Breaking boundaries: Björk’s impact on gender

June 13, 2024

Photo of Björk. Dazzles 10 @ Coachella 2007 by Redfishingboat (Mick O) at Flickr. Image cropped with a Creative Commons licence

Shivam Chowdhary explores the Icelandic icon’s positive influence on young people’s identity

Björk, the singer, songwriter and producer is a musical icon due to her innovative fusion of diverse genres and her unique artistic vision. Her music blends trip hop, house and electronic elements with Icelandic influences, creating a soundscape that is both avant-garde and deeply personal. This eclectic mix has not only set her apart from her contemporaries but has also influenced a wide range of artists across various genres.

For many LGBTQ+ young people, Björk embodies the freedom to be authentically ourselves; as a bisexual woman, she once stated:

“I think everyone’s bisexual to some degree or another; it’s just a question of whether or not you choose to recognise it and embrace it. Personally, I think choosing between men and women is like choosing between cake and ice cream. You’d be daft not to try both when there are so many different flavours.”

Her androgynous fashion choices, surreal music videos and boundary-pushing performances challenge traditional gender roles and celebrate diversity. Her transcendence of binary norms sends a powerful message of acceptance and validation to young queer people on their journeys of self-discovery. Björk’s lyrics, exploring love, nature and connection feel deeply personal and relatable, creating a safe space for listeners to embrace their emotions and identities. Her creations show that it is not only okay to be different but that there is beauty and strength in embracing our uniqueness.

Her debut solo album, Debut (1993), introduced her to the world as a solo artist, combining electronic beats with lush orchestration and showcasing her distinct voice. Tracks like ‘Human Behaviour’ and ‘Venus as a Boy’ express a sense of freedom and a break away from societal norms. They became instant hits, highlighting her ability to meld experimental sounds with pop sensibilities. Post (1995) followed, pushing boundaries further with its incorporation of industrial sounds, big band jazz, and trip hop. This marked a departure in sound from her first album. Post was significantly more experimental and harshly electronic.

Homogenic (1997) marked a shift towards a more cohesive and orchestral sound, characterised by the fusion of strings and electronic beats. The album, featuring tracks like ‘Jóga’ and ‘Bachelorette’, is often cited as a masterpiece, reflecting Björk’s ability to create deeply emotional and sonically rich music. Vespertine (2001) brought a more intimate and ethereal sound, utilising micro beats and intricate arrangements. Songs like ‘Hidden Place’ and ‘Pagan Poetry’ reveal a delicate yet powerful aspect of her artistry. Her themes here, about striving for individuality and resisting conformity, connect with many young people who face similar struggles in asserting their identities and finding acceptance in a heteronormative world. Later works explored the relationship between music, nature and technology, further cementing her status as a visionary artist.

I thought we would go through Björk’s albums, one by one, and talk about why she is such a salient figure in the musical industry, and how her music resonates deeply with me as someone who has always found myself on the more esoteric fringes of society.

Debut: my favourite songs
• Venus As A Boy (Ambient song with Indian instrumentation)
• Big Time Sensuality (House)
• Violently Happy (Techno-pop)

Post: my favourite songs
• Enjoy (Harsh industrial electronic)
• Headphones (Relaxing, eclectic trip hop)
• Hyperballad (Folktronica)

Homogenic: my favourite songs
• Pluto (Very heavy industrial techno)
• Joga (Lush orchestration with trip hop undertones)
• 5 Years (Similar to Joga – orchestral, yet this song is more techno-orientated)

Vespertine: my favourite songs
• It’s Not Up To You (Chill out ambient)
• Aurora (Downtempo)
• Hidden Place (Glitch pop)

Medulla: my favourite songs
• Triumph of a Heart (Acapella)
• Where Is The Line? (Dark acapella)

Volta: my favourite songs
• Declare Independence (Electroclash techno)
• Earth Intruders (Moombahton)

Biophilia: my favourite songs
• Crystalline (drum and bass)
• Mutual Core (experimental techno)

Vulnicura: my favourite songs
• Stonemilker (orchestral ballad/baroque)
• Quicksand (drum and bass)
• Black Lake (orchestral techno)

Utopia: my favourite song
(honestly, my least favourite album of hers as it is so just so experimental)
• Sue Me (experimental downtempo)

Fossora: my favourite songs
• Atopos (gabber techno)
• Fossora (noise, idm, breakcore)

My connection with Björk runs deep. Her bold experimentation and celebration of individuality resonates profoundly with me. Her music broke the mould of my personal tastes, mirroring the way I navigate my identity and find my voice within the LGBTQ+ community. Björk’s fearless explorations echo the multifaceted experiences of LGBTQ+ individuals. Her work is a beacon of authenticity, reminding me of the power of being unapologetically unique in a conformist world.

I spoke to Ciaran M about their personal journey with Bjork’s music:
“I was brought up listening to Bjork from a young age through my grandparents. She always stood out to me since I felt then (and still do now) that she is the most unique sounding artist I’ve ever come across. Every time I listen to her I’m reminded of happy memories I have with them from when I was younger.”

Benji J shares his experience of the Icelandic queen:
“Björk is an artist who I admire wholeheartedly. Her music visuals are stunning, and her lyrical content – while unconventional – is bold and rich. I’m a huge fan of her aesthetic, even if her music is a bit too unwieldy for my taste at times, particularly her heavier, experimental techno tracks. Listening to Björk has helped me better understand my identity. She has taught me to celebrate my uniqueness and authenticity, empowering me to express myself openly.”

AliceN finds all Björk’s creative endeavours a comfort:
“I love listening to Björk because of how beautiful and sensitive her music is. Every time I listen to her, it feels like I’m listening for the first time, as none of the magic has faded, and in fact it’s most likely increased. Her music has had a significant impact on my own music, relating to not only the sound and instrumentation itself but also the way of thinking about composing and creating. She has also helped me to be authentically myself instead of trying to hide under masks which has helped me feel a lot more comfortable in everyday life.”

Ellie D discovered empowerment in Björk’s words and music, reflecting themes of identity and fluidity:
“I just love Björk and her music. Her idea that everyone might be a bit bisexual makes my friends and me think about and accept our own sexual orientations. It’s about recognising and embracing the fluidity within us all, accepting that our attractions and feelings can be ever-changing.”

All in all, Bjork is an artist who inspires to this day. Gen Z love her. Ultimately, her influence underscores the importance of representation and the power of art to bring solace and excitement to those navigating their unique identities.

I thought I would end with a list of my five top favourite music videos from her. Enjoy!

Photo of Björk performing at Cirque en Chantier source from rlef89. Image cropped with a Creative Commons licence

Shiv is from north-west London, currently studying Film Studies at University of St Andrews. His hobbies include writing and watching lots of films! His favourite director is Darren Aronofsky and his favourite films of all time include ‘Mulholland Drive’, ‘Festen’ and ‘Mother!’ Shiv is an avid admirer of Björk's experimental alt-rock music.

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