Have you listened to Björk's latest album Fossora yet? Since the record has been out for a while now, we figured it was about time to go through our favorite Icelandic musician's discography and declare our Top 10 picks of the best Björk songs. Like coffee, sushi, or dark chocolate, Björk music is an acquired taste. But the more you listen to her unique sonic atmospheres, the more you realize just how much she's done for the electronic and experimental genres. Her work is intense, intellectual, ethereal, and totally magical.
Born and raised in Reykjavík, Björk began her music career at the age of 11 and gained international recognition as the lead singer of the alternative rock band the Sugarcubes, by the age of 21. After the band's breakup in 1992, Björk embarked on a solo career and has achieved international success ever since. Several of Björk's albums have reached the top 20 on the US Billboard 200 chart, and she has sold millions of records worldwide. Björk is also beloved for her avant-garde stage presence, her incredible three-octave vocal range, and her eccentric personality when she's not on stage. (We still stand by the fact that the swan dress was the most iconic fashion moment of the early 2000s.)
For this list, we'll be sticking to Björk's original songs only – so while we love "It's Oh So Quiet" more than the next guy, it will have to stay as an honorable mention. For those of you who are Björk fans, we hope this Top 10 list takes you on a nostalgic trip. And for those of you unfamiliar with her work or who are just getting into Björk, we hope this ranking makes you fall in love with the Icelandic queen of electronic art pop. Without further ado, here are our picks of Björk's 10 best songs!
Dark and fantastical, "Family" is a song released in 2015 as part of Björk's album Vulnicura. The opening is twisted with dissonant violin notes, while the rest of the song is atmospheric, emotional, and whispy. It helps communicate the pain Björk feels about losing her love due to a breakup.
"Family" was created after Björk and her ex Matthew Barney split up. In the album booklet for Vulnicura, the subtitle for this song is “6 months after,” signifying the song was written 6 months after the breakup. "The lyrics are literally describing what my physical sensations were during the process of heartbreak," Björk told Dazed about the song in 2019. "I think people who go through loss can feel like their arm just got torn out of the socket, but when they point it out, friends can’t see anything, even though for them it’s reality."
9. "It's Not Up to You"
With a notably glitzy chorus that expands and shines, "It's Not Up to You" is a fan favorite of Björk's. It's the third song on Björk’s fourth studio album, Vespertine. The track definitely has all the elements that contribute to the “Vespertine sound” (celestial choirs, harp arrangements, micro-beats) but also feels like its own thing due to its more monotonous electronic bits.
The lyrics explore the feeling of frustration that occurs whenever we want to control every aspect of our life. Everything that doesn’t go the way we expect it to drives us crazy. Björk advises the listener that the best thing to do is just give everything we can without having any expectations and let things go the way they have to. She's basically saying that it's in the universe's hands, not ours. And with the ethereal music production on this track, her message is very clear.
"Bachelorette" feels metropolitan in sound, and we love how it builds higher and higher – like a skyscraper! Complete with incredible soaring vocals from Björk near the song's end, this track is an epic turning point in the story presented on the artist's 1997 album Homogenic. On "Bachelorette," the character Isobel decides to return to the city by train, which is why the beats of the song sonically sound like a train. She prepares to confront all the people that she loves with love.
Björk explained, "Because I wanted the lyrics to be so epic, I got my friend Sjón – who’s a poet in Iceland – to write them. We sat together at the kitchen table and drank a lot of red wine and I told him the whole story for hours and days and he wrote the words from that story...There’s a lot of story-telling going on, a lot of brutal, in-your-face stories. One of them is this kind of Wuthering Heights epic. She puts one hand melodramatically over her heart. The first song in this epic was "Human Behaviour”. The second one is “Isobel”. I guess this one ["Bachelorette"] is the sequel."
Glitchy, hardcore, and rave-worthy, "Pluto" is another favorite of ours from Homogenic. It's the penultimate track on the record and a hectic and chaotic bop. It's also the first of the IDM-inspired tracks Björk would explore on later releases. In "Pluto," she describes a process of violent explosion in order to renew herself.
Part of the song was inspired by Norse mythology of Ragnarök – the foretold cataclysmic death of the world where aftwards humanity is to be reborn. Another influence is astrology. Björk, born on November 21, is a Scorpio. And the ruling planet for Scorpio is – you guessed it – Pluto! In astrology, Pluto is known as the “great renewer” and governs transformations. Being ruled by Pluto, Björk is describing a need to transform herself. But in order to do so, she needs a violent upheval. This perhaps ties back to the association with Ragnarök as Pluto was named after the Roman god of the underworld and is thus associated with death.
6. "Sun in My Mouth"
Moody, melodious, and oh-so gorgeous, "Sun in My Mouth" is another beautiful song from Vespertine. Listening to this thing is like bathing in sun rays on a warm day. It starts out like a lullaby and bubbles into a mixture of soothing and grand. Unsurprisingly, its poetic lyrics were adapted from E. E. Cummings' 1923 poem, “I Will Wade Out.”
Björk's romantic vocals are accompanied by a string orchestra, harp, and soft electronica. Her vocal technique gives the listener the impression that she is singing close to them, with even breaths clearly audible. Vespertine is all about intimacy and sexual expression, and so the lyrics in "Sun in My Mouth" refer to bodily parts that represent unambiguous sexuality. (Many intepret the lyrics to refer to self-pleasure, especially with the lines, "In the sleeping curves of my body / I shall enter fingers of smooth mastery.") These images of the body and sexuality, however, appear besides images of nature – making "Sun in My Mouth" all the more gorgeous.
