Background and Vocal Summary: +++Björk Guðmundsdóttir is an Icelandic musician. One of the most idiosyncratic singer-songwriters in recent memory, Björk rose to fame initially as the leading vocalist of Icelandic punk band The Sugarcubes before breaking off to embark on a hugely successful solo career. Ranging from 1993’s eclectic Debut to the the more lush, intimate sound created on Vespertine, it’s difficult to put a label on Björk’s sound because there really is nothing quite like it. Since the 1980s, Björk has consistently defied any sort of musical categorisation, while still being widely hailed for her musical experimentation and her “somersaulting” unique voice. +++Björk can easily be categorised as a soprano, with very strong and rounded fifth octave belts, a strong head voice which can reach into the sixth octave and a very distinguishable tone. Early on in The Sugarcubes, critics and fans alike noted her vocal abilities – in this time, she had a very clear high vocal placement, with Björk frequently making use of her strong head voice. As a result of the genre of music and her naturally high voice, Björk would also frequently (albeit briefly) reach into the seventh and even eighth octaves with spontaneous “dolphin” notes in live performances. Throughout the nineties, Björk’s voice still exhibited many unusual vocal quirks – she displayed a strong Icelandic accent in her English singing and would often reach for heavy lyricless belted notes. However, by 1996’s Post, her voice matured somewhat, as Björk demonstrated she was capable of delivering softer, more stripped-back songs along with pushing down into her (admittedly somewhat weak) lower register more frequently. In the 2000s, Björk’s voice began to deteriorate somewhat. Though her singing on albums like Vespertine and Volta was still undeniably superb, in live performances, some of Björk’s higher belted notes would begin to sound somewhat hoarse and many of her signature vocal quirks began to become less predominant. In 2012, Björk revealed she was receiving surgery on her voice having developed vocal nodules. Returning in 2015 with Vulnicura, Björk proved that the surgery had done her voice little harm, still being able to reach up into the fifth octave with relative ease despite her voice having lost some of its warmth. +++An experimental musician in regards to both her songwriting and her singing, Björk’s voice can easily be described as something of an acquired taste – her high placement, unique tone and occasionally wailed high notes have left some divided by her voice. However, with immensely powerful belts on songs like “All is Full of Love”, “Human Behaviour” and “Pagan Poetry” and a beautiful head voice on songs like “Birthday” and “Harm of Will”, there’s no denying that Björk is an immensely skilled vocalist, being one of the most memorable voices in recent memory.
As part of The Range Place forum, we have extensively kept track of Björk’s singing from B3 below and C5 above. Here’s a brief overview of the results with a link to the complete thread.
This is a representation of Björk’s range on a piano. Her highest note, B6, and lowest note, E3, have been labelled red. C4 (or Middle C) is noted by grey.
Vocal Timeline (1982-2017): 1982-1992: As part of numerous punk bands (most notably The Sugarcubes), Björk demonstrates immense power in her voice. With live performances often full of being full of powerful fifth octave belts, high screams and head voice slides, Björk demonstrates she is a clear soprano having a lot of ease and strength in her upper register while rarely showcasing her lower register.
1993-1994: With the release of the eclectic Debut, Björk phases out many of the questionable vocal quirks she used in her time in The Sugarcubes. Björk makes less use of her head voice while proving that she is a very belty singer with a good amount of power and control, even belting up to G5 on occasion. She begins to reach into her lower register upper third octave somewhat more frequently.
1995-1996: The idiosyncratic Post demonstrates more angles to Björk’s voice. She begins to use dynamics more on songs like “Hyperballad” and “It’s Oh So Quiet” while still making extensive use of her upper register on tracks like “I Miss You” and “The Modern Things”. While she also makes use of her lower register, it’s clear that this is not where her strength lies, with notes as high as C4 sounding particularly dark.
1997-1999: With a plenitude of live performances and the emotionally-tinged Homogenic, Björk dials back on many of her more eccentric vocal characteristics and opts for singing in a more measured approach. She dips into her lower register much more frequently here, reaching down to F3 in “5 Years”. In live performances of older songs, she still proves that she’s capable of belting her signature high notes and reaching into her head voice, though it’s much less frequent here.
2000-2003: Björk’s voice is still largely the same, though the intimate Vespertine has Björk reaching into her soft head voice much more frequently than before in songs like “Cocoon” and “Harm of Will” while belting less. Despite being a strangely not very rangey period for Björk, she reaches her high notes much more frequently than previous periods. In live performances, however, her belting begins to occasionally sound somewhat hoarse.
2004-2008: Björk’s voice begins to sound slightly more aged here, particularly around 2007, as she doesn’t sound as youthful and powerful as she has done previously. While sounding strong in the studio (particularly on songs like “Who Is It?”) she seems to be a somewhat inconsistent live performer; her signature belts still sound fairly hoarse and less pleasant (on “Oceania”, for example) , while her singing elsewhere sounds occasionally pitchy and out of time. Björk also almost entirely avoids singing with of her more unusual vocal choices (her high “dolphin” notes, for example) from her youth, avoiding reaching above the fifth octave. Her mid range still sounds strong.
2010-2012: Björk still sounds aged here, with her voice sounding notably tentative in its upper register. Björk usually sings in her mid range, where she sounds strongest, here, as she begins to sound much less clear when she reaches higher. Her head voice begins to sound sound tentative and is used infrequently, while her belting around this time begins to sound “shouty”. Her voice is still strong here, though comparatively it sounds slightly weaker to how it did around Debut or Homogenic. In 2012, Björk revealed she had developed a vocal polyp, which she received surgery for towards the end of the year.
2013-2017: Despite Björk claiming the surgery for her vocal nodules was a success, in Vulnicura, Björk had seemingly lost a fair amount of warmth to her voice. In live performances, Björk lowered the key for a lot of her old songs, rarely reaching above D5 and belting far less than she had done previously. Despite this, her voice has preserved well and still sounds as unique and emotive as in her prime. Her lower register sounds somewhat more developed, with notes in the mid third octave sounding much more comfortable than previously.
Top Ten Vocal Performances:
This list was decided upon by members of The Range Place forum, and thus, is subjective.
1. Bachelorette (1997)
2. Birthday (1988)
3. Nu Flyver Anton (1995)
4. Pagan Poetry (2001)
5. Crying (1993)
6. Play Dead (1993)
7. All is Full of Love (1997)
8. Human Behaviour (1993)
9. Jóga (1997)
10. It’s in Our Hands (2002)
About the researcher:
Joining the site in 2016, Alex61 is the responsible for a large proportion of the site’s female singers. He appreciates the work of female singer-songwriters like Björk, Kate Bush and Regina Spektor, and generally prefers more unique voices over those more technically proficient. If you wish to contact him regarding any of his work, feel free to send him a private message after registering at http://therangeplace.boards.net.