20 Albums 20 Years Later

With ‘Homogenic,’ Björk Crafted An Equally Experimental And Complex Love Letter To Iceland That Was Far Ahead Of Its Time

Björk’s “Homogenic” turns 20 this year.

20 Albums 20 Years Later remembers and explores the music that touched us back then and still resonates today. Join A Plus as we take another listen to albums released in 1997 and celebrate their contributions not only to the charts but to our lives.

One of the most intriguing, innovative, and out-there performers in music history, Björk — whose full name is Björk Guðmundsdóttir — has been constantly evolving in the music business ever since releasing a self-titled juvenilia album at the age of 12. What followed were two impressive offerings, Debut in 1993 and Post in 1995, followed by 1997's Homogenic. With this album, Björk continued exploring her sound and paying tribute Iceland, the homeland she holds dear.

To fully understand Homogenic, you have to know what had happened to Björk in 1996 just prior to its release. Having already made quite the name for herself, Björk had attracted a stalker by the name of Ricardo López. López mailed an acid-spraying letter bomb to the singer's London home but, thankfully, that plan didn't come to fruition. López, in the end, had recorded 22 hours of tape detailing his obsession with Björk, how he created the attempt on the singer's life, and ending with the fan's tragic suicide. This whole ordeal shook Björk to the core and led to her heading to Spain, where she recorded and produced Homogenic. It's a departure from earlier work and is largely considered one of the singer's most exploratory albums.

The cover artwork for Homogenic is a story in and of itself. Björk approached two greats to collaborate with — photographer Nick Knight and fashion designer Alexander McQueen — to achieve the look of someone who, per The Guardian, "had to become a warrior. A warrior who had to fight not with weapons, but with love." The inspiration behind the hybrid-looking figure was one comprised of various ways of life and locations. Having felt like "this elf, eskimo from up North," Björk told Time, the late McQueen's idea for the Homogenic sleeve was to show "how I'm from one place, but I wanted this to be from 10 different places," and the result was a "person, a warrior queen, that was from every culture."

Courtesy: One Little Indian Records
Courtesy: One Little Indian Records

Homogenic was certified gold by the RIAA in August 2001, nearly four years after its release. Its success led to the album receiving a Grammy nomination for Best Alternative Music Performance as well as wins for both it and Björk at the Icelandic Music Awards — including Album of the Year, Artist of the Year, Female Singer of the Year, and Composer of the Year. The same year of its release, Björk received the Order of the Falcon, a national Order of Iceland which is awarded by the country's president. This is just one point in the singer's lengthy and ever-surprising career.

Let's take a look at the album's singles and their music videos:

“Jóga” (1997)

"Jóga," the first single off Homogenic, is dedicated to and named after Björk's best friend, Jóga Johannsdóttir, and is largely considered to be the album's central song. While the album was meant to be a conceptual take on the singer's homeland of Iceland, this song hits the nail on the head and drives that message home. The song — written with Icelandic poet Sjón, a frequent collaborator of Björk's — mentions "emotional landscapes" and a "state of emergency," references to Iceland being volcanically and geologically active. This song won Björk an Icelandic Music Award for Song of the Year.

The song's music video — which was directed by Michel Gondry — takes it a step further, with Björk only showing up at the beginning and end of it. Throughout the clip we see the various terrains and sceneries of Iceland. The footage moves rather quickly and, thanks to computer animation, shows the land separating, shifting, and coming back together. At the end we see an image of the island nation floating inside of Björk's chest, right where the singer's heart would be.

“Bachelorette” (1997)

The second single from Homogenic, "Bachelorette," is another writing collaboration with Sjón with a corresponding music video also directed by Gondry. Originally written for Bernardo Bertolucci's 1996 film Stealing Beauty, Björk ultimately faxed the director and informed him that the song would be included on her album instead. Björk has said that writing the song with Sjón happened while the two "drank a lot of red wine."

