Bjork Tier List
I’ve just finished listening to the Homogenic episode of Bjork’s new podcast series Sonic Symbolism.1 Each episode of the podcast is a retrospective look at a Bjork album.
The series as a whole (so far) is a beautiful examination the way art mirrors life, the way that the spirit and time of the artist is woven into the artwork.
Having studied lots of post-structuralist philosophy, I have always been a bit too cynical about the extent to which the artist informs the meaning of their work. I’ve read too many pieces on how the names ‘author’ and ‘artist’ are just products of capitalist economics, and that it is always dangerous to reduce the meaning of a work to its author. ‘Damien Hirsh’ or ‘Stephen King’ are just names or labels, like ‘Nike’ or ‘Chanel’. Furthermore, focusing too much on the artists themselves can result in overly-‘psychologised’ explanations of a work, while a critical analysis of the social structures and means of production surrounding the work result in a more ‘progressive’ view.
This kind of critique can certainly be true. Think of recent controversies around J.K Rowling’s retrospective comments about the Harry Potter universe. They raise an important question about who has the most ‘say’ about the meaning of a work: the artist/author, the fan community, the literary critic, etc.?
However, the way that Bjork discusses the cross-currents of her life experience vis-a-vis her different albums reminded me how sometimes understanding an artist’s biography can provide a rich entry point into the work. Not in the sense of ‘so-and-so lived during X historical period and was friends with another famous so-and-so’, but in the sense of ‘at this period of the artist’s life their spirit was at a certain stage of evolution’ (teenage angst, grief, love, isolation, political upheaval, exile, etc.). These more ‘universal’ structures of experience can sometimes only be attested to through the voice of the artist themselves (or through reflection on their biography).
The most important wisdom/lesson from these podcasts is the notion that life proceeds by cycles of renewal and death. The self has various periods of sociality, introversion, retreat, confrontation, etc. Bjork’s albums, taken as segments within this whole, capture these moments wonderfully. Art, if we accept it as a very /human/ activity, cannot but reflect these cycles of the self in its structures.
Anyway, against the spirit of all of the above, which is about Bjork’s podcast digging deep into a work, I’ve provided a, very shallow, ’tier list’ of Bjork’s albums below! If you want a more comprehensive understanding of the albums, go checkout the fantastic podcast if you haven’t already.