Biophilia was an easy thing to get excited about, and much of that didn’t have anything to do with it being a new Bjork album. Incepted as an all-star, cross-promotional, sky-shooting, stupidly-ambitious event, Biophilia was constructed for high-brow, state-of-the-industry discourse. If you haven't heard, the record accompanies a series of multimedia applications for iPad which come with short games, essays, stories, and, if you ordered the special edition, a wooden box filled with tuning forks adjusted to the tone of the songs. One particularly hoity-toity example is for the song “Virus,” whose app, in no uncertain terms, tells the story of a white blood cell and a virus falling in love.
It is a brilliant, deceivingly democratic concept. A futurist vision from an art-pop auteur like Bjork whose pretty easy to trust. But unfortunately, Biophilia doesn’t matter. It will have no lasting impact. Its legacy will remain a curious diversion for a woman who’s earned every detour she’s willing to make. Frankly, Bjork’s Bjorkiness is the overriding factor.
Teasing a fanbase through an escalating set of iPad apps that gradually reveal new, cryptic information is a great way to foster a listenership, but only if you’ve got an unparalleled mystique like Bjork. News of a new record sets the internet on fire – simply because you’re never sure if there’s going to even be a new Bjork album, the same cannot be said for most other outfits. For a casual, meat-and-potatoes upstart, it’s a much harder sell. Making the world salivate via free alternative media only works if the world is already salivating, which is something only a few mega-acts can claim. Casting out applications as an unknown is a fool’s venture, especially considering the production costs and the lack of an exposing venue for the hard work. It might not be immediately apparent, but it gets pretty clear that the only reason we’re electrified by Biophilia is the woman on the cover, not the contents of the concept.
Not that the contents of the concept is a bad idea. If there was an ascendance in interest towards interactive, cross-media promotional tools, it might start to sound like a lot of sense. There’s something truly unique about having a potential listener reach out and download a free, bite-sized encapsulation of the spirit of your sound directly to their tablet. Something like that feels effective - certainly more so than a banner ad on Stereogum. Of course, that naturally runs the risk of getting concentrated to the point of no return. If the Biophilia shtick manages to catch on, and labels start allocating serious funds to an app division, promoting your record via download-store would be like chucking a message in a bottle into a sea made entirely out of messages in bottles.
Think about how Radiohead treated In Rainbows, a striking, innovative, think-piece ready commencement of pay-what-you-want egalitarianism. The world was enthralled, at least until we realized this was not the solution to the failures of the record industry but more a luxury that a very famous band could afford themselves. The method was effective enough that now the common music-consuming public wakes up to dozens of exclusive album streams coming from all destinations on the web. It gets to the point where there’s so much it’s categorically impossible to listen to it all. What started as a specific experiment exploded into an expected thing, the same could very well happen with Biophilia.
It might not be a bad thing; Bjork’s restless experimentalism has certainly opened pathways for added creative passageways, and as a listener, it may be tantalizing to have a flood of apps to make music listening more interesting. But we must always consider the source – Bjork’s success is certainly not going to be mirrored by everyone else who gives it a shot. Arty iPad apps aren’t going to craft long-term interest, and mystique is only temporarily engaging – even now only a few months removed Biophilia’s sheen is beginning to wear, its most lasting legacy will be judged by the inspiring songs, just like how it’s always been. Bjork may have taught us that its possible, but she hasn’t proven that it’s a meaningful evolution.