“It’s not up to you”: or Ethics According to Björk
It’s rare when a pop star is also a prophet. The awesomeness possessed by those few who transcend celebrity to enter the echelons of cult is superhuman, awesome, and almost sick. And while its derivative may not be blistering fame, more often than not it is an overwhelming responsibility: whether to play up the hero worship or squelch it, and how to navigate a heavy, omnipresent expectation of magnificence.
5 Oct 2001: Radio City Music Hall New York
That quandary is especially true for Björk who, even when singing lead for the Sugarcubes in the 1980s, was a performer practically oozing with a delicious mystique. At every step since going solo in 1993, she has undone the laws of physics and logic to deliver albums that burst with innovation, their shrapnel glimmering with hope and wonder. The magnitude and magnetism of her oddity made her at once a powerhouse, earning respect from both the most mainstream and marginalized of spectators.
So Björk disciples should expect nothing less from their outlandish maven than her continued another leg in the quest to surpass herself, pushing her status to its very limits. This time, that came in the form of quiet opulence, both in material and presentation. But more than that, it came with an incredible duty to do right by her music, her mood, and her fans.
Radio City Music Hall set the ideal stage from which Björk could cast her spell over two sold-out New York City audiences. That space, drenched in tequila light, opera rather than rock show, already bordered on the incredible; its larger-than-life effect was emphasized by the full orchestra and choir that accompanied her. Björk appeared tiny when surrounded by the massive theater, and tinier still as she churned out the toyish “Frosti” from a music box as the first song of the night. The orchestra next cascaded in with the emotionally riveting overture from Dancer in the Dark as the light rose, fully illuminating a majestic Björk in her now infamous swan dress. When she began to sing “All Is Full of Love”, the audience was already spellbound, dumbfounded to near silence, an occasional camera flash the only distraction from Björk-as-Goddess.
The first half of the show (yes, a concert with an intermission) was devoted to her newer, more ethereal material, its effect intoxicating on a crowd coming needy of a fix. Once the crowd was sufficiently ready to submit, the show’s second half blasted them with hit after mesmerizing hit to cement their devotion. Old, more electronic favorites like “Human Behavior”, and “Isobel” met up with newer, orchestral songs like “Bachelorette” and “Pagan Poetry”, creating a roller coaster of ebullience, contemplation, amazement. Her technique, like her singing, is always both big and oh so quiet—at one moment seems to be sharing an intimate secret with the audience, and the next, her voice bellows nearly out of control, like an echo volleying around a canyon. These pushes and pulls seemed to electrify the audience to live wire status. So even the slightest twittering of dance moves evoked evoked overwhelmed reactions.
She uttered few words during the show, but in the midst of the heaven she created there, words seemed strangely beside the point. It was not up to those of us who saw her show how we would react - for they came, they saw, they were broken, they were hers. Because for Björk, the easiest way to manage the oversized belief of her fans is to be beyond belief.
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