SLUMPED IN A BLACK LEATHER chair in her record label’s Beverly Hills offices, Björk hardly resembles the playful sprite in her kaleidoscopic music videos. Not that she isn’t colorful, with her orange nail polish and crimson T with a silk-screened image of her 9-year-old son, Sindri, and—in a nod to her Norse roots—a Viking compass tattoo on her right arm, but at this moment she’s seeing only one shade: red. “For the first time in years, I was angry this morning,” she sighs. “Everybody wanted to take a picture of me, and I had no patience. I hadn’t slept for days, and I just couldn’t handle it.”
Success has taken its toll on the off-beat chanteuse from Reykjavik, Iceland, a worldly-wise imp with a voice at once as steamy and as volatile as her country’s famous volcanic hot springs. Ever since her first solo album, 1993’s Debut, sold more than 2.5 million copies, the 29-year-old former lead singer of the Sugarcubes has been on a collision course with fame. Last year her quirky, offhandedly sexy look landed her on the Paris runway of fashion designer Jean-Paul Gaultier, and Madonna was reportedly so taken with her that she asked her to write some songs. (Björk sent her only one, but it was Madonna‘s recent No. 1 dance hit, “Bedtime Story”) With her latest album, Post—released in June at No. 32 on the Billboard charts—Björk has now made the leap beyond the realm of cult heroine.
Recently, though, she’s had reason to feel more victim than victor. Since February, Björk has been sued twice: by a songwriter claiming copyright infringement (the suit was dismissed in June) and by a British music publisher seeking royalties for a sample she used on Post (a settlement was reached last month). “When people think you’re rich, they just try anything,” she scoffs. “If they washed your socks six years ago, they send you a bill for $100,000.” Joga Johanns-dottir, a pal of eight years, is not surprised that Björk has overcome her legal obstacles. “I call her the little girl with the big instinct,” she says. “She’s not lost in her ego. She’s just very strong in her views.”
As the only child of Gudmundur, 49, a Reykjavik union chief, and Hildur, 48, a homeopathic doctor, Björk Gud-mundsdottir came by her wits early on. When she was 1, her parents divorced, and Hildur and Björk moved into a purple-painted flat where artists and musicians congregated. “I learned to organize my time and rule my own life,” says Björk. “At 6, I would plan my day. My mom trusted me, so I could do whatever I wanted.”
The only problem, recalls Hildur, was that Björk “wanted to do everything.” Noticing that certain tunes—especially Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix hits—gave her daughter goose bumps, Hildur enrolled the 5-year-old in a classical music school. At 11, Björk recorded a pop album that was a bestseller in Iceland. In her teens, she performed in jazz clubs, produced a heavy metal band, and composed music for avant-garde dance troupes while going to school and holding down various nonmusical jobs, including cutting up fish in a factory. By then she was 17 and, as she puts it, “waking up to my sexuality. I was reading a lot of cultured, erotic European books that dealt with the body, texture and muscles. It was kind of sizzling.”
Björk, a self-described anarchist, was unabashed about flaunting her sexual side. She formed a punk band named Kukl with her then boyfriend, guitarist Thor Eldon, and performed while seven months pregnant with Sindri in a midriff T-shirt that read, “Like a Virgin.” She married Eldon in 1986, and the couple formed the Sugarcubes, a wacky alternative band that two years later signed with Elektra Records and, even though Björk and Eldon had just split, went on a worldwide tour. “We figured if we didn’t do it, we’d regret it when we’re 75,” she says. “We had to do our Viking tour around the world like our ancestors did 1,000 years ago.”
The group stayed together for three more years until, as Björk says, “the joke wasn’t funny anymore.” In 1993 she moved to England to launch her solo career. When she’s not touring—or fending off photographers—Björk lives in a one-bedroom West London flat and doubles as rocker and homebody. Her routine includes doing laundry on Thursdays, practicing kung fu and catching Ren & Stimpy on the telly with Sindri (who attends a local private school). There is also her new love, English musician Tricky, who co-produced two tracks on Post. “I’m so romantic,” she admits. “I don’t know how to turn it off.” But she will know when to quit. “I sacrificed a lot—friends, family—to move [to England] and do all that I do,” she says. “But the minute it’s over, I’ll go back to Iceland and live there happily ever after.”
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