Obsessions Music

Here’s What ‘Headphones,’ Bjork’s 1995 Ode to Yearning, Can Teach Us About Obsession

Outtakes from the photo shoot for the cover Björk's Post, 1995. Photography by Stephane Sednaoui.

In this series, Obsessions, writers select a treasured cultural artifact and hold it up to the light, reflecting on the revelations it has sparked, the nostalgia it conjures, and the deep-seated urges it articulates.

“Headphones” carries the temperament of every facet of intimacy—lush, then sparse; remote, yet encroaching; playful but unflinching. It’s the soft crescendo of Björk’s 1995 sophomore album Post, co-written and produced by her erstwhile lover, a late-'90s trip hop artist named Tricky. “Headphones” is an ecstatic manifesto that invents the acoustics for healthy obsession—the kind that inspires instead of subsuming or ruining.

In her tiptoeing voice, we feel the halo of sound that headphone technology allows to be illuminated: “Genius to fall asleep to your tape last night / Sounds go through the muscles.” An erotics both cerebral and somatic chaperones us through this shadow realm of desire and pleasure, where the singer seduces what has seduced her, slurring states of consciousness until she’s lucid-dreaming to her beloved’s music.

Cover of Björk’s Post. Photography by Stephane Sednaoui.

The song’s hook is dire and committed: “My headphones / They saved my life / Your tape / It lulled me to sleep, to sleep, to sleep / I’m fast asleep now / You’re still listening.” Björk delivers us to reverie in a faint and diminishing whisper that gives erotic love the giddy somnambulance it deserves. She then enters a rumbling litany in Icelandic, backed by a rhythmic pendulum, a reenactment of la petite mort.

Outtakes from the photoshoot for the cover Björk's Post, 1995. Photography by Stephane Sednaoui.

When