Subscribe to our newsletter

(Credit: Bjork)


How Björk changed pop music forever with ‘Debut’


Björk is the archetypal unconventional artist. The unapologetically eccentric star has defied every stereotype labelled at pop musicians across the years and, when Debut was released in 1993, it shook the music industry to its very core.

Despite its title, Debut wasn’t actually Björk’s introduction to the musical landscape. Although she was only 28 when the record was released, Björk was already somewhat of a musical veteran; an artist who had been in and around the entertainment business since childhood. Her first glimpse of fame arrived hand in hand with her debut album, which arrived when she was only 12-years-old. Then, four years later, she inaugurated herself into the Icelandic punk scene with her first band, Tappi Tíkarrass.

Following the split of that outfit, Björk developed her sound and shifted into avant-garde territory with The Sugarcubes. They released three records during their time together and enjoyed a smattering of international success, a previously unheard-of feat for Icelandic bands. Their journey took the band across the globe and, at the height of their fame, they even performed on Saturday Night Live.

When Tappi Tíkarrass decided to call it a day in late 1992, Björk knew that her next venture would be a solo one, but she didn’t expect it to take off in quite the monstrous fashion it eventually did. She moved to London and started a new life for herself following the end of the group, which aided her journey to becoming a solo artist.

This change of scenery reinvigorated Björk from a creative standpoint, and she absorbed her vibrant new surroundings with an artistic drive that few can match. The city’s exciting underground scene would influence Debut, allowing her to express a side she simply couldn’t translate when she was part of The Sugarcubes.

“As a music nerd, I just had to follow my heart, and my heart was those beats that were happening in England,” she told TIME in 2015. “And maybe what I’m understanding more and more as I get older, is that music like Kate Bush has really influenced me. Brian Eno. Acid. Electronic beats. Labels like Warp.”

Throughout her time in numerous punk bands, Björk kept this part of her persona hidden, but with the new record, she wasn’t prepared to suppress her artistry any longer. Breakout hit ‘Human Behaviour’ was a song that had been kicking around since she was a teenager, but Björk had no choice but to sit on it until the time was right to do it justice.

The alternative music landscape in 1993 was chocked full of guitar bands who all looked and sounded similar. Nobody expected an album like Debut to arrive, and the status quo was left shaking after its release. The smorgasbord of influences and genres that Björk crafted together on the record helped her to create something unique. Before Björk, pop star’s who approached music with a minimalist flair simply didn’t exist. It was the polar opposite of the glossy, over-produced candyfloss pop music that dominated the charts.

It takes just one glance at the charts today to see artists like FKA Twigs, or Rina Sawayama, who have taken on a similar sound to the one that Björk carved out in 1993 with Debut. The album proved that pop music wasn’t a binary beast, and the possibilities for artistic purity were endless. Björk made it acceptable to bring avant-garde electronica into pop music with subtle brilliance, and it’s now impossible to imagine the genre without the glitching rhythm or pulsing back beat.

Debut was just the start of Björk’s journey, and over the last few decades, she has strived relentlessly to continue her evolution and change with every project. Almost 30 years on from the release of Debut, it still sounds frighteningly fresh. If the album was released today, it would still have the same effect and feel like it had arrived from the future to save pop music.