From behind the black-lacquered door of a west London house, the sounds of screaming can be heard. Suddenly the door swings open and it’s Björk. Dancing a jig. “It’s St. Patrick’s Day in here !” the twenty-nine year-old pop siren yells over a tape of the Dubliners. Ushering me inside, the self-described immigrant in London shouts, “Oh, I love chaos !”
Although Björk has lived in London for the last two and a half years and comes there from Iceland, a country where even government officials believe in fairies, she was unacquainted with today’s elfin celebration until just this week. Rebecca, the Irish babysitter of her eight year old son, has filled her in : “You wear green and get drunk.” With Guinnes in hand, Rebecca is on her way to the latter, but instead of green she’s wearing a hot pink and fluorescent yellow Lurex miniskirt, a gift from her employer. “So she could go out tonight, be really sexy.” Björk, in erotic elf mode, explains.
Upstairs, in the third floor loft where she sleeps and has written most of the songs for her new album, Post, her lookalike son Sindri is engrossed in Lemmings-II—a computer game appropriate for the holiday as it’s populated entirely with trolls. Maybe the scene here is a bit unconventional—the kitchen counter downstairs is stacked not with pots and pans but hundreds of CDs, and most mothers probably don’t condone their babysitters drinking on the job. But the main impression is one of happy domesticity.
So what if Björk’s solo breakthrough, 1993’s Debut, sold two million copies worldwide and transformed the former lead singer of the Sugarcubes into an international pop star, fashion icon, and notorious media kook ? She sees herself as “first and foremost a housewife and mother.” Later tonight she’ll go pop-star wild—dancing and getting “scandalously drunk” with Michael Stipe and photographer Anton Corbijn. But last night she came home from a day of interviews and photo shoots, made popcorn, and watched the sequel to Aladdin with Sindri, then curled up with him at ten for a good night’s sleep.
Sindri takes after his mom : when Björk leads me into his room, I find the walls are covered with his colored pencil drawings. “Shall I show you something really naughty ?” she asks, directing my attention to the ceiling. There, right over Sindri’s bunk bed, is a full-size drawing of a naked woman, complete with pubic hair and what looks like tattooed breasts. “My son drew this”, Björk explains in loving, hushed tones, “so he could see me while he’s sleeping. Isn’t that sentimental ?”
And with that line—funny, unexpected, and way off-centre—we have reached less than ten minutes perfect Björknicity.
If you mixed Prince with Sade with Charo you’d get Björk. She wears wacky outfits and writes and arranges hyperpersonal songs that are accessible enough to sell truckloads ; she sings those songs with a breathless, unmistakable wail ; and without seeming to think about it, she twitches her nose, wiggles her butt, and shoots out strings of quotable non sequiturs in broken English. In short, she’s the perfect pop package.
Debut took Björk form college cult to MTV icon. With Soul II Soul and Massive Attack producer Neellee Hooper, Björk crystallized a ’90s dance-pop archetype, discarding the harsh, surreal rock of the Sugarcubes for an eccentric techno-jazz soudtrack house brew that sacrificed none of her idiosyncrasy. Songs like “Violently Happy” summed up a worldview that put all its faith in emotional abandon instead of logic. “Too much cleverness,” says Björk, is “the worst disease in the world. It ruins everything. Give us a laugh—make us happy.” Debut, Björk said at the time of its release, was a collection of songs she’d written over the previous ten years. Post—so named because Björk “likes to get letters and I want this album to be like a delivery”— consists of new songs that reflect the singer’s last two years in London. Nellee Hooper is joined by new friends of Björk’s : Scottish DJ/producer Howie B on the wild, modern-Latin “I Miss You” ; 808 State’s Graham Massey on the thumping, techno “Army Of Me” ; and trip-hop star Tricky on the ardent, ambient “Headphones”.
Post, like Debut, is utterly uncategorizable—there’s even a brief foray into kitschy, screaming swing : a cover of MGM musical star Betty Hutton’s “Blow A Fuse”, inspired by Björk’s New York drag queen pal Perfidia. The first single, “Army of Me” (which also appears on the Tank Girl soundtrack), is the album’s straightest song, a manifesto about self-sufficiency—a very Icelandic trait, I’m told. Björk will see to it next week, however, that the video isn’t so straight ; it will include a dentist played by a monkey, and a truckful of bugs. Björk hopes she can “pick some and take them home”.
This will be the second Björk video to spotlight insects : The clip for Debut’s “Human Behaviour” featured a giant moth, as well as a giant bear romping in the woods. Björk is a freak for nature, having grown up amid active volcanoes and crashing waterfalls. But in London she has to take her nature wherever she can find it. And yesterday, she found it in bed. It seems she woke up feeling a bit sad. She’d been working on Post nonstop, and there was only more work ahead : interviews, photo shoots, a video. And for what ? She didn’t even have a boyfriend.
“So I’m lying there, really trying to make sense out of this,” she recalls. “So I said, Okay, if you mix your record for six weeks and you only sleep for four hours every night, is there a lover with a big ribbon around him when you come home ? No.” And with that thought, she glanced down, and sitting on her nightshirt was a moth. Anyone else might have run for a can of Black Flag. But Björk called her old friend, Sjón, an Icelandic poet, to discuss the metaphysical implications of her new bug friend.
