Video for the Sugarcubes’ “Eat the Menu.” Björk again subverts the high feminine ideal by rocking a figure-skating dress and sparkly tights with a bowl cut, no makeup and some sneaks.


 
 
Circa 1992: Björk’s house in Iceland on Cribs. Björk gives a tour of her house and also takes us to her favorite bubbling mud pit. I like that she really knows that she needs to live near water and have a surplus of over-the-top chandeliers.


 
 
1993: “Big Time Sensuality” video. I see a lot of girls around doing the campus-casual pajama bottoms, as if their billowing patterned flannelwear might magically pass for actual pants-pants. Here, Björk reminds us that if you are going to do an “outdoor jammies” look, you should step it up: sure, she’s wearing a full-length silk nightgown—but with a mohair half-sweater and a headful of mini-buns.


 
 
1996: Bravo Profile on Björk. Björk says in the interview, “If you want to make something happen that hasn’t happened before, you’ve got to allow yourself to make a lot of mistakes. Then the real magic will happen. If you just play it really safe, you won’t get any treats.” This could be your new mantra.


 
 
2000: Dancer in the Dark. Björk had been acting in art films since she was a teenager, so it made sense that the controversial director Lars Von Trier would cast her as the lead in his depressing and strange musical. Not exactly a risky career move, these two weirdos working together. The real risk is that she plays someone who suffers, is exploited, and then dies tragically, spending the last minutes of the movie swinging at the end of a noose. Dancer in the Dark was the last thing you wanted or expected from Björk, and she did it anyhow.


 
 
2001: The Swan Dress. While every other woman at the Ocars is shellacked with makeup and girdled into breathlessness, Björk shows up with messy hair, a dress that looks like she’s wearing a dead bird draped from her neck, and a pair of strappy cha-cha heels. Oh, and she also lays an egg on the red carpet. The lesson: special occasions call for a memorable dress.


 
 
2009: She uses girl bands to back her up. Björk has used all-female choirs pretty consistently, including indigenous singing groups. For her latest performances she’s got a crew of Icelandic women two dozen deep, filling in the oohs and aahs of her heavenly harmonies. Here, in a performance recorded for her Voltaic box set, she’s got an all-lady horn section. If you ever wonder if your French horn can really take you places beyond the band room, consider this:

17 Comments

  • Lascelles November 14th, 2011 11:13 PM

    My fav is Letterman.

    http://youtu.be/hJyLZ0mYOyw

  • Girly Folk November 14th, 2011 11:26 PM

    I squinted when I read all those “feminist” this “feminist” that drops in regards to her early music projects and the like: Björk has a complicated history with feminism. At least from her Post period up til Medúlla, her comments re: feminism were ambivalent at best, and skeptical at worst (you can access her faq page, a collection of quotes on subjects that she’s spoken on here: http://blog.bjork.com/facts/about/). I can say that she has a better appreciation of it now and says she is more “feminist” now than before, but until she says she’s feminist, I don’t think its cool to write her as one. I think actions can be “feminist,” but not people if they don’t want the label.
    Anyhow, I was happy enough that you spelled her name correctly and added the dots above the o. Even the New York Times is incapable of that.

  • Ruby B. November 14th, 2011 11:56 PM

    THAT AFRO

    OH MY GOD

    I AM IN LOVE WITH THAT WIG

    Ruby
    therubylotus.wordpress.com
    Providing inane comments since 1997

  • LittleRed November 15th, 2011 12:33 AM

    Björk is enchanting!

  • MichyMich November 15th, 2011 1:35 AM

    Björk is REAL performance art! The outfits are worth seeing – I can see where Lady Gaga got her inspiration from! (I’m not insulting Gaga, I also respect her work) A lot her ideas are so out there – I would LOVE to see more offbeat performers mix fashion, music and performance art in an original manner. I’m pretty amazed that she wears the most offbeat clothes like that infamous swan dress and Balenciaga heels without having a stylist.

  • Alice s November 15th, 2011 4:33 AM

    Amazing post! There should really be a part 2 of this, there are so many great moments in Björk history! Like the Venus as a Boy-video, mm.

  • definedelirium November 15th, 2011 5:36 AM

    FINALLY a piece on björk! i actually squealed in delight when i saw the preview for this.

    great selection of videos!

  • jessic-uhhh November 15th, 2011 5:50 AM

    You guys just got a lot of cool points for knowing who Tappi Tikarrass and KUKL are. Keep it up :)

  • weepygonzales November 15th, 2011 11:05 AM

    Can’t really think of anything to add to Girly Folk’s comment. “I think actions can be “feminist,” but not people if they don’t want the label.”

  • Pelle November 15th, 2011 12:46 PM

    Bjork’s performance in “Dancer in the Dark” is one of the most astonishing of all time. Typical Academy, the only nom she got was for best song & even then, lost out to Bobby D.

  • EBDain November 15th, 2011 1:16 PM

    I forgot that Bjork was a child when she broke out on the scene. People loved her in the Sugarcubes. You could see that she was brilliant, amazing and otherworldly.

    When she wore the Swan Dress to the Oscars she became a laughing stock in the mainstream media. However, this was the time when she became infamous. Being vilified in the press had its advantages and Bjork has gone on to be one of the most visible and innovative conceptual artists of our time. No matter what your opinion of her may be, there is no denying that Bjork is and continues to be one of our cultural novelties.

  • Ann November 15th, 2011 4:36 PM

    she is brilliant. in every way. intellectually, artistically, musically, fashionistically, poetically…anyone who could dismiss her as being a joke is an idiot.

  • kelsey November 15th, 2011 6:27 PM

    “You shouldn’t let poets lie to you” is my new mantra. I’m having a t-shirt made of that.

  • ticklemesilver November 15th, 2011 10:28 PM

    I never really notice Björk as a fashion sage nor as an artist but this article really opened my eyes to both :)

  • raptorseatingsquirrels November 16th, 2011 12:32 AM

    My all time favorite Bjork moment is when she sung satisfaction with PJ Harvey, literally it is amaaazing it is so powerful. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2AX2bcWtg1Q
    watch it!

    p.s. i have been reading rookie since day 1so keep up the good work!

  • Katrine November 16th, 2011 7:24 PM

    This seems to call to question the entire worldly purpose of poets. Not that it wasn’t a pretty glorious statement to end a gloriously amazing monologue on the techni-magical wonders of television, though. Just, what am I to do with poets then?

  • Sam November 17th, 2011 3:15 PM

    MY HERO