Icelandic, Eccentric, Eclectic

All sorts of things have been said about her, but one thing everybody agrees upon is that she is unique. She's got an unusual voice, she is strangely beautiful and totally unpredictable. She is special, she is awesome - and her name is Björk.

Björk Gudmundsdóttir was predestined to be unusual from the very beginning as an Eskimo born in Europe. But first and foremost she was from a very young age exposed to alternative influences, living with her parents in a large hippie community of musicians and artists in Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland. Her stepfather (Björk's parents divorced when she was only one) was a rock musician, so she could sing and dance almost before she could speak.

When Björk was five her grandparents, who were really her foster parents, sent her to music school where she learnt to play piano and flute, while at home she practised the guitar and drums. In 1977, aged just twelve, Björk released her first album: a collection of national folk songs for children. When she was a little older she joined the alternative circles herself. She wore extraordinary clothes, dyed her hair and pierced her ears with safety pins. In the mid-80s Ms Gudmundsdöttir was one of the most committed artists on the Reykjavik punk scene, establishing ever louder and rebellious punk groups with strange-sounding names (at least to foreign ears) such as Tappi Tikarrass, Kukl, Gling-glo or Suger Cubes.

Better than Madonna, Tina and Mariah

It was the solo album Debut, however, released in 1993, which brought her international recognition. It was a revelation, since music fans had never experienced anything like it. Bored with ordinary, popular, repetitive, 'umpa-umpa' tunes, people went crazy about the child-like, sexy-looking, Icelandic woman, whose music, weird videos and most of all appearance were something new that defied categorization. Her style may be labelled Pop/Dance/Techno/Folk/ Alternative all in one, but to all her fans it is simply magic. There are strings, harps, keyboards, hip-hop beats and myriad other accompaniments. And all this is crowned with her singing, which gives the listener goose pimples. Bono from U2 described Björk's voice as a knife that cuts through ice.

The Debut, album, with songs like 'Violently Happy', 'Venus as a Boy' and 'Human Behaviour', sold 2.5 million copies and turned her into a real star. In 1995 MTV proclaimed her the best female singer of the year, beating Madonna, Tina Turner and Maria Carey. After this commercial and artistic success came two more albums which helped her to establish her position in show business.

Followed around by fashion

At present Björk lives in London with her thirteen-year-old son Sindri. On the one hand she loves the artistic atmosphere of London, but on the other she cannot fully accept the English way of life, she says. She laughs about English people's conservatism to a typical British person she looks as if she comes from another planet.

Björk's originality and eccentricity is manifested by what and how she sings, tenderly or howling and screaming (thanks to her exceptional vocal abilities) about emotions and issues that burn through to the bone. Added to that are her fairy tale sometimes grotesque videos, and her onstage costumes and performances, from hopping like an over-excited child to her convulsive dancing.

Her extravagant outfits have become her trademark. She loves warm colours (especially orange, which she says makes her cheerful), glittering blouses with three-metre-long sleeves, jumpers made out of fur or dresses with just wire frames but no material. Her hairstyles are crazy, too, changing like a kaleidocope. She is quite possibly the person who exerted most influence on the fashion of the nineties, which now in the 21st century we see popularized by techno club culture flat cosmic shoes, hair scrolled in small, snail-like curls, thousands of tangled braids, Japanese patterns on clothes and many more outlandish designs.

Celluloid success

Despite claiming to be introverted and quite shy (she doesn't really like the whole buzz around her, the celebrity things like interviews and grand parties) the media try to make her out to be a bad girl. One such incident involved a TV reporter who bumped into her a few years ago at the airport in Bangkok and asked for an interview. The persistent journalist was pulled by her hair and knocked down after she repeatedly attempted to interview the singer's son.

The tabloid press had another field day right after this episode when a Björk fan committed suicide while listening to her 'I miss you' song, supposedly to manifest his disapproval of Björk going out with a black guy.

She herself says she is not eccentric; it is people who think so. But she is different. And exceptionally talented. Apart from singing, she paints, writes lyrics and poems, and this year proved to be an outstanding actress in Lars von Trier's film Dancer in the Dark.

Typically for a person not that concerned about commercial success, having received something experienced actresses would dream of the best actress award at Cannes. Björk said that she had achieved all she could in film (Lars von Trier tried to convince her to play in his next movie) and was returning to what she really knows how to do. What modesty!

On the other hand, maybe that's for the best since her fans have been impatiently waiting for a new release (nothing since 1997). Björk is now going to hide away in a studio on an island somewhere, maybe the one she was granted from the Icelandic government for her achievements made for her country, and work on a new album. What will she surprise us with this time?