Bjork, that one name conjures images of Bjork throughout the years, the wild child, swan dress-wearing, gamine girl and on and on. It is no exaggeration to state that Bjork is one of the most original performers in modern music. She is an artist who never pulls her punches and is fully committed to following her musical muse wherever it leads. She is constantly defying categorization in any one musical genre.
Bjork had been involved in music from early childhood through her adolescent Icelandic solo career thru punk bands and finally making a name for herself as the co-lead singer of the Sugarcubes. As early as 1991 Bjork had been pondering a solo career but decided to honour the contractual obligations of the Sugarcubes before pursuing that career path. Her first release Debut marked the start of her remarkable adult solo career. The album was more mainstream than the works created by the Sugarcubes, who were beloved by many but were more avant-garde pop in styling than “Debut”. Bjork titled the album Debut not because it was her first solo outing but because Bjork wanted to signify the start of something new.
Debut has been described by Bjork as filled with love songs to her then-boyfriend Dominic Thrupp, her producer Nellee Hooper and to life itself. Bjork interwove house, jazz, trip-hop and more traditional pop structures into the collection. In retrospect Debut has been credited as one of the first albums of the ’90s to introduce electronic music into mainstream pop, the album transfigured house music into something the average listener could experience. In 2005 Bjork stated about Debut that she thought it was not as strong as her later efforts, “It is hard to judge yourself but I don’t think (Debut and Post) are my best.” “Debut” in some ways will always represent to many what is considered “Bjork Music” and her pop icon persona.
The song ‘One Day’ again delivered the unexpected with a Bollywood vibe. The song is sung almost like a chant with a slower tempo but with a driving dance beat and fluttering synths. The song was illuminated by Bjork’s relationship at the time. It is almost akin to a hope-filled lullaby for the future as the song seems to be speaking to a child and pointing out all the promise of the future.
‘Aeroplane’ was inspired by her long-distance relationship and hardships Bjork and her then-boyfriend were experiencing. “I cannot live peacefully without you even for a moment.” … “I ‘m taking an aeroplane across the world to follow my heart.” Vocally Bjork is wearing her heart on her sleeve. It is also one of the most musically complex songs on the album with a left of centre arrangement by jazz saxophonist Oliver Lake. This song also displayed Bjork’s giddy risk-taking tendencies which would be more evident on her later albums.
‘Come to Me’ is a beautiful song filled with raindrop synths, padded drums and sweeping strings. It has a slower tempo with an ethereal sound that spirals around in a dreamlike atmosphere. Bjork puts on her imaginary armour to fight her lover’s battles; “I’ll take care of you protect you….come to me I’ll take care of you. You don’t have to explain I understand.” It is another stellar song that makes the release so powerful.
‘Violently Happy’ cemented the fact that in her personal life at this point Bjork was in a good place. Bjork is never one to hide her feelings. Here she seems to dance on the head of a pin demanding the presence of her beloved before in happiness she hurts herself. “Violently happy I’ll get into trouble real soon if you don’t get here baby.” Violently Happy is happiness that you can not contain because you are so beside yourself with joy. It is happiness that is not calming but works as a catalyst. Sonically the track is stripped back at first and then switches to a dance beat with a quarter beat rhythm. The sound never overpowers Bjork’s vocal delivery but enhances it with its glitchy electronic feel.
The final song of the original release was ‘The Anchor Song’ it is again a display of Bjork’s willingness to take risks. It is a sweet off-kilter song about deciding to live in the ocean rather than land. It is almost a tone poem; as it reflects all that would eventually develop in Bjork’s electronic-driven creativity over her amazing career.
In a period when music was primarily made by men with guitars Bjork in many ways reconstructed pop music with the sheer force of her personality. She inadvertently created the blueprint for any artist who desires to break the mould just by being his/her individual eccentric self. Today she continues to jump at the chance to follow her muse down rabbit holes. Debut didn’t just establish Bjork’s solo career but also introduced the music world to genres that had been all but ignored in the mainstream. Bjork would go on to produce intriguing and unconventional works all the while generating a multitude of admirers. She would collaborate across artistic mediums and stay true to her convictions. Not many artists have had a career retrospective in the MoMa but Bjork has and it is a testament to her influence across artistic mediums. Debut is one of the most successful launches of a solo career in recent contemporary music history.