It takes courage to enjoy it :: VOTD

Big Time Sensuality :: Björk
from the album, Debut
Directed by Stéphane Sednaoui

Big Time Sensuality is a song by Icelandic recording artist Björk, released as the fourth single from her 1993 album Debut. Written by Björk and staple collaborator Nellee Hooper and produced by Hooper, Big Time Sensuality is a house-influenced song that helped boost Björk’s popularity worldwide, particularly the U.S., where she charted for the first time.

Big Time Sensuality lyrics deals with her relation with her friends and Hooper. The song features house grooves and electronic bass-sounds. The single release was actually the “Fluke Minimix“, which is a mix by Fluke, and the song was performed in this version in various occasions, including the inaugural MTV Europe Music Awards.

A different edit of the Fluke remix was featured in the music video for the song, directed byStéphane Sednaoui, in which Björk dances and sings on a truck throughout New York City. The video was praised by critics and fans and received heavy rotation on MTV channels.

The video edit of the Fluke remix was also featured in Björk’s Greatest Hits.

After leaving The Sugarcubes, Björk traveled toLondon where she began having contacts with electronic music, and that inspired her to change her musical style from the pop-rock sounds of the Sugarcubes to a more alternative and electronic style of music. Big Time Sensuality was one of the last songs to be written for Debut, and was originally planned to be the first single from the album, but it got delayed by the release of Human Behaviour. It was then intended to be the third single, but it got delayed again by the success of Play Dead, and was finally released as the fourth single in November 1993.

The song was co-written by Björk and Nellee Hooper and produced by Hooper, which helped her in writing and producing her first two albums. The singer’s meeting with Hooper inspired her in writing the song:

I think it’s quite rare, when you’re obsessed with your job, as I am, when you met someone who’s your other part jobwise and enables you to do what you completely want“.

The lyrics deals with enjoying life to its fullest and, in spite of its name, it was inspired by Björk’s friends. The lyrics deal also with braveness:

I’ve got a lot of courage, but I’ve also got a lot of fear. You should allow yourself to be scared. It’s one of the prime emotions. You might almost enjoy it, funny as it sounds, and find that you can get over it and deal with it. If you ignore these things, you miss so much. But when you want to enjoy something, especially when it’s something you’ve just been introduced to, you’ve got to have a lot of courage to do it. I don’t think I’m more courageous than most people. I’m an even mixture of all those prime emotions”

Björk has also said, about the song:

It’s not erotic or sensual even if it may sound like that. As you know, you create pretty deep, full-on love relationships with friends. A lot of it is also about myself. I can be a coward a lot of the time and there comes a moment when I write a song when I get quite brave. It’s a lot about me dealing with myself rather than attacking other people. Would I like to know the future? No. There’s a side to me that likes to plan a little bit ahead and there’s a side that just needs to be free. I’ve got problems with booking airline tickets – I always change them. Sometimes I wonder if it’s just for me to feel free. To kind of not be nailed in is really important to me“.

Big Time Sensuality was deemed as a highlight of Debut and was praised by critics. Sean McCarthy of the Daily Vault defined the track as “insanely addictive“, while Vox journalist Lucy O’Brien called it “saucy“. Simon Reynolds of the New York Times stated that

“…the sultry Big Time Sensuality has her vaulting from chesty growls to hyperventilating harmonies so piercing she sounds as if she’s inhaled helium“.

Reviewing Debut, Heather Phares of Allmusic, noted that

Björk’s playful energy ignites the dance-pop-like “Big Time Sensuality” and turns the genre on its head with “There’s More to Life Than This.” Recorded live at the Milk Bar Toilets, it captures the dancefloor’s sweaty, claustrophobic groove, but her impish voice gives it an almost alien feel”.

The website cites the track as an All Media Guide-pick, and in a track review, Stacia Proefrock defined the track as an

aggressive, screechy dance number” that “While not scraping the top of the charts[…] was part of an album unusual enough to stand out among its fellow pop releases as a quirky and complex experiment that worked most of the time“.

Big Time Sensuality was nominated in the Best Song category at the 1994 MTV Europe Music Awards, losing to 7 Seconds by Youssou N’Dour and Neneh Cherry.

To shoot the music video (see above) for Big Time Sensuality, Björk called upon Stéphane Sednaoui, who had previously directed videos for Madonna, U2, and Red Hot Chili Peppers. Sednaoui heard about Björk when he went to Los Angeles for the first time and declared to be fascinated by her music. Björk personally wanted the director after seeing some photos of Kurt Cobain shot by him, that Björk recalled as being the only photos in which she saw Cobain “laughing out loud and dancing“.

Sednaoui at first wanted to go to Iceland to shoot the music video, but the costs were too high for the budget. Björk explained the inspiration for the music video:

when you’re living on the edge and it’s about the courage to enjoy life“.

The director got the idea for the music video while he was in New York and realised that

it would work amazingly with the city. With all the big buildings and everything and her voice“.

The iconic video for Big Time Sensuality was shot in black and white and features Björk dancing on the back of a moving truck slowly driving through New York City in the middle of the day. Björk appears on a white dress in her typical hairstyle. The video uses film effects like slow motion and fast motion. The version of the song used in the video is a remix by Fluke. This version is an edit of the full “Fluke Moulimix” that was longer than the edit provided for radio (“The Fluke Minimix“).

Björk describes the video shoot:

I had seen the Red Hot Chili Peppers video that he did, sort of black and white and silver, and I want to do a video to song called “Big Time Sensuality”, and I was very aware that I want it to be quite different from “Human Behaviour”, which is more sort of epic story-telling thing. “Big Time Sensuality” was more like a personal statement, it has to be very in-your-face. Then he called up, a little later, with something he thought was even better, basically to get a truck and drive up and down Manhattan as long as the light would last. I guess the idea to put someone on a truck, and kinda drive the truck, and you have to dance really intensely, and just the elements of danger at the top of that, do it in a city like New York. I think the policeman, very aggressive, asking us to try to stop to do it and we were a bit like, we were kinda like anarchists not stopping, the police were after us. Then, you get all those people who actually want to jump on the truck and take part like; “Are you doing a movie? Can I take part of it?” We had very big speakers and were blasting the song, everybody was kinda listening, and you know how New York people are, they’re very sort of open anyway, they were clapping and dancing along, it was a bit of a performance statement. It was a great day, we had great laughs.”

The video helped Björk to be known in North America where it received heavy rotation on MTV channels, with many noting that the video was more known in the country than the song: “Few people know how the melody for “Big Time Sensuality” starts, but anyone who watched MTV in the early ’90s could cheerfully belt out the single measure when she sings the words “Big Time Sensuality“.

There is also a rare nighttime version which was released only on the Director’s Label The Work of Stephane Sednaoui DVD as well as an uncut alternative daytime version.

The video was later spoofed by British comediennes French & Saunders, in a low budget fashion (i.e., on a greenscreen), and also plays on the name of Iceland, Björk’s home country, which is often confused for the store of the same name.

A short scene of the video can be seen in the movie Vanilla Sky (2001) in a vision sequence Tom Cruise has.

Editor’s Note: My favorite Björk albums are her first two albums, Debut and Post, and it is that era of Björk that I love the most, and carry the most memory attachment to. It was the night of a Björk show, when she was touring for the Debut album, that the man who I would later have two children with and share the majority of 10 years of a rocky marriage with, and I would recognize that we had feelings for each other beyond friendship. Björk would ever hold significance to both of us – and us as in together – while we were together. It is impossible for me to hear her music and not be reminded of him, and of that us that once was.

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