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Björkins, honey, I want you back

No one has inhabited the spaces in which we hear
music like Björk. And that voice! Who else could

Dear darling Björk,

I am so, so sorry. Can you ever find it in your turtle heart to forgive me? What I've done to you, the way I've treated you, the way I've taken you for granted - it's disgusting, shameful. I know that now.

Let me tell you how it happened. Let me confess. There I lay, moments ago, slumped in the arms of one of the other women . . . Yes, my darling, there has been more than one. There have been, at a rough guestimate, 12 or 13 others. None of them meant anything, believe me. None of them replaced you as my ideal. They were all just short-term affairs.

Shall I name them? Please, don't make me! All right, if you insist: Emiliana, Alison, Antony and several of his Johnsons, Victoria, Annie, Natasha, Karin, Nana, Mara . . .

That's all. I swear, that's all. All right, yes, there was P J Harvey, too. She was my first. Are you satisfied now? But how could I not fall for Polly Jean? Everyone loves her.

So, there I lay, with this year's model in this latest trashed hotel room, and on the flat-screen (I shudder) was The X Factor. And there, in his little artist-intro clip - looking like the bastard offspring of Tintin and Old Mother Hubbard - was Louis Walsh. And he said, "The thing about Kitty is she's controversial. All the best artists in the world are controversial." Now, this had my attention, although some of the details are woozy here because I'm seeing all this through layers of guilt, shame, cocaine and Courvoisier. And the song begins, and it's "It's Oh So Quiet" - the song that you made famous in 1995, the song that, as you rose high up above the dancers in that Californian street, you absolutely nailed, honey. And Kitty, that fame-seeking missile with a voice that could strip Ronseal, got up, dressed as Alice in Wonderland, and turned all your force into stridency and all your charm into glitter.

That was when I began to weep. The song climaxed. The dancers flounced off through the shadows, stage left and right. The bright lights dimmed down to a merciless pair of follow spots. And there Kitty stood, bless her, trying to look humble because that gets votes. And there behind the judges' table - looking like the future daughter of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge blinged up in 2041 for a Towie nostalgia party - was Tulisa of N-Dubz. Somewhere through my racking sobs, I heard Tulisa of N-Dubz say these words: "As an artist, you are amazing."

Björkins, darling, love of my life, shall I tell you what I did? I stood up on that Caesar-size bed - quite an achievement, given the neurochemical circumstances - and I picked up that room-service tray, and even though there were some parsnip crisps that I hadn't finished alongside the remnants of the cheeseburger, I hurled that tray with a roar of pure fury into the television screen. Those fools! Those charlatans! Those liars! And, emperor of them all, myself, the worst.

As this year's model fled the room, I rushed to the desk drawer, pulled out the hotel stationery, and immediately began this letter to you - this sad plea.

My love, I recalled the first time ever I heard your voice. October 1987. I was still in mourning for the Smiths, who had split at the height of the summer. Then came the Sugarcubes. Here you were, all of Melody Maker's (and my) girl-pop fantasies come alive. And your first song, "Birthday"! One of the greatest debut singles ever. I fell in tumbling love with it from the first bar - that impossibly sliding Jah Wobblesome bassline that seems to be dragging you into undertow even as it surfs you to the shore. But "Birthday" was far from your debut. You'd been known in Iceland since appearing on TV singing a helium-high, note-perfect cover of Tina Charles's disco shuffle "I Love to Love". You'd released your eponymous first album back in 1977, at the age of 12, while most of us were still collecting milk bottle-tops for the latest Blue Peter appeal. You'd torn it up in the strop-pop band KUKL and with Bad Taste. You were a fresh-faced veteran. Not only that, you were already mother to a one-year-old boy called Sindri. While I and everyone else was busy taking you for some kind of pixie princess, you were actually already a quixotic queen.

Shall I tell you what's great about you, my preciousness? It's that you don't just make noise, you listen to it. You listen to your listeners' listening. No other artist - yes, Tulisa from N-Dubz, artist - has so inhabited the spaces where we receive music. From the cavernous superclubs, the Ministry of Soundworlds, where "Human Behaviour" booms off into infinity, to the THX cinema soundtracks we take for granted until forced not to ("I've Seen It All"); from the TV-in-the-bar music video channels, where no one made such catchy mischief as you and Michel Gondry ("Isobel"), you and Spike Jonze ("It's Oh So Quiet"), to the alone-beneath-the-duvet-with-only-the-Walkman/iPod-for-company womb-world celebrated in "Headphones" (particularly the Ø remix). Most of all, to the alone-listening we do, where "Cocoon" and "I See Who You Are" enswathe us in empathy.

