Björk released her much anticipated ninth studio album ‘Utopia’ (which, like ‘Vulnicura’ before it, was co-produced by Venezuelan producer Arca) a few weeks ago, something she calls “her Tinder record”.
Following the dark and formidable 2015 album ‘Vulnicura’ - a weighted, angry break up album reflecting the end of her decade-long relationship - her new creation, a dating album, is one with the airiness of finding love again.
The 52-year-old artist is known for her aesthetic gender fluidity and a frank openness regarding her sexual desires, never seeming to define her own sexual identity in concrete terms in the public consciousness at least. It is through her art - with open and intensely sexual lyricism and a pseudo-androgynous imagery – that she channels her perceptions. Profound and personal her, work chronicles stages in her life with varying emotions of love, sadness and arousal.
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The scene for this was set early on her career - with songs such as ‘Venus As A Boy’, ‘Big Time Sensuality’, or ‘Violent Happy’ – all of which combine the brutal forthrightness and realism of sex and physical intimacy with an emotional journey of the heart.
Indeed, while recent times have seen artists display that raw and brutally honest in their portrayal of sex, where Björk stands apart is her ability to juxtaposition outright sentimentality and absolute unfettered filth on the same recording.
This is nothing new for Björk. Take for example 2001’s ‘Vespertine’; where the romanticism of ‘Unison’ (“I never thought I would compromise / Let’s unite tonight / We shouldn’t fight / Embrace you tight…”) is both utterly jarring and yet perfectly complementary to the explicit coital allusions in ‘Cocoon’ (“He slides inside, half awake, half asleep / We faint back into sleep-hood / When I wake up the second time, in his arms / Gorgeousness, he’s still inside me…”).
The duality of her songs seem reminiscent of Björk herself; with singer’s apparent timidity, insecurity, and lack of self-assuredness in stark contrast with her frankness when it comes to discussing sexuality.
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Her multiple award-winning music videos are a testament to this: ‘All Is Full Of Love’ features two androgynous robots crafted in Björk’s image kissing and becoming intertwined; ‘Hunter’ shows the artist morphing between a topless, shaven-headed version of herself and something more familiar. 2001’s ‘Pagan Poetry’, meanwhile, is no less sexually confrontational, with blurred images of fellatio, ejaculation, and pearls being sewn into the skin.
Björk is clearly very sexually empowering when it comes to her music. But that’s not all her music explores. In her sophomore album ‘Post’, as well as in ‘Vulnicura’, she exposes the very human reactions –anger, denial, heartbreak – that dominate the end of a beloved relationship.
Her songwriting is realistic in parts, yet idealistic and fairytale-esque. That just might be the inspiration behind ‘Utopia’, which explores Björk’s career-long fascination with how nature and technology can interact.
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In a recent interview she revealed that she spent a huge lengthy of time researching extensively to achieve the utopia she was looking for; reading everything from academic studies, to stories, novels, and fables through the centuries.
‘Utopia’ as an idea has morphed from an idealised vision of monastic life, to feminist islands, to socialism, to ‘Peach Blossom Spring,’” she said, referring to a tale of an isolated, idyllic community that was written in the fifth century in China.
From the dramatic ‘Vulnicura’ with its paralysing pain and simmering anger to her new album, Björk has always veered away from ‘normcore’ sexuality - neither in her music nor her life - much more preferring an animalistic lust in her erotica, as she revealed in the Evening Standard.
‘Utopia’ talks of traumas from Björk’s past, but uses it as a sign of dreams and optimism rather a bitter weapon.
Much like her previous works, it barely resembles music for pop radio playlists or house and techno dominated club culture. Dense, disorienting, and sexy, it plays with contending layers of Björk’s unique vocals, seguing between feminine whispers to soprano range visceral wails and child-like lisps, flutes and percussive sounds. The songs are experimental, but nevertheless memorable - just like Björk herself. The multi-award winning artist - with her out-of-the box, profound lyricism, and views in life - has always done things on her own terms, with a natural disregard for binary concepts of gender roles or sexual preferences.
It is no wonder that this feminist, forthright artist has been hailed “the most important and forward-looking musician of her generation”.
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Words: Malvika Padin
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