Most people have probably heard the name Björk before. For nearly the past three decades, she's been a monumental figure in pop culture. Even if you haven't listened to a single note of her music, it's hard to escape the iconic moments she's come to define. Take, for example, her controversial swan dress at the 2001 Academy Awards, or the 2015 MoMA retrospective which centered around her career thus far. She's also starred in Lars Von Trier's film Dancer in the Dark (2000), which won the Palm D'Or at Cannes and landed Björk with vast amounts of critical acclaim for her role. The role, she said, was so exhausting she vowed to never act again. Thankfully, she hasn't said the same about music.
Björk's music, while perhaps less immediately accessible to the general public, is vastly influential to the entire sphere of Western popular music. Since her debut solo album, Debut (1993), she continues to innovate and evolve her sound, altering the course of pop music with every release. It's difficult, then, to describe her legacy in concrete terms. Still an active artist, her legacy continues to evolve as she continues to create. Björk has inspired multiple generations of artists—and has been inspired by those artists in return. It's hard to imagine where we'd be without her.
Björk's most influential body of work thus far is indubitably her third studio album, Homogenic. Released in 1997, this album marked a sharp left turn for her sound and career. Her first two albums, Debut and Post, were created with a broad sonic palate, drawing from a wide variety of influences. They utilized an immense range of genres: the industrial rock–inspired "Army of Me" and the bubblegum pop of "Hyperballad" hardly feel like they belong to the same artist, much less the same album.
Homogenic, on the other hand, feels like "one flavor." It's a frigid, cold album, with a soundscape meant to evoke images of Björk's home, Iceland. Electronic drum programming propels the majority of it, especially evident on cuts like the hard–hitting "Pluto" and album opener "Hunter." At the same time, string arrangements—both synth and acoustic—provide an icy melodic backbone. One endlessly fascinating characteristic of Björk's work is her ability to create grand, gorgeous hooks within unfamiliar and experimental environments. This skill shines through again and again throughout Homogenic. "Jóga," for example, is set against bizarre, inaccessible drum patterns, but opens up completely in the chorus with a haunting melody and brilliant string countermelody.
Homogenic's influence doesn't necessarily lie in its technical innovations to electronica. In 1996, the year before Homogenic was released, English artist Aphex Twin produced the wildly innovative Richard D. James Album. "4," the opening track from the album, could slot easily into Homogenic. Synth strings provide the melody, with an electronic breakbeat propelling the song forward. It's impossible to imagine Homogenic without Aphex Twin, just as it's impossible to imagine pop music without Björk.
Her pivot from the genre–fluid influences behind Debut and Post to the singular, entirely electronic sounds of Homogenic provided the blueprint for numerous artists to undergo similarly comprehensive transformations. Thom Yorke, Radiohead's frontman, has pointed to Homogenic's "Unravel" as his favorite song of all time. It's no coincidence, then, that Radiohead made the famously controversial move from the alt–rock sound of OK Computer to the highly experimental electronica of Kid A. In a 2001 interview, Radiohead's Ed O'Brien stated, "I think we've all been envious about the way Björk has been able to reinvent music."
Without Björk, Radiohead's pivot probably would not have happened in the same capacity, and Kid A, one of the greatest albums of all time, would not exist. Kanye West, too, made an eerily similar transition when he released 808s & Heartbreak (2008). Had Radiohead and Björk never laid the groundwork for this turn nearly a decade before, Kanye may not have had the ability to do so.
Beyond Homogenic, Björk's music still innovates and inspires. Vespertine (2001) was one of the first albums created with the intent to be consumed from the Internet. Her extensive use of "microbeats" aimed to minimize any compression that would occur when downloading the album through services like Napster. Biophilia (2011) was released alongside an app meant to enhance the listening experience and meld visual, technological, and auditory arts into one cohesive package. Vulnicura (2015) and Utopia (2017) were the result of an extensive collaboration with visionary electronic artist Arca, who was the one of the main creative forces behind Kanye West's Yeezus, FKA Twigs' EP2 and LP1, and Kelela's Take Me Apart.
Without Björk, pop music—especially electronica—would not exist in its current capacity. From her ability to constantly and often radically change her sound and appearance, her phenomenal production work, and her lengthy list of collaborators and those influenced by her music, Björk has proven time and time again, over nearly three decades, that she is an unstoppable force of pure, unbridled creativity.