Björk’s Homogenic and its Lasting Influence
Cover Art: Sophie Cheng
Over the span of her three-decade career, Björk has made a name for herself as one of the most versatile and innovative artists in Western music. She has developed her own unique style, drawing upon a range of influences and genres spanning electronic, pop/art-pop, jazz, experimental, and avante-garde music. One of my favorite vocalists and producers of all time, she has altered the course of “popular” music forever by escaping the confines of genre and enabling artists as diverse as Missy Elliott, Elton John, and Thom Yorke to attempt to do so as well – it’s hard to imagine where we would be without her.
While less immediately appealing, Björk’s music has earned her a long list of awards and nominations. She rose to fame in the early 90s following the release of her first studio album, Debut. The dance-oriented record demonstrates varied instrumentation, with tracks varying from Bollywood-influenced string arrangements to jazz ensembles. Post, her sophomore album, sampled an even broader sonic palate, as shown by the bubblegum pop of “Hyperballad” and the industrial rock of “Army of Me.” It’s hard to believe that many of these songs were created by the same artist.
Björk’s third album, Homogenic, is arguably her most groundbreaking and influential body of work. It marks a sharp turning point in her career, steering away from the eclecticism of her previous albums and focusing more on cohesiveness while also displaying her restless experimental spirit. The attempt at weaving classical orchestration into beat-driven rhythms often fails, but Björk manages to succeed on Homogenic. Her unification between strings and beats along with acoustic and electronic represents the fusion of nature and technology, or the organic and the man-made. Distorted, electronic drums are featured throughout the album, a sharp contrast that somehow works with lush string accompaniments and hauntingly brilliant melodies. “Sometimes I think nature and techno is the same word, it just depends on if it’s past or future,” Björk said in 1997. “One thousand years ago you’d look at a log cabin in the forest, and that would be techno. And now it’s nature.”
Her pivot from the stylistic zigzags of Debut and Post to the unified unconventionalism of Homogenic paved the way for multiple artists to embark on similar transformative musical journeys. Thom Yorke of Radiohead, my favorite band of all time, has stated that “Unravel” from Homogenic is his favorite song ever. Radiohead made the famous shift from the alt-rock sound of OK Computer to the atmospheric and experimental electronica of Kid A, both albums considered to be among the best of all time. In a 2001 interview, Radiohead’s guitarist Ed O’Brien also said, “I think we’ve all been a bit envious about the way Björk has been able to reinvent music.” The groundwork laid by these two musical acts enabled artists to make similar transitions in their careers decades later, such as Kanye West releasing the electropop 808’s and Heartbreak as a follow-up to the hip-hop albums The College Dropout, Late Registration, and Graduation; this album has been cited as a significant source of inspiration by many contemporary artists, including Drake, Juice WRLD, Kid Cudi, and The Weeknd.
Without Björk, electronic and art-pop music would not exist in the same capacity that it does today. Her unorthodox instincts, keen understanding of the hidden links between seemingly different genres of music, phenomenal production, and immense versatility proves her to be a force of raw, unbridled creativity. Her impact on the music industry is ever-lasting, and generations of artists to follow will be able to trace their biggest influences back to her.