An artist’s first arena appearance is usually an indication that they’re at their commercial peak, fully in the mainstream with enough hits to fill 90 minutes or more. For Björk, making her inaugural visit to the O2 at 53, it was an opportunity to display the world of her most recent album on the grandest scale. Anyone hoping to hear old favourites will have left frustrated, but
those who knew that the Icelandic innovator is someone who only looks forward may have felt they got a precious glimpse of the future.
The show, called Cornucopia, draws heavily on Björk’s Utopia album from 2017. First seen in May at the new Manhattan arts venue The Shed, it envisages a paradise in which humans, birds and flowers, nature and technology, have all merged. That meant a stage built from giant mushrooms with a screen of floor-to-ceiling strands in front of the players, onto which were projected billowing, twisting plants, shifting nests of fibres and bodies that merged and intertwined impossibly.
A manifesto scrolled upwards on the screen: “In order to survive as a species, we need to define our utopia,” it read. Later, teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg addressing the room on video: “Change is coming whether they like it or not.”
The visual spectacle was so relentlessly beautiful it belonged in a gallery. Musically it was more testing at times. The band format was unique, with a harpist and seven dancing flautists providing most of the backing. During Blissing Me a percussionist hit floating bowls while pouring water. Björk delivered some songs from within an acorn-like reverb chamber, which amplified her voice naturally and suggested what it would be like to hear her singing in the shower.
A giant leap away from standard arena fare, Björk’s brave new world was an unforgettable sight.