The Museum of Modern Art is launching a retrospective of Icelandic singer Bjork’s visual work, and to celebrate it, Time Out New York’s David Ehrlich picked the ten best Bjork music videos. Calling the singer “one of the film world’s most innovative forces of nature” and “one of the first artists to meaningfully explore the aesthetic and semiotic value of CG and its relationship to the body,” Ehrlich chose videos spanning from her 1993 solo breakthrough “Debut” (actually her second solo album) to 2007’s “Volta.” His selections were:
1. “All Is Full of Love” (1997, Dir: Chris Cunningham)
2. “Triumph of a Heart” (2004, Dir: Spike Jonze)
3. “Big Time Sensuality” (1993, Dir: Stephane Sednaoui)
4. “Bachelorette” (1997, Dir: Michel Gondry)
5. “Pagan Poetry” (2001, Dir: Nick Knight)
6. “Wanderlust” (2007, Dir: Encyclopedia Pictura)
7. “Cocoon” (2001, Dir: Eiko Ishioka)
8. “Declare Independence” (2007, Dir: Michel Gondry)
9. “It’s Oh So Quiet” (1995, Dir: Spike Jonze)
10. “Who Is It?” (2004, Dir: Dawn Shadforth)
Here’s what Ehrlich had to say about his number one:
Shot in 1997 and still looking like the future, “All is Full of Love” uses a more sensual cut of the song than the mix that’s on the album. It stars two milk-white robots being manufactured to do exactly one thing, the machines responsible for their creation continuing to tend to them as they make out in a power-draining montage of metallic caresses and reverse-speed cascades of android fluid. Cunningham’s Björk-bot and her partner essentially conduct a séance for the Ghost in the Shell—the video is so compelling because the synthetic sex sparks a genuine reaction, in turn casting doubt on the artifice of what we’re watching. Perhaps the video’s top YouTube comment said it best: “I got a boner and cried at the same time while the robots were kissing because the robots had a lot of passion.” Indeed.
Unsurprisingly, music video directors-turned-film directors Spike Jonze and Michel Gondry fared the best on the list, each nabbing two spots. Jonze’s gorgeous, Jacques Demy-esque video for “It’s Oh So Quiet” (which is exhibit A in my “Spike Jonze should direct a musical, possibly starring Bjork” case) made it at number nine, but Ehrlich is even more enthusiastic about Jonze’s video for “Triumph of a Heart.”
Spike Jonze’s “Triumph of a Heart” may be at No. 2 on this list, but it sure feels like the greatest music video ever made while you’re watching it. Built upon the last track on “Medúlla,” it starts with Björk married to an emotionally neglectful cat who rocks a wifebeater better than anyone since Stanley Kowalski. Frustrated, Björk tears away from the remote Iceland house they share together and drives straight towards a wild night of drinking, human beatboxing, vandalism and low-key magic. All told, it feels like Jonze’s response to the karaoke set-piece at the heart of his ex-wife’s “Lost in Translation.” Eventually Björk goes home to her husband. They make up, they make out and then he grows six feet tall. The message is clear: Björk is an independent woman, but it’s always nice to have someone to dance with during breakfast.
Gondry’s video of 1997’s “Bachelorette” is his highest-ranking, but Ehrlich also sees how a great video can elevate a so-so song, as Gondry’s video for 2007’s “Declare Independence” shows.
“Declare Independence” is a song typical of “Volta,” Björk’s weakest record, in that it paradoxically feels at once both physical and hollow. Be that as it may, anyone who’s seen the track performed live knows that Björk means every damn word of it, and Michel Gondry’s music video captures that feeling by making this feral call to arms the anthem that it always wanted to be. Hyperpolitical without beating you over the head about it, the pounding clip traces the relationship between art, protest and change, compactly collecting all of these parts into a single machine, the controls of which are up for grabs. The apparatus is a work of art unto itself, and the splash of green paint that nails the camera lens at the end is a perfect expression of the energy that it can produce.
Finally, Ehrlich argues that Bjork showed an innate understanding of the music video’s artistic possibilities from the get-go with the video for 1993’s “Big Time Sensuality.”
Shot on the cusp of her celebrity, “Big Time Sensuality” is the clip that cemented Björk’s stardom, and exploded “Debut” into more than just a critical darling. Based on one of those ingeniously simple concepts that form the bedrock of so many all-time music videos, “Big Time Sensuality” is essentially just five minutes of a young Björk dancing on the exposed back of a flatbed truck as it drives through Manhattan. Shot in stark black and white and elevated by the city’s indifference (this would never work so well in the Instagram age), the video anticipates the confrontational courage that has made Björk’s career just as exciting to watch as it has been to hear. Also, if you squint, you can practically see Luc Besson (who used “Venus as a Boy” in “The Professional”) getting the idea for “The Fifth Element’s” Leeloo Dallas.