Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2015

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Jay Keister

Second Advisor

Thomas L. Riis

Third Advisor

Jeremy Smith

Fourth Advisor

Ben Teitelbaum

Fifth Advisor

Kris Shaffer


This dissertation investigates the effects of massive industrialization, technological sophistication, and environmental problems in Iceland on the music of Björk, Iceland's most renowned living musician. In the seventy-year period since Icelanders gained independence from Denmark, their perception of themselves has changed from a fishing and farming community to an urban community preoccupied with technological development. I investigate the way this shift in Icelandic identity has been expressed through the art of Iceland's pop stars with a focus on Björk.

In the last twenty years, during Björk's rise to fame, Iceland has become a contender in the global economy in the areas of technology and sustainable energy. The collapse of Icelandic currency and the proposed construction of major hydroelectric power plants and aluminum manufacturing plants at the expense of the natural environment has forced Icelanders to make difficult choices. This dissertation investigates the ways Icelandic identity explains how Icelanders have responded to these choices and in particular how one Icelandic musician did. A preoccupation with nature, Icelandic nationalism, a pagan identity derived from old Norse Eddas and Sagas, self-sufficiency, rebellion, isolation or "alien" identity, and a modern-day preoccupation with technology are recurring themes in Björk's music that provide a gateway to understanding a shift in Icelandic identity that has occurred during the last century.

An investigation into Icelandic culture, politics, economics, and popular music expression indicates the extent to which local environmental crises, the global climate crisis, and Icelandic popular music are linked. While retaining a vast pristine landscape, Iceland has still fallen prey to environmental destruction that plagues other locales of the world. Informed by the growing field of ecomusicology, this study views the popular music scene of Iceland as a kind of petri dish: a microcosm that demonstrates how economic and social pressures affect popular music. Just as Darwin found the basis for a theory of evolution in his study of the Galapagos Islands, we can learn about pressures that are put upon music and the ways that music responds to those pressures by studying this small island nation near the Arctic Circle.