Björk

WOMEN WE LOVE

Björk creates new worlds wherever she goes. In 2017, her new album is right on cue

As Utopia releases today into our uneasy world, Jude Rogers celebrates a musician who has never done things by halves

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By Jude Rogers on

“All of my mouth was kissing him.” Now there’s a lyric that reintroduces a person into pop; it's emotion, lust and longing turned up to 11, that focuses on a woman herself, what she feels, and what she does. Björk’s Blissing Me goes on to describe falling in love through text exchanges and shared MP3s, an ordinary courtship ritual carried along on the strings of a harp and the soundwaves of synthesisers – given the grandeur it deserves, in other words. This is typical of Björk, a musician who has never done things by halves.

Blissing Me is the first track from her new album, Utopia, released today into our uneasy world, all about women trying to create their own lands to their own rules, foregrounding the need for optimism, now, in both its sounds and its visions. Even if you’re not a fan of that voice, or of losing yourselves in the sonic assault of an all-female flute orchestra, it’s hard to ignore what Björk’s trying to do – or that she’s one of the greatest pop culture role models we have in 2017.

Let’s weigh up the recent evidence. One: Björk’s contribution to the #MeToo campaign. On Facebook, she talked about her experiences with an unnamed Danish director (Lars Von Trier responded in Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten denying any accusations of sexual harassment) who kept whispering graphic sexual suggestions to her on set, and broke a chair after she asked him to stop touching her. He then told the press how difficult she was. “If being difficult is standing up to being treated like that, I’ll own it,” was Björk’s fantastic response. She also prioritised how her statements could help other people, saying she fully sympathised “with everyone who hesitates, even for years”. A day later, she told The Observer’s Miranda Sawyer why she’d done what she did. “I did it in support of women who can’t say no, or are not fortunate enough to have said no… because I come from this world where [this behaviour] is not normal... I wanted to say, ‘You’re not imagining things. It is like that.’”

Two: Björk has stood up for women who make music, whose technical abilities often get overlooked. Around the release of 2015’s Vulnicura (a red-raw record about the breakdown of her marriage to Matthew Barney) her co-producer, Arca, was described by huge chunks of the press as the record’s overall producer – quite wrongly.  “I’ve done music for, what, 30 years?” she told Pitchfork’s Jessica Hopper in a brilliantly direct, open interview. “I’ve been in the studio since I was 11; Alejandro had never done an album when I worked with him.” This had happened to Björk before, too. She spent three years composing and arranging the beats on her incredibly intricate 2001 album, Vespertine, asking producer Matmos to spend the last fortnight with her in the studio. He alone got the bulk of the plaudits.

Every record she makes, Björk genuinely creates a new world – now there’s a role model to look up to. And now comes Utopia, a record for all women, right on cue

What do women have to do? Keep speaking, it seems. Björk’s spent the last 25 years making incredibly wide-ranging albums as a solo artist, each of them fascinating explorations of ideas and sound, driven by her huge, mighty mind. My favourites: 1993’s Debut, a multi-million-seller about youthful sex and big time sensuality. 2004’s Medulla, consisting entirely of voices, beautifully arranged and layered like an orchestra. 2011’s Biophilia was the first album to be released as an app, all about our innate connections with nature, while 2015’s Vulnicura was accompanied by 360-degree, all-encompassing, virtual reality videos. Every record she makes, Björk genuinely creates a new world – now there’s a role model to look up to. And now comes Utopia, a record for all women, right on cue.

I’ll also always hold Björk close to my heart because of something she did for me. Nearly a decade ago, before social media and the sharing of stories became commonplace, I founded a pop culture website for women, The Lipster. My team (including brilliant former Vice editor-in-chief, and now Guardian features writer Rebecca Nicholson) were trying to redress the balance in how women were written about in lively, accessible journalism. Our investors didn’t understand us. Björk did. She flew me to New York on her dollar for an exclusive interview, and she was encouraging and enthusiastic about our ideas. We shared a fish salad from Pret. She gave me some scoops about her political statements on stage. She had no reason to be promoting her tour on a fledgling, stuttering website. But she believed that new things should be done, that wrongs should be made right.

Santiago Felipe
 

The more I look into her life, she’d been like that from the start, too, even if she was nervous with the term ‘feminism’ for years (her mother was an activist who saw the movement breaking into factions, and Björk believed more in discussion than division, which sounds reasonable enough). This is my favourite statement of hers, from 1994, in which she addresses, simply but brilliantly, how women could be. “Men... can be silly, fat, funny, intellectual, hardcore, sensual – and all those different things – philosophical; but with women they always have to be feminine, feminine, feminine…. I just like to see women who can be characters, and can be themselves.” That’s my utopia right there, Björk. All my mouth’s kissing you.

@juderogers

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