5. "Big Time Sensuality"
"Big Time Sensuality" proves that 90s Björk music can be just as groovy as it is experimental. Seriously – you could dance to this banger in a club!
“Big Time Sensuality” was the fourth single from Björk’s 1993 album Debut. As the title suggests, yes – Debut was her debut as an artist. Co-written by Björk and producer Nellee Hooper, the single release was actually a version remixed by Fluke. The ebullient house track, an ode to her friends and love of life, proved to be an international smash and helped gain Björk a wider audience. It's not an understatement to say this song put her on the map. Without "Big Time Sensuality," we may not have Björk to rely on for our sonic fix of big time sensuality.
4. "Pagan Poetry"
Listening to "Pagan Poetry" is like opening up a scary music box. It's like a murky fairytale full of black magic and mystery, and its masterful music production, as well as its deep lyrical meaning and interesting creation story, are the reasons why it remains an unwavering fan favorite.
This Vespertine single peaked at #38 in the UK and #12 in Canada. It was written and produced by Björk with additional production by Marius de Vries and mixed by Mark “Spike” Stent. The music box element featured in the song was done by Jack Perron and the full adaptation was later featured as a B-side song on the “Cocoon” single. "Pagan Poetry" was originally titled “Blueprint," but it's unclear as to what made Björk change her mind about the title, since it fits so well with the song's message. There may be some connections to the fact that Jay-Z’s Blueprint was released the same year as Vespertine. It’s also hard to ignore the fact the two previously had a working relationship, and that Jay-Z paid a tribute to “Pagan Poetry” during his 2014 concert when Bjork was in the audience.
Anyway, the track is a metaphor for things yet to be realized. The finding of the “blueprint” illustrates Bjork’s discovery of the possible things that may satisfy her to the fullest – both physically and emotionally. However, as the song progresses, she realizes there is a conflict between fulfilling her physical and emotional desires. She wants sexual freedom, but also commitment with her current lover. She goes on to confess that despite how she may seem on the outside, her desires are complicated. Like pagan poetry, her feelings and desires, while undeniably beautiful and sincere, are difficult to understand.
3. "Venus as a Boy"
Sophisticated, warm, and wonderful, "Venus as a Boy" has music production we just want to swim in. Björk was putting out some seriously good work in the 90s, and this song is considered one of her biggest critical and commercial successes.
The track was written by Björk and produced by Nellee Hooper. It was released as Debut's second single in August 1993 and was one of the last additions to the album. Björk recalls: “I think I wrote it in my living room in Iceland and sang it into my dictaphone. Later, by accident, we were going through sounds and I found this broken bottle sound. It wasn’t intentional but it sounded great.”
Reflecting her interest in Indian culture at that time, this dreamy song features string arrangements recorded in Bombay. It's all about “a boy who saw everything from a beauty point of view.” The romantic lyrics of “Venus as a Boy” refer to a specific person, though Björk has kept his identity a secret all these years. Whoever he is, we're sure he's happy Björk has created this dazzling song in his honor.
2. "Army of Me"
"Army of Me" is a hardcore song off the critically-acclaimed Post, and is considered Björk's biggest commercial success. It also impressed critics at the time of its release, as they noted the song's magnetic darkness and praised Björk’s vocal energy.
"Army of Me" was released in 1995 as the lead single from Post and was written and produced by Björk and Graham Massey, who also helped her produce and write “The Modern Things.” Lyrically, this track was inspired by the damaging behavior of Björk’s brother, whom she instructs to stand up and regain control of his life. "Army of Me" was the first single from Björk to enter into the top 10 of the UK Singles Chart, and it was performed several times during her Debut tour, even before the release of Post.
The song was featured on Björk’s 2002 compilation album, Greatest Hits and in 2004, Björk released a charity benefit compilation entitled Army of Me: Remixes and Covers to support UNICEF. That project featured a series of covers and remix by artists from all over the world. Another thing about "Army of Me" we love is its iconic music video. In it, Björk drives an enormous vehicle through a city, fights with a gorilla to obtain a diamond, and puts a bomb in a museum to free a boy.
The exquisite "Hypberballad" starts off slow, but becomes very arresting as the seconds tick by. With poignant lyrics and an eventually spacy sound, the song is classic Björk, no doubt about it! Like the lyrics mention, listening to this masterpiece gives us the motivation to climb up a tall mountain.
As the title suggests, “Hyperballad” is all about really intense love and emotion. It's quite literally a hyper form of a traditional ballad – thus subverting the form of a slow song in an interesting new way. The tune is about Björk's raw feelings while in a serious relationship and was released as the fourth single off Post.
While "Army of Me" is her biggest critical and commercial success off Post, "Hyperballad" is a commercial hit, a critic's pick, and Björk's most popular fan favorite. In fact, in a survey of Björk fans about which songs should be included on her 2002 Greatest Hits album, “Hyperballad” received the most votes. To boot, Pitchfork also included the song in their Top 200 Tracks of the 90s list, where it ranked #11.
Maybe the coolest thing about this song is that Björk decided to explain the song's inspiration to a fan on an AOL chat back in 1995! In pure Björk fashion, she clearly described her emotional spark while also keeping things a pure mystery. She said it was influenced by "the critical time in a relationship, which usually happens after 3 years, and I can see all around me with all my friends. It’s got to do that when you fall in love it is so precious to you, you never know this might be the last time, so your behaviour towards the loved one becomes very sweet and you go somewhere else to be aggressive. Because I believe that all people have got both sides. So you end up having to unload your aggressions at a bar or by throwing cuttlery off cliffs. So you can come back to your loved one, kiss him sweet on his cheek, and say happily, ‘Hi honey.’"
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