“We got stupid silly, like you do in the morning, and we made up this nonsense about how the moth is coming from the Unexplained. And it’s telling you, Don’t even try to understand it ! It’s the reverse of Pinocchio—you know, what’s his name, Timity Tricket ? He was trying to make Pinocchio be sensible, and this is the other way around.” So that this theoryzing shouldn’t go to waste, she asked Sjón to write lyrics for a tune she hadn’t yet recorded for Post. Then she collected the moth, picked up her favourite doll, and headed off for the day’s photo shoot.
Björk knows how all this appears. “You may think I’m weird and kooky and all that. But I’m sorry, the world is full of moths and dolls. At least 70 percent of me is very, very common sense and practical girl.” This is the Björk that is rarely seen, the not-so-nutty side that oversees all of Björkdom—T-shirts included—that takes her PowerBook with her wherever she goes in case she needs a phone number, and that has raised a son who, when he’s done with his homework, reads encyclopedias for fun. “I’m very downto- earth,” she insists. “I have to make sure there’s bread and electricity—I’m that kind of practical girl, really.”
Slurping a bowl of Singapore laksa while slugging champagne in a Balinese restaurant, Björk implies that the biggest change in her life since she got to London is her recent inability to settle on a man. She sees this as a sign of weakness and hates it. She’s always had a man, and they’ve always lasted awhile : “Only four in thirteen years.” Looking at her across the table, her hair down and her orange blouse (worn for the third straight day) hanging open to reveal a white lace bra, you feel it’s definitely her choice to be single. Though she often comes across like a giddy, freckled tomboy, at moments like this Björk morphs into what has been referred to as “sex on a stick.”
And sex is the subject she’s stuck on now. Björk likes it. A lot. “If a doctor would measure me,” she grins, perhaps imagining a way of calibrating the libido, “he would think I would have to have sex three times a day.” She admits that she’s “outrageously greedy” when it comes to sex—so much so that “it’s, you know... a problem.” But one she’s learning to deal with. “I sort of do karate and swimming and working out and masturbating all morning every day and then I’m okay.” The old saw about women needing less sex than men is simply not true, she says—it’s just that women are brought up to be nurturers rather than sexual predators. “A woman will be just as greedy and want hardcore sex like a man,” Björk says. “She’d much rather fuck whoever’s at the disco—like the guys do. But she knows she’ll have to take care of him for the next week, or year, or whatever. So she’ll stop herself—she’ll go home and make love to her husband, because she’s already taking care of him emotionally anyway.
“The reason women don’t sleep around as much as men is because they’re like, ‘Oh my God, I can’t deal with this other guy being on the phone for the next six months !’”
And then she gags herself with her finger. “Ughhh !”
Post was recorded in the Bahamas. Some say Björk went there to get away from Madonna. Though Björk herself is far too sweet (and media-savvy) to actually dish this delicious piece of dirt, she does allow that Madonna has wanted to meet her “really bad, very often. I always try to change it.”
According to Björk, Madonna, after hearing Debut, asked Björk and Nellee Hooper to write all of Bedtime Stories. What she got was Nellee Hooper as producer on four songs and “Bedtime Story”, cowritten by Björk and Neellee. The refrain of Björk’s Madonna song is “Let’s get unconscious, honey !” “She needs more subconscious,” Björk says of Madonna, whom she truly admires. “She’s all on the outside. So I wanted her to say, Let’s be impulsive for a change, instead of so clever.”
Last winter, la Ciccione invited Björk to appear with her on the BRIT awards (the English equivalent to the Grammies) to sing “Bedtime Story”. “She made sure I got her personal number to call her,” says Björk, “but I didn’t want to do it.” So instead of staying in London, Björk went to the Bahamas, where, she says, she recorded all of her vocals on the beach. “In the evening we got a very long lead to the microphone and to the headphones, and I could sneak all around and go inside the forests and go and put my legs in the ocean and watch the stars and sing all the songs.”
She doesn’t have to work tomorrow, so a big night is planned. First, she’ll collect Sindri and tgo to a small dinner party with old friends from Iceland. Here will be more champagne, a poetry recitation, and Björn, a physicist who’ll sing “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head” in Icelandic. Björk will not be a star there, just a friend among friends, though she will honor the room with an impromptu rendition of “Smoke on the Water.” After dinner she’ll sip some anisette, then spilt to join Nellee and Michael Stipe and Anton Corbijn.
But right now at the Balinese restaurant, soup and champagne consumed (“Oh, my stomach is so happy”), Björk is about to deliver the final Björkism of the day. She’s telling me about a concert she and Naomi Campbell went to last week : Tricky opening for PJ Harvey. “Polly and Tricky. And Ren and Stimpy. Those are my four favourites.” then she stops to think about how that quote will look in print. “That’s very ‘Björk,’ huh ?” She sighs and shrugs. And speaking very, very quietly, she continues, “Look, I’m not gonna fight this. I think that everybody has a side that’s more private and a side that’s more social—you know, people that are very calm and warm and slow-mo, and then in social situations have to entertain people with silly jokes ? Well, I’m like that—and that’s a present from me. And they can do whatever they want with it. And it’s a friendly creature and it means well, so,” and now Björk is smiling again, “it might as well exist.”