You can’t miss Björk. If she’s not on ITV Chart Show or Top Of The Pops, chances are you saw her face peering from the cover of several other magazines when you bought this issue of Smash Hits. This Sunday she will celebrate her fourth Top 30 hit of the year with Big Time Sensuality. It will probably be the biggest of them all. Her album has sold hundreds of thousands of copies in Britain alone. Radio DJs love her too— and not just the trendy ones. Rarely does an hour of the Steve Wright or Simon Mayo show pass without them playing her records, and without fail to a man they will comment about her “bonkers” she is. “That’s mad Björk” they’ll say or “That’s Björk—she’s not mad at all, is she ?” Why does everyone think Björk is mad ?
“When I was younger I used to play with the cat a lot—I would teach it how to fly. Because, you see, he used to watch all the birds flying about and I could tell he wanted to fly and chill with the birds. I wasn’t very successful though.”
Björk Guðmundsdóttir, 27, is difficult to figure out and that is why she freaks people out. There’s her voice for starters : a curious mix of purring native Icelandic phrasing with the off “Laandan” accent at the end of sentences. Then there’s how she looks : part bolshy, screaming, self-confidence, part-innocent excitement. And there’s the things she talks about. One minute it’s her cat and flying kites, the next her favourite scientists. Maybe people find it simpler to write off these contradictions as her being mad. And they do. And she doesn’t give a damn.
“Weeeell, I’ve been called weird since I was three or four. I had got used to it by the age of five. I made a decision then : I’d either live my life by what people thought of me and to a set of rules which I didn’t really know or undersdarkolivegreend which would make me incredibly unhappy, or I could just do what I wanted. And that’s a lot more fun, isn’t it ? Call me a freak for thinking that, but it’s what I do.”
At the age of five, Björk was living in a hippy commune with ten other people. She was the only child. And she loved it.
She would sit in and read her Prince Valiant books, listen to music “24 hours a day” and play with the cat. It was all very idyllic. And at the age of ten it all came to a crashing halt. The commune broke up and each family member was left to make it on their own. The [family] moved to the industrial side of Reykjavík and near-poverty.
Aged 11, Björk made a record which helped out paying the bills. It sold 7,000 copies, a large amount for Iceland. She began to hang out with musicians three times her age and had music training. She was a starlet, a child prodigy. She hated it and she wasn’t the only one.
“Everyone at my school hated the record and they hated me. The musicians wanted me to make a second one but I didn’t want to. I wanted to be with kids my own age for a bit.”
So she did. In her late teens, as the group of friends grew up, they formed a loose collective of artists : painters, dancers, musicians. They called themselves Bad Taste—“because that’s what everyone said we had”—and put on plays and exhibitions. Björk would help out with the lighting for a theatrical production or move tables for a craft exhibition. One day, for a joke, six members of the group decided to form a pop band called The Sugarcubes.
It was at this point that the world was introduced to Björk— and the “weird” tag appeared. Her first single Birthday was a dramatic, atmospheric tale of a bizarre childhood. In her first British interview she appeared—all five foot nothing of her—perched on a massive chair with her legs dangling above the floor, like a baby in a high chair. And much to Björk’s and everyone else’s surprise all this—and some brilliant moody, catchy songs—made them quite famous. Björk was a pop star.
“It was like a holiday. Free limos, free food, free drink and you could bring all your friends. It was like an endless holiday. It was brilliant.”
Today Björk is on tour in New York. Pop stardom isn’t so much of a holiday any more but she’s still enjoying it. She’s based in London these days, living with her DJ boyfriend Dom and seven-year-old son Sindri. Until last year her son came everywhere with her but now he goes to school and it’s impossible. She doesn’t regret it though, “Up till last year it was perfect—I could be with Sindri 24 hours a day. It’s better than doing a normal job because then I would have been out for at least eight hours a day and I would have missed him growing up.”
Being away from Sindri hasn’t been the only think Björk has had to get used to this year. She’s bewildered about why she’s on the cover of every magazine.
“Luckily I’m so stupid that I don’t realise why. The only way I can explain it is that I was in the right place at the right time, I’ve been wearing these types of clothes since I was 14, it’s just that someone has now decided they are in fashion. It’s a nice compliment...”
“Why would anyone want to interview me either ? When I was a teenager I just wanted to read interviews with great scientists and great writers. I’m just a pop star. I do have things to say but 99% of that goes in the songs.”
Björk may have had an unusual life so far but she’s not that weird. A little eccentric maybe but hardly mad. It’s just that she’s so different to your Joey Lawrences and Bad Boys Incs that people are bound to talk about her with great interest and fascination. But still she gets the weirdo descriptions. Strange, loopy, elfin and the one she is most bewildered by : child-like.
“I wasn’t conscious of that at all until recently. But I’ve been an adult for a long time now, I’m 27 ! I pay bills and drink alcohol like an adult. What more can I do to prove I’m an adult ? I thought I was an adult. I’m just having fun, y’know ?”