Bjork: The Ice Queen

On the heels of her new winter-inspired album, Iceland's most famous expat revisits her homeland, its music and, of course, its elves

  • Bjork isn't that weird. Granted, expectations are pretty high, what with the swan dress at the Oscars, and the video in which she turns into a polar bear, and the freaky electronica-based whisper-wailing music she makes, and the fact that she's from Iceland. But still, in person, she is very close to normal. Conversation is cohesive. References are erudite. Return questions are volleyed. Humility is invoked. Offers to taste her beverage are proffered. Eating is done with a knife and fork. It is, without a doubt, terribly disappointing.

    The only thing that hints at the weirdness widely attributed to her is this: Bjork believes in elves. Fairies too. "We think nature is a lot stronger than man," she explains, sipping a cappuccino at Vid Fjorubordid, a restaurant on the ocean that is virtually the only commercial enterprise in Stokkseyri, Iceland, a town so small that the road entering it has a sign of geometric symbols with a line through them, meaning "no town here." The road also has a waterfall with a rainbow over it and graffiti mowed into the hills, so you can see where the elf thing came from. "My family hunts half the food we eat. A relationship with things spiritual hasn't gone away," Bjork says, in defense of elf-faith. "In a lot of Western cities, they lost that and had to buy it again with meditation courses." In fairness, despite the fact that Icelanders have a 99.9% literacy rate, most believe in elves. In fact, the government had to reroute a planned highway because it would have passed over elf territory. It appears that elves, while remaining hidden, somehow manage to hand out their maps.

    At the Stokkseyri restaurant, Bjork, 35, is wearing a coat of cow fur, an embroidered one-sleeve dress with a wine stain on the chest, mukluks with red plastic horse fencing for laces and a blue, lunch-box-shaped pocketbook. The outfit, she explains, looked much more sensible the night before, when she and a friend were up until 4 a.m. in Reykjavik bars before driving an hour to the friend's summer home in Stokkseyri. They spent the night at small bars far more mellow than the popular club Thomsen, which she does not recommend. "It's kind of..." she says, using her index finger to point the top of her nose in the air. "Puff Daddy might be there."

    So even if she's not that strange in person--allowing for ethnic background on the elf thing--there's no getting around the fact that Bjork's music, which has sold 10 million units worldwide, is really weird. Her latest album, Vespertine, uses household noises as instruments: the shuffling of cards serves as a beat on one song, as does clattering cutlery, icicles melting, footsteps in snow, clicking cameras, beating on a thermos and pounding on, yes, the kitchen sink.

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