The Enduring Duality of Bjork’s 1993 Music Video “Venus as a Boy”
I’m not religious, but I strongly believe that when a person dies, an angel in white drifts down from heaven to carry them away into the great beyond. That angel is Björk.
Björk channels this angelic energy as effervescently as always in her 1993 music video for “Venus as Boy,” and its lyrics and message exude this same divinely inspired quality.
The track has been covered more than 30 times since its release, most notably by the always lovely, equally transcendental Kali Uchis for the Youtube channel Like a Version in 2019. Its popularity among other artists proves how well this song has stood the test of time. Since the 90s, Björk’s career has flourished, while her earlier work endures to this day, largely thanks to the beautiful duality of its creator.
Ever since Bjork hit the scene as a solo artist in 1993, fresh from a split with alternative rock band The Sugarcubes, her music has radiated both big time sensuality and fierce originality. “Venus as a Boy” off her debut album (imaginatively titled Debut) is no exception.
The video for the Icelandic chart topping hit was directed by British music video director Sophie Mueller. Rather than switch back and forth between multiple settings and costumes, Mueller takes us to a single location: a quaint, antique looking kitchen scene populated by Björk’s own kitchen appliances. And instead of featuring numerous backup dancers and models, the video features only Björk herself and a bearded dragon perched on her shoulder, making her look like an Icelandic Snow White. Despite this lack of fast paced variety found in most music videos, Björk is mesmerizing to watch.
The setting was inspired by the singer’s favorite book, Story of the Eye, which deals with the odd sexual exploits of a pair of teenagers. In the book, one of these teenagers uses boiled eggs in a scene of sexual stimulation. Björk was apparently insistent to Mueller on exactly how she was to cook the eggs, with fried being completely out of the question. She later explained in an interview that fried eggs are “too hard… rough and greasy. It should be about being sort of liquidy and wet and soft and open…” a description that fits both the light, breathy way Björk speaks as well as the vulnerability and tenderness expressed in the song. Mueller received a copy of the novella before filming, but didn’t have time to read it until after they had wrapped. When she finally got around to reading it after recording the video, Mueller admitted to Bjork that a fried egg was in fact, “the wrong egg.”
The video, posted to YouTube in 2007, has over 5 million views. Users continue to view it to this day, with comments posted as recently as 3 hours ago, when last I checked. Some of the highlights include one user referring to Björk as “an ethereal fairy, visiting earth” and another describing her voice as simultaneously “calming and exciting.” A third posted: “I find myself coming back to this video every now and again searching for something, and I don’t know why.” I too, have frequently watched and re-watched the oddly enchanting video of the Icelandic icon dreamily cooking breakfast, unable to put my finger on what makes it so alluring. But I believe it’s that intangible duality the second YouTube user touched on in their comment. The video and lyrics are distinctly marked by seeming contradictions which, in actuality, work together quite smoothly.
Björk herself exists between worlds, and the video largely reflects that. As the YouTube commenter wrote, her voice is both deeply relaxing and stimulating at the same time, and she remains calm and serene throughout the video, even when her eggs seem ready to boil over. Similarly, the look of the video feels dated yet modern; the antiquity of the quaint, almost hobbit hole-esque kitchen setting blending perfectly with the strange contemporary 90sness of Björk’s hair knots and dark lines of dots above her wonderfully thick eyebrows (unusual in the reign of the thin, over-plucked brow).
Björk somehow represents both the antiquated ideal of the 1950s American housewife, making eggs for her husband before he goes off to work, and the quintessential Icelandic folklore princess, Viking tribal tattoo on her forearm in clear display. The ordinariness of everyday and a glimmer of fairytale magic also converge in this video, as Björk floats around her kitchen, a perfectly ordinary place, while sweating animated glitter and emanating sparkles from her body.
This pattern of seeming paradox is also evident in the song’s lyrics. Björk sings of a gratifying sexual relationship in her innocent-sounding, almost childlike voice. She also compares her male lover to a highly feminine mythological figure: Venus, the Roman goddess of love. Yet she doesn’t seek to emasculate or humiliate her lover through this comparison. Instead, she paints an image of a boy who sees everything from a “beauty point of view, and not superficial beauty but the beauty of brushing your teeth and the beauty of waking up in the morning in the right beat and the beauty of having a conversation with a person,” as she’s described him.
Bjork allows us to appreciate every day beauty, the magic in the things we take for granted, like teeth brushing or cooking eggs for breakfast (As long as they aren’t fried). Bjork’s dreamy, head in the clouds demeanor relates the warm, glowy feelings of the honeymoon phase of a relationship, the waking up early, making them breakfast in bed sort of love we all dream of.
Whether she be an angelic American housewife or an Icelandic 90s cool girl, innocent girl-child or sensual woman, there’s no denying Bjork’s tremendous allure. She’s absolutely hypnotic to watch and even more spellbinding to listen to, and it’s her array of contradictory qualities working in harmony that make her so. It may have come out well before my time, but Björk’s 1993 masterpiece “Venus as a Boy” will always be a favorite of mine, and a constant reminder of the simple beauty and sensuality of everyday life.