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Björk responds to negative reviews with an impassioned lesson on gender roles

The Icelandic singer argued that women are required to “bleed for men and children” to be seen as legitimate artists.

Day for Night
Aja Romano writes about pop culture, media, and ethics. Before joining Vox in 2016, they were a staff reporter at the Daily Dot. A 2019 fellow of the National Critics Institute, they’re considered an authority on fandom, the internet, and the culture wars.

You know you’re in for a good rant when the person delivering said rant opens with “dear little miss media.”

And when the ranter is Björk, well, buckle up.

On December 16, during a highly anticipated appearance at Houston’s second annual Day for Night music festival, the Nordic singer revealed Björk Digital, a five-room installation where attendees could walk through an art exhibit, immerse themselves in a virtual reality version of “intense footage captured from inside [Bjork’s] mouth,” and listen to a music set programmed and deejayed by the artist herself.

The scene, which saw Björk wearing a mask and deejaying from behind a screen of foliage, drew a mix of responses, ranging from positive to negative to “WTF?” from both audiences and music critics (“The crowd remained rapt and respectful but didn't always seem to know what to do,” hedged Joey Guerra at the Houston Chronicle). And many of the negative responses also seemed baffled: Why was Bjork obscured behind so many ferns? Why didn’t she perform her own music? Was that even her behind the mask?

Björk had a few things to say in response. In a Facebook post on December 21 (as well as a shorter post on Instagram), the singer used her most recent reviews as a jumping-off point to speak out against gender biases in the music industry (as she’s occasionally done in the past). Björk dismissed critics' flummoxed response to her DJ set, arguing that they'd held her to a different standard than male artists performing similarly experimental work:

dear little miss media

!!!! happy winter solstice !!!

as you know the majority of my career i havent moaned about sexism and just got on w it . but im feeling there is an enormous positive current in the sky , a flow w possible changes

so i wanted to mention one thing


i am aware of that it is less of a year since i started djing publicly so this is something people are still getting used to and my fans have been incredibly welcoming to me sharing my musical journey and letting me be me . its been so fun and the nerd in me editing together pieces of others peoples songs for weeks , gets to share the different coordinates i feel between some of the most sublime music i know .

but some media could not get their head around that i was not "performing" and "hiding" behind desks . and my male counterparts not . and i think this is sexism . which at the end of this tumultuous year is something im not going to let slide : because we all deserve maximum changes in this revolutionary energy we are currently in the midst of

Björk then highlighted a number of ways in which critics have perpetuated gender stereotyping through a positive embrace of her 2015 album Vulnicura (which many outlets, including Vox, loved) over her less emotional albums:

on the activist volta i sang about pregnant suicide bombers and for the independence of faroe islands and greenland . on the pedagogic biophilia i sang about galaxies and atoms but it wasnt until vulnicura where i shared a heartbreak i got full acceptance from the media . men are allowed to go from subject to subject , do sci fi , period pieces , be slapstick and humorous , be music nerds getting lost in sculpting soundscapes but not women . if we dont cut our chest open and bleed about the men and children in our lives we are cheating our audience .

eat your bechtel test heart out

In other words, she says, whenever her music has branched out to deal with subjects other than love and family, she’s received negative reviews. But when she released the more emotional Vulnicura in 2015, she was lauded for returning to the emotional core that anchored her widely praised 2001 album Vespertine.

This isn’t the first time Björk has opened up about what she feels are double standards in the recording industry. In a 2015 interview with Pitchfork, she pointed out that male musicians are frequently treated as auteur directors of their own albums, while women often don’t receive credit for work they have done themselves. As a case in point: Björk worked on mixing Vespertine by herself for three years, only to see all of that work universally (and inaccurately) credited thereafter to a pair of (male) electronic musicians who worked with her for two weeks at the end of the recording period to lay down some drums.

Still, Björk wrote, she hopes 2017 will usher in an era of freedom for women daring to think outside the creative boxes they’re often forced into by society. “[I] know the change is in the air,” she said in her post, continuing:

we are walking inside it . therefore i leave this with you in kindness at the end of this year and i hope that in the next year even though i was brave to share w you a classic female subject matter : the heartbreak , i get to have a costume change and walk out of this role .


lets make 2017 the year where we fully make the transformation !!!

!!! the right to variety for all the girls out there !!!

Rock on into the new year, Björk. Rock on.

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