Björk’s Virtual Utopia

The immersive, animated worlds of Björk’s music videos

Published June 9, 2023

Björk’s music videos are my favorite movie. A pioneer of both musical and cinematic innovation since her debut, Björk has collaborated with an array of directors, artists, and animators to bring visual life to her music. Through special effects and ornate costuming (which she never seems to not be wearing), the artist injects entire immersive atmospheres into just 4 minutes.


Her work can either capture a whole reality (Army of Me, Human Behaviour, Bachelorette), or provide a window into an intimate scene (Hunter, Pagan Poetry, Cocoon, Stonemilker, Unravel).

Icelandic landscapes that are breaking open to reveal their tectonic plates (Jóga); robots falling in love (All Is Full Of Love); a neglectful husband-cat who grows to be her size (Triumph of a Heart); shape shifting back and forth into a bear (Hunter); twizzler-like ropes floating out of her nipples and wrapping her in a Cocoon— her videos give the sense of stand-alone art performances that have never been confined by any technological or cinematic boundary. From the jump, she has set forth to change the prospect of what the music video is intended to be, both as a visual experience of music and as a piece of cinema.

In the 1997 video for All Is Full Of Love, directed by video artist Chris Cunningham, Björk inhabits a white, glossy robot, connected by black mechanical arms. With her features animated onto the robot’s head, laying on the operating table as her body is screwed in by automated factory bots, she sings:

You’ll be given love
You’ll be taken care of
You’ll be given love
You’ll have to trust it


Her body assembled, she stands to greet another robot, seated beneath her. They kneel together on the manufacturing line and share a passionate kiss, caressing each other as the machinery continues to whirl around their bodies. The video was hailed as an animation masterpiece, a major milestone for its time. Along with the seamless union of her face and the robot, the video’s hyper-realistic kiss creates a digital intimacy that feels like the first of its kind.


Nearly all of 4 minutes of Hidden Place (2001) features an up-close pan of Björk’s face, as the camera follows a color-switching stream of shimmering liquid that runs within it. As she sings “I’m so close to tears”, the liquid leaks from her left eye, and trails down into her mouth, back out and into her nose, and once more out of the right eye, completing the full revolution.

The video itself is disturbingly intimate: she stands naked, as the camera zooms in closely to show only parts of her face at a time. As her features smile, sing, and cry, the shape-shifting fluid oozes out of her orifices, then crawls back into the brain, her hidden place. Björk uses the animation of the video to convey the internal, the personal, the invisible. It leaks from her eyes to portray a piece of herself as she pleads to “hide there too, hide in the air of him. Seek solace, sensually.”


From the same album, Vespertine, her video for Cocoon follows a similar pattern. Björk stands white and naked, ushering red elastic strings from her nipples, which float around her as she sings about a sexual experience with her lover. The red strings wrap around her body, slowly creating a cocoon, while she whispers:

Who would have known?
A beauty this immense
Who would have known?
A saintly trance

Once more, she employs digital animation to bring the inside external to her, to exhibit a feeling as a tangible experience.


In 1995’s I Miss You, Björk (in her ginger era!) appears as a Ren & Stimpy-esque cartoon, in a video which blends traditional hand-drawn animation, motion-capture, and CGI, spliced in amongst scenes of herself, creating a visually striking and light-hearted amalgamation of styles. The cartoon allows her to ascend beyond of the laws of physics— her head is chopped off by a piranha. She shapeshifts into a viking, a cheerleader, then a worm. She dances inside of a condom, which, when the camera pans out, we see is a representation of her own breast, as she parades atop the chest of an enlarged version of herself, floating on a rock in cartoon space.


The absurd surreality of the video invokes a humorous, playfully raunchy feeling that was palpable in her music through the mid-90s. Björk's dedication to artistic experimentation, and her ability to collaborate with off-beat talents like John Kricfalusi cemented her music as a platform for innovation in the world of virtual imagery.

The video for Mutual Core (2012), directed by Andrew Thomas Huang, again showcases her collaboration with avant-garde animators who utilize state-of-the-art techniques. In the video, Björk is portrayed as a geological deity, with her lower body spreading out like a dune of sand. The video blends live-action footage with computer-generated imagery, conveying in a visually dimensional and textured atmosphere. Out of her sand-body rise two rocks, which start to lick at each other with their tongues made of strata. As they get closer, they merge their tectonic parts and begin to volcanically erupt, as the music reaches its climax.


The video was widely praised as an artistic and cinematic feat, marking the beginning of her collaboration with Huang as a new chapter and baseline of quality in her visual work. From this point on, Huang's aesthetics began to merge with Björk’s, as they continued to collaborate through each of her subsequent album cycles.

For her tenderly intimate 2015 album Vulnicura, Björk worked again with Huang to produce videos that engulfed the viewer, serving as a portal into a beautifully affecting atmosphere that contains both love and grief. 

The VR video for Stonemilker debuted at her 2015 MoMA retrospective, shown through an Oculus Rift. It was later released in 360° on Youtube, where the user can scroll around the circling landscape to locate her, as she lingers on an Icelandic black sand beach, calling out:

What is it that I have
that makes me feel your pain?
Like milking a stone,
to get you to say it


Unlike her past videos, Stonemilker doesn’t offer elaborate costuming or shocking visual effects within the contents of its picture, rather, Björk changes the technological medium of its presentation to curate how the viewer interacts with it. She floats around us as we search for her amidst the landscape, beckoned by her voice.

Working again with Huang for 2017's Utopia, the video serves as her best presentation of a fully immersive universe—her utopia. Situated in a living room of a pink and orange other-world,  Björk appears to us yet again as a manipulated alter of herself: wearing a pearlescent insect-like mask, gazing with her eyes which have become only pupils. The scenery features a futuristic woodsiness, with animated shimmering droplets floating through the air, and CGI lizard-dragon-birds flying around her and her chorus of flautists. 

The video might be the most stunningly absorbant example of her work thus far. Björk has finally welcomed us completely into her imaginative reality, the world from which her music comes, as she sings:

It isn't elsewhere
It's here

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USURPATOR is an online magazine sharing essays and interviews about the user experience of our current virtual landscape

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