A Time Machine in a Song: The Creation of a Timeless Classic for a Cause 

By: Eva Lynch

Oral – Björk and Rosalía 

For years, Björk has been following the open net pen farming crisis which has been unfolding in Iceland, where farms have been altering the genetic structure of their fish to accelerate their development. This had resulted in many illnesses and parasites which are then transmitted to Indigenous fish populations when lax regulations allow for fish from these farms to leak into rivers. This summer, she was encouraged to double-down on her efforts and call for action as the crisis reached new heights and released Oral with Rosalía. 

Both singers and their record companies agreed to donate the funds from the single to AEGIS, a non-profit organization that combats open pen fish farming in Iceland and supports the people of Seyðisfjörour in their environmental campaign against intensive salmon farming. All funds raised will go towards legal fees for protesters who are taking action to stop the development of intensive farms that harm wildlife, deform fish, and pose risks to salmon’s DNA and survival. When Björk first reached out to Rosalía, the latter singer shared that there was a similar crisis in Argentina and Chile. Without a proper legal framework, the oceans are being devastated. With Oral, they hope to bring attention to the harmful effects of fish farming, and to reverse the damage that has been done before it’s too late. 

In an exclusive interview with Reykjavík Grapevine, Björk shared that she wrote the song around 20 years ago while working on her 2001 album Vespertine. She had even experimented with creating a dancehall beat for the track before deciding that it was ultimately too poppy for the sound she had been aiming for. Oral was put it aside, and eventually lost to time. Years later, Björk went to her manager – who keeps all her archives and demos – to try to find it again. They finally tracked it down this spring. Hearing the song again and thinking about her vision for its final form, she thought of Rosalía’s latest album, which explored and experimented with reggaeton, and played with similar sounds. Björk emphasized that Rosalía’s been a long-time friend, and collaborating on this song was particularly special because Rosalía is the same age that Björk had been when it was recorded. Using that original recording, Björk found that their same-aged voices on the track merged in a creative and refreshing way and resonated to create something elegant and elevated. She imagined Rosalía’s voice slotted in with hers and said in an interview with Pitchfork that it created a sort of tunnel to the past – a kind of conversation between her past self and Rosalía – while simultaneously serving as a vessel for future change through the song’s mission. 

To many, this collaboration is an unexpected pairing and came as a complete surprise, but its genius lies in how it showcases a new dimension to Rosalia’s voice and the similarities between the two. These ultimately uplift both and create a unique, harmonious sound. Rosalia has been recognized for the genre bending quality of her music and traditionally trained cantora voice, which enables the singer to bring the power of her flamenco voice to any project, in addition to her unique creative vision. In Oral, Rosalia brings an electronic edge to Björk’s renowned and recognizable vocal timbre and matches her ability and dexterity with ease. Their intertwined, melodic runs and a beautiful, layered sound make this song a must-listen. One could aptly describe Oral as a sonic dream, accentuated by the playfulness between the two artists – which is on full display by the end of the song – and the exquisite way in which their voices complement one another.   

It’s nostalgic to hear Björk’s voice from between her Homogenic and Vespertine albums, which was such an iconic moment in her journey as an artist. By the end of the opening verse, you are transported right back to that moment in her repertoire. The song is also a tribute to the merging of Björk and Rosalía’s sounds. The chorus, alongside its remarkable orchestral accompaniment and violin, creates a bursting melody. Combined with nineties electronic dancehall beats, it begets the youthful feeling that permeates the song. Oral is about love and navigating the feelings that come with meeting someone new and feeling self-conscious about how to approach it. Björk was reminded of the song while touring Cornucopia in Australia. News of a recent sex scandal was everywhere, and banners and advertisements had the word ‘oral’ on display throughout the country. Björk’s Oral’s lyrics reflect the struggle between the dream and reality which can be loosely or abstractly related to the campaign around this track, which has little to do with its intended message.  

Support the Icelandic fish and give Oral a listen – it’s an excellent cause, and just as importantly – an excellent song.