Who else can sing as convincingly in duet with a music box, a harpsichord, a glass harmonica or a flamenco guitar as with a Led Zeppelin sample, a Roland TR-808 drum machine or a human beatbox?

And the song-versions by you I love most are the ones where, like a beatboxer, you've taken something done technologically and shown that it can also be done humanly. "My Spine" with Evelyn Glennie, my favourite. What an astounding voice.

The problem is, we've all begun to take your voice for granted even though, if a real debut artist released Biophilia, we'd still be wowed by what she had done with her vocal cords. Yes, I know the doubts about your voice. Sometimes, even I've fallen into them - that you basically do the same shtick again and again over different backings: the girly confiding breathy bit, the double-octave leaps, the seagull swoop and that bleugh-scream thing where we can see almost all of your tongue.

But the critics are misguided. Compared to the divaisms of a Mariah Carey or Beyoncé's Yo-Yo rococo, you're Dionne Warwick. Who could put a song across more straightforwardly, more heart-openingly than you did in 2001 with "All Is Full of Love" at the Royal Opera House?
And that's the thing. Throughout the years of my devotion, you've owned the biggest stages in the world. Your "Oceania" fountained something worthwhile into the vacuousness of the 2004 Olympic opening ceremony. You wore a genuinely interesting outfit on the red carpet at the Oscars, simultaneously and wittily letting it announce that this was your cinema swansong. Because, even though you had managed with Dancer in the Dark - like Jagger in Performance and Bowie in The Man Who Fell to Earth - to give a great acting performance, you have always, unlike Jagger and Bowie, resolutely refused to follow it up with anything pants.

Yes, let's talk Bowie. Let's talk Jagger and Joni Mitchell and Neil Young and Kate Bush and Dylan, too. In artistic self-reinvention, you've matched them all. But even though you've often sampled the flavour of the month, there has rarely been any sense of you straining to be it. You can't be accused of trying to get down with the trendy kids, not unless the trendy kids include the Brodsky Quartet and David Attenborough.

I know I can never undo what's happened - the betrayals, the lies, the illegal downloads. But that's all over. In this trashed hotel room,
in this disgrace, I give you this solemn written promise: I shall never stray again. So, take me back, please. Please?

Love, Tobias

This article first appeared in the 28 November 2011 issue of the New Statesman, The rise of the muslim brotherhood

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SRSLY #13: Take Two

On the pop culture podcast this week, we discuss Michael Fassbender’s Macbeth, the recent BBC adaptations of Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Cider with Rosie, and reminisce about teen movie Shakespeare retelling She’s the Man.

This is SRSLY, the pop culture podcast from the New Statesman. Here, you can find links to all the things we talk about in the show as well as a bit more detail about who we are and where else you can find us online.

Listen to our new episode now:

...or subscribe in iTunes. We’re also on Audioboom, Stitcher, RSS and  SoundCloud – but if you use a podcast app that we’re not appearing in, let us know.

SRSLY is hosted by Caroline Crampton and Anna Leszkiewicz, the NS’s web editor and editorial assistant. We’re on Twitter as @c_crampton and @annaleszkie, where between us we post a heady mixture of Serious Journalism, excellent gifs and regularly ask questions J K Rowling needs to answer.

The podcast is also on Twitter @srslypod if you’d like to @ us with your appreciation. More info and previous episodes on

If you’d like to talk to us about the podcast or make a suggestion for something we should read or cover, you can email srslypod[at]

You can also find us on Twitter @srslypod, or send us your thoughts on tumblr here. If you like the podcast, we'd love you to leave a review on iTunes - this helps other people come across it.

The Links

On Macbeth

Ryan Gilbey’s review of Macbeth.

The trailer for the film.

The details about the 2005 Macbeth from the BBC’s Shakespeare Retold series.


On Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Cider with Rosie

Rachel Cooke’s review of Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

Sarah Hughes on Cider with Rosie, and the BBC’s attempt to create “heritage television for the Downton Abbey age”.


On She’s the Man (and other teen movie Shakespeare retellings)

The trailer for She’s the Man.

The 27 best moments from the film.

Bim Adewunmi’s great piece remembering 10 Things I Hate About You.


Next week:

Anna is reading Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner.


Your questions:

We loved talking about your recommendations and feedback this week. If you have thoughts you want to share on anything we've discussed, or questions you want to ask us, please email us on srslypod[at], or @ us on Twitter @srslypod, or get in touch via tumblr here. We also have Facebook now.



The music featured this week, in order of appearance, is:


Our theme music is “Guatemala - Panama March” (by Heftone Banjo Orchestra), licensed under Creative Commons. 



See you next week!

PS If you missed #12, check it out here.

Caroline Crampton is web editor of the New Statesman.

Anna Leszkiewicz is the New Statesman's editorial assistant.