One of the most unique and visionary artists of all time, Björk has been an unstoppable force of nature since the Seventies. Throughout her career, she's worked with some of the most interesting names in music, film and art. From Thom Yorke to Skunk Anansie, here are our favourite Björk collaborations.
"Yoga" with Tricky
This low-key, mantra-like electronic number appeared on English trip-hop artist Tricky’s project Nearly God, described by him as “a compilation of exceptional yet unfinished demos”. The track consists of fast-paced, Cuban-inspired rhythms on a loop, peppered with an incongruously unsettling piano, with Björk's harmonious vocals at the forefront and Tricky’s muted rapping in the background. Eclectic, eh?
The two artists were romantically involved for a brief period in the 1990s, of which Tricky has said, “I wasn't good for Björk. I wasn't healthy for her. I feel she was really good to me, she gave me a lot of love and she really was a good person to me. I think she cared about me, right?”
"Play Dead" with David Arnold
This gloriously arranged song was the result of a collaboration between Björk, bassist Jah Wobble and composer David Arnold, who scored five of the James Bond films. The track was written for the soundtrack of The Young Americans—a 1993 crime drama about an American cop who travels to London to investigate a series of gangster killings.
"Play Dead" was allegedly inspired by the main character played by Harvey Keitel—Björk said she wanted to write a song about how he acted numb to prevent emotional pain. Wobble wrote the hardy bass part and Arnold composed the breath-taking score led by melancholy strings. The result is a sad but immensely inspired song that sounds unmistakably 1990s.
"Satisfaction" with PJ Harvey
As far as female duets go, this might one of the coolest ones in music history. Björk joined forces with rock goddess PJ Harvey to perform the Rolling Stones classic “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” at the 1994 Brit Awards and it was a performance teeming with wonderful chemistry between two completely opposing energies.
Harvey’s dark, grinding vocals and aggressive guitar plucks form the perfect foundation for Björk's over-the-top, rapturous harmonies. The arrangement is really stripped down and the delivery is a bit rough around the edges, but boy, do they manage to elevate the song to pure music pyrotechnics. And to think the organisers originally wanted to pair Björk with Meatloaf and Harvey—with Jamiroquai. The madness!
"Lilith" with Plaid
This lesser known little gem appeared on the 1997 record Not for Threes by an English electronic duo Plaid. The album is cited as one of the best IDM (Intelligent Dance Music) records of all time and "Lilith" is the perfect example why. With lyrics written and sung by Björk, it’s a very curious piece that likes to experiment with composition and surprise us with shifting melodies and beats, frivolously changing them as it pleases.
It starts off quite modest and minimal with unsettling organ-like notes and slowly builds towards a densely layered audio mesh that grows funkier and more abstract as it goes. It’s hard to believe it was released 20 years ago as it sounds so incredibly fresh and innovative.
"I've Seen It All" with Thom Yorke
It's similarly shocking that this moving number from the Dancer in the Dark soundtrack is now also almost 20 years old. Created for Lars von Trier’s critically acclaimed musical drama starring Björk, it’s a piece that doesn’t seem to age.
Along with Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, Björk creates an incredibly sensitive and curious pattern of interchanging vocals having a conversation atop a mechanic beat simulating train tracks. It makes perfect sense for the two artists to sing together; their voices are both enmeshed in the same kind of musical ability to convey intense emotion. But it is the lyrics, perhaps, that draw you in from the get-go. Written by Icelandic poet and frequent Björk collaborator Sjón and Lars von Trier, they describe one’s experience of going blind in a one-of-a-kind way.
"Dull Flame of Desire" with Antony Hegarty
Another poem-based song with an even more otherworldly collaboration is the cosmic “Dull Flame of Desire” performed with Antony and the Johnsons’ Antony Hegarty. The two could easily be siblings with their eccentric styles and unmistakable, beautifully odd vocals that alternate and entwine each other on this track.
With its nervy synths and regal horns, it sounds futuristic, unsettling and tenderly morose. The lyrics are an English translation of a 19th-century Russian poem by Fyodor Tyutchev as it appears on Andrei Tarkovsky’s cult film Stalker.
"Army of Me" with Skunk Anansie
The heaviest entry on our list and, let’s face it, the coolest. One small stage, two female powerhouses, heavy guitars, beastly drums—it all makes for one electrifying number. The hard rock legends Skunk Anansie add some real fire to Björk's already rock-minded "Army of Me" in this dynamite performance. Björk premiered the song with Skunk Anansie on Top of the Pops in 1995 ahead of the release of the single and it caused quite the stir at the time.
Lyrically, the song was inspired by Björk's frustration with her brother who was exhibiting damaging behaviour at the time. In an interview with Jon Savage, she said, “The lyric is about people who feel sorry for themselves all the time and don't get their shit together. You come to a point with people like that where you've done everything you can do for them, and the only thing that's going to sort them out is themselves.”