Iceland’s ethereal pop princess breaks the ice

US, octobre 1995

People expect me to be some sort of Icelandic freak who eats bugs for breakfast,” says Björk. “I can’t really blame them—odd is in the eye of the beholder—but I think I’m quite normal.”

But Björk Guðmundsdóttir has earned her title as pop’s eccentric heroine. After all, she is the tiny singer who turns to Grimm’s fairy tales rather than to Vogue for fashion tips, belts out vocals that range from primal to pristine in a matter of octaves and switches from carefree to rabid in seconds. This mix leads many to underestimate the seriousness below the surface of her music, passing Björk off as a mere pixie.

After months of fielding comparisons to elves and dressing wackily for photo shoots, Björk is at the brink of exhaustion. She has been promoting her latest album, Post, a critical smash that combines the lushness of a big-band orchestra with the pulse of techno and the cool vibrations of jazz. The day after this interview, in fact, Björk was so overwrought that she canceled two major West Coast concerts.

But for now, as she sits in a garish coffeehouse on L.A.’s Beverly Boulevard, the usually animated singer appears downright cranky. “People think I’m extreme, but I’m not,” says Björk, biting into a perversely thick roast-beef sandwich. “It’s just 99 percent of the people out there haven’t got the guts to be who they are. Nobody wakes up on a Monday and knows what the week is gonna feel like, so they numb themselves because instability’s too painful. But that’s what I thrive on.”

Björk’s 29-year existence has been anything but a dull trip. Raised by her parents in a hippie commune in Reykjavík, Iceland, she was sporadically shuffled to her grandparents’ more conservative household in a neighboring town. The dichotomy proved a creative playground for the little Björk : While the heady music of Jimi Hendrix and Cream resounded through Mom and Dad’s compound, traditional jazz filled her grandparents’ home. The only consistent element in Björk’s life was her study of classical music.

“All these adults thought their music was brilliant and everyone else was an idiot,” says Björk, dressed in civilian garb : baggy pants and a tight red T-shirt. “So I became skeptical and decided I’m definitely not gonna do things that way. I picked up on all three [genres] and realized that style is just what emotion you want to put across.”

At the age of 11, she recorded a collection of children’s songs ; then she played in punk orchestras and produced arty-film soundtracks. And that was in her free time. “As a kid, I got a job on all the school holidays selling newspapers or working in a shop,” says Björk. “I’ve also waitressed, worked in a cola factory. But I always end up doing something with music.”

It wasn’t until 1988 that the rest of the world got its ears on Björk. That’s when her band of two years, the Sugarcubes, broke out of Iceland with Life’s Too Good. The album satisfied an adventurous craving among England’s and America’s post-new wave listeners. It also landed the group on mainstream outlets like Saturday Night Live.

Her stint with the Sugarcubes also resulted in her marriage to guitarist Thor Eldon, with whom Björk had a son, Sindri, now 9. “My son’s the clever one,” says Björk, who has since divorced Eldon. “I’m the stupid one. He’s the brainy one. I’m the impulsive one. But we’re both grounded.”

The Sugarcubes dissolved in 1992 (after producing three more albums), and the following year Björk released her first solo record, Debut—an experience that provided her with the perfect venue. “I have a physical need in my body to use all I’ve got,” she says, blowing the froth off her cappuccino. “It’s like a sexual urge. There are many situations where you only use 20 percent of yourself—maybe 6 percent of brain, 4 percent of heart—then you become a fat lazy slob. But I have an urge to use it all. It’s like a kick. I have to.”

Still, Björk looks from time to time for creative guidance—including from the guest artists who appear on Post, like trip-hop master Tricky. “The most inspirational people in my life have been scientists or geeks,” she says. “I love Carl Sagan. He would go and discover strange galaxies, which encouraged me to search for that certain song no one’s ever heard before.”

It’s a quest Björk hopes will never end. “I know whatever I do, I could always go further,” she says. “The most terrifying thing is to finish something and think it’s great, because from there, there’s nowhere else to go.”

par Lorraine Ali publié dans US