Björk has had an unusual career in every sense of the word. Since childhood, she’s found herself in a love-hate relationship with the music industry after she caught the eyes of an Icelandic label, who immediately signed her up on the strength of a basic school recital.
Performances to fellow students are not regularly a hotbed for discovering international talent, but when has Björk’s career ever followed the standard path? Over the last six decades, she has continuously gone against the grain, and her unapologetically avant-garde instincts haven’t prevented the singer from achieving widespread mainstream acclaim.
Before becoming a universally cherished artist, Björk shot to fame in her native Iceland, releasing her debut album at the age of 12. It was apparent to those in her mother country that she was a child prodigy in the making. However, rather than follow the tried and tested path, Björk continued to throw up surprises at every opportunity.
Remarkably, the singer turned down the opportunity to make a second solo album despite her label’s wishes. Instead, she would re-emerge four years later under a different guise with the Icelandic punk bank Tappi Tíkarrass, which would be the first of many re-inventions.
Following the split of that outfit, Björk turned her back on punk, developed her sound, and formed The Sugarcubes. Together, they released three records, enjoyed a sprinkling of international success, and even performed on Saturday Night Live. When stardom looked on the horizon for the band, Björk flew the nest and decided to go solo.
Every facet of her intriguing career is unparalleled. Perhaps, the most fascinating is how it all began when she was just 11-year-old performing a rendition of Tina Charles’ ‘I Love To Love’ to her classmates. Typically, this recording wouldn’t have left the schoolroom. However, her teachers recognised that Björk’s voice was unlike anything else they’d heard before, and it needed to be heard. Despite her being a child, they decided to send it to a popular radio station in Iceland that agreed to play the track.
“There was a radio show where everybody who did something well, did something,” she remembered to The Guardian in 2007. “One did magic tricks and one did, er, what you call it? Flick flacks? And I sang. Because that is what I did. On the school bus I would sing. All the time.”
She added: “And some guy contacted my mum and wanted to make a lot of money and do a child record, and my mum said: ‘Yes.’ I can’t even remember being asked. I hated it! I didn’t really like it. I think children should pick for themselves. They shouldn’t be pushed. I was too young.”
It’s straightforward to understand how this powerful recording caught the label’s attention. However, in an unlikely turn of events, this unwanted first taste of fame that Björk received as a child explains why she’s attempted so rigorously to escape from success in the traditional sense and defiantly forge her career exclusively on her terms.