The real shining moment for this piece is its accompanying music video. It's an interesting premise, featuring a story within a story within a story, following Björk as the titular character who finds a blank book buried in a garden. Upon flipping through the book, it begins to write itself, telling the woman what to do next. After developing into an Inception-like plot, the entire premise eventually devolves, and the book ends up blank and buried in the main character's garden once more. It's an excellent use of storytelling and eventually snagged an MTV VMA win as well as a Grammy and Icelandic Music Award nomination.

“Hunter” (1998)

"Hunter," the third single for Homogenic, was written solely by Bjórk and has been found to have at least two different meanings. It has been said to be about the pressure the singer felt about having to churn out song after song to support the people behind the artist and their art. Lyrics supporting that stance are "I will bring back the good / But I don't know when." Another source comes from the 2003 documentary Inside Bjórk, in which the singer credits a story from her grandmother as for where she drew inspiration. The story is commentary on monogamy versus polyamory, using to very different birds to do so: "One bird always had the same nest and partner all their lives. The other was always traveling and taking on different partners."

The music video, directed by longtime collaborator Paul White, features a tight zoom on a bald Bjórk from the shoulders up. As she moves along to the beat and sings passionately while maintaining a somewhat creepy level of eye contact with the watcher, Bjórk slowly morphs into a computerized polar bear. The video fades in and fades out, with the singer slowly letting the animal side take complete control before becoming human again. Many critics praised how simple and primal it was, with others noting that it's a nod to Robert Louis Stevenson's 1886 work Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. White is quoted as saying, "It's amazing that after all these years people still don't understand it. Mission accomplished."

“Alarm Call” (1998)

The fourth single from Homogenic, "Alarm Call," was written by Björk alone and has the distinction of being the only single from this album to not end up on the 2002 fan-voted Greatest Hits offering. There was an initial music video also directed by White that featured Björk in a dress reminiscent of the album's cover while dancing in the subway in Los Angeles. But, not being convinced by this one, the singer turned to McQueen who directed the music video that saw the light of day. In it, Björk is floating on a raft in the river while playing with snakes and crocodiles.

“All Is Full of Love” (1999)

"All Is Full of Love," the fifth and final single from Homogenic, was another song written only by Björk. The most popular version of the tune was produced by Björk herself, which accompanies the music video while another version, a remix by Howie B (who worked with the Icelandic singer on Homogenic), was included on the album. Björk wrote the closing track while producing the album in Spain and it is believed to have been inspired by Norse mythology, continuing Homogenic's theme of being inspired by Iceland. The real story here, though, is the music video directed by Chris Cunningham.

Björk had been a fan of Cunningham, and according to reports, she brought Chinese Kama Sutra for their first meeting, which was a nice coincidence because he had already associated the song with sex, too. Björk told Time that she had told Cunningham "this song is sort of about where love and lust meet. It's sort of like heaven. It's quite erotic. But it's in heaven so everything has to be white." He brought forward the idea of robots. The end result was a video which featured two robots — both with Björk's likeness — who eventually intertwine and passionately kiss while the song hits its climax while plenty of sexual subtext occurs in the interspersed shots. Reception for the clip was overwhelmingly positive, with the music video earning a Grammy nomination and winning two MTV VMAs. It has also had much influence throughout the years, impacting works such as 2004's I, Robot, 2015's Chappie, and the recent HBO hit Westworld.

The list of musicians influenced by Björk is seemingly endless — and we're not talking about just because of this album. With impactful works such as Homogenic, we get iconic music videos that tested the limits in regards to subject matter as well as how they were made. Björk herself shows other singers they can experiment, be that with their sound, their looks, or their inspirations. The Icelandic star has gone on to release five full-length albums so far, dive into other creative realms with a short-yet-successful stint in acting (see 2000's Dancer in the Dark), and continue to keep us scratching our heads — and we mean that in the best way possible.

Homogenic is available on Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, and Spotify.

Cover image: One Little Indian Records / Elektra Records

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