Icelandic Wonder Straight Ahead

The Los Angeles Times, 22 mai 1998

Pop music : Björk, the international object of admiration, doesn’t make songs for MTV or radio but wants to make the perfect song

Are we done with the Spice Girls ? Get ready for the Ice Girl. As in Björk, the Icelandic singer who has scaled the slopes of credibility at a remarkable rate, going from an endearing but inessential oddball to perhaps the dominant diva in the modern-rock field over the course of three solo albums.

It seems hard lately to find a published interview with any artist of note who doesn’t mention Björk as an object of admiration. She commands a seriously loyal fan following, and her latest album, “Homogenic,” was voted one of the 10 best of 1997 in the prestigious Village Voice national critics’ poll.

For someone who was dismissed as a novelty—even if an intriguing one—during her career in the late ‘80s with the anarchic art-pop collective the Sugarcubes, this progress has the look of vindication.

“Well, that’s not really what I’m after,” says Björk, 32, drinking a cappuccino in a shaded portico at the Chateau Marmont. She continues in slightly halting English decorated with an Irish-sounding brogue and London inflections.

“I guess I’m on this stupid mission—I know it sounds like a silly fairy tale, but I’d like to try to make the perfect song. I still haven’t, and I’ve got 50 years to still try, and I’m willing to do whatever it takes.

“I’m naturally quite introvert, but if it’s a question of going to the middle of England and becoming the most extrovert person in the universe, if it’s a question of traveling the world like a lunatic on 950 cappuccinos, I’m up for that. If it’s a question of not communicating and going and isolating myself for 50 years so I can get as much work done as possible, I’m up for that.”

Chasing the perfect song is one thing. Staying alive in the U.S. marketplace is another—“Homogenic,” released last fall, has sold fewer than 300,000 copies here. But while her record sales have declined since her first solo album in 1993, Björk’s live fan base has grown. She can easily pack 3,000-capacity halls like the Hollywood Palladium, where she plays on Saturday.

“We know that people out there are very, very interested in Björk,” says her manager, Scott Rodger. “But America is very MTV—and radio-driven, and Björk doesn’t make records for either MTV or for radio.”

That’s not surprising. Even in her youth in Reykjavík, where she grew up as the only child in an extended hippie family, Björk Guðmundsdóttir enjoyed being the odd one out. “I would go to my grandparents’ and play a bit of Jimi Hendrix, I would go to the music school and play a bit of Roland Kirk, and I would go to my parents’ and play them a bit of Rimsky-Korsakov, Stockhausen....

“And I have to admit that I’m still guilty of that.... I sometimes get addicted to argument just for argument’s sake. Just to make people question their standards.”

In person, Björk is friendly but guarded. She lives up to her image as a childlike free spirit when she indulges in idealistic, metaphysical musings, but her poetic leanings are balanced by a down-to-earth practicality. She’s obviously learned that if you’re pursuing the pure spirit, you can’t be the guileless innocent.

“I’m quite introvert person, and especially with strangers I get shy,” she says. “When I meet strangers, I think I talk very fast and I probably pretend that I’m a lot stupider than I am, which has worked wonders so far, I think....

“I show only a side of me. I have to protect a lot of me, not because I’m lying to you, but because if I give this other thing away, I won’t even be able to write songs anymore.”

Björk’s music reflects her passion for the abstract. It takes a step closer to purity on “Homogenic,” whose crystalline sonic topography is the setting for enigmatic, evocative verses. Its subject, Björk explains, is “a woman who was put in an impossible situation with a lot and lot of restrictions, so she had to become a warrior, but she fought back not with weapons but with love.... “

Much of Björk’s music has been honed with key artists in the electronic dance-music world of London, where Björk cut a high-profile musical and social swath (including a couple of media-genic romances) for four years.

She recently moved back to Reykjavík, where, she says, she can walk for 10 minutes from the town square and scream at the top of her voice and no one can hear her. “A side of me is very lazy and a side of me is terrified of being a coward,” she says. “I thought I was being a coward living in Iceland, so I thought the bravest thing I could do was to go to London, which is as scary as [expletive] for me, and then after going for four years on 900 miles per hour, then that was starting to become lazy. So the scariest thing I could do was go back home.

“I’m still the kid in the back of the class. I can spend a lot of time for myself and investigate and do treasure hunting and try to find my songs.... I have a quite comical sado-maso relationship with myself. I am a fierce master and humble slave.”

par Richard Cromelin publié dans The Los Angeles Times