Our coronavirus coverage is free for the first 24 hours. Find the latest information at Please consider subscribing or donating.

  1. Archive

They have so much in common

Generally, there are two possible approaches to a greatest hits disc: trust an artist to pick their best work or slap together the biggest-selling songs.

Leave it to the quirkly Icelandic singer Bjork to find a third way.

She asked her fans to vote, via the Internet, on which songs they wanted to see on the CD. The songs appear in the order they were chosen, opening with the biggest vote-getter (All Is Full of Love) and ending with No. 15 (It's in Our Hands).

"I was very pleased, when I saw the fans' voting, how similar it was to mine," Bjork said in an interview. "I think somebody at my job can't ask for much more than that, that your fans see your work in a similar light as you do yourself. That's lucky, right?"

On a six-CD box set released simultaneously this month with the single best-of disc, Bjork devotes one CD to her personal greatest-hit choices. Seven of 12 songs that she chose were also picked by the fans.

Much to Bjork's glee, neither list contains her biggest-selling song: the big-band whirlwind It's Oh So Quiet.

"I didn't write it," she said. "To put it on my disc and say it was some of my best work of 10 years and it was somebody else's work, feels like cheating to me."

Working on the retrospective projects was a chore for Bjork, who lives north of New York City and spent much of this year pregnant with her second child. She has never been much for looking back, she said, and likened the project to spring cleaning.

She listened to recordings of more than a hundred of her live performances.

"I've got so much more respect now for librarians," she said.

One aspect of the job was instructive, however. She said time had justified many of her musical decisions, even when critics or people around her thought she was nuts.

"It's a magic riddle that happens when you are as selfish as you can be and you hit something," she said. "The things that I have done that have been the most selfish have ended up being the most universal."

Her Family Tree box set has different themes. A "roots" disc, for example, contains a song she composed on the flute as a 15-year-old and cuts from the Sugarcubes, Bjork's band in the 1980s when she first attracted attention outside of Iceland.

A "strings" disc has more classically oriented recordings.

Likely the biggest celebrity from her home country, Bjork grew up in a musical community that reveled in being Icelandic instead of trying to conform to ideas from the outside.

"In music school they have a tendency to want you to be disciplined and practice, and let go of your idiosyncrasies to play like everyone else plays," she said. "That's a great thing for certain people, performers. But if you want to write music, it's the worst thing that can happen to you, because you've been suffocated."

Bjork said she's ending a period of several years in which she had clear concepts for her music. The quiet Vespertine was an introverted album, with Homogenic more extroverted.

Now she's writing songs not worrying about fitting them into a concept. She said it "feels like I'm entering the unknown blindfolded."

Despite earning critical praise for her role as an immigrant executed for murder in the wrenching 2000 film Dancer in the Dark, Bjork says she has no further interest in acting.

"I'm 36 and I still haven't done half of what I can do," she said. "To sit and knit while I'm waiting in some trailer on a film set, it's like, what am I doing? I think it's important to find what you're good at and stick to it."

Her performance of I've Seen it All on the 2001 Academy Awards telecast, where she was dressed in a bizarre swan outfit, may be the most indelible impression Bjork has left on Americans unfamiliar with her music.

She takes it all in stride.

"I wore a more outrageous dress at Cannes," Bjork said, "but nobody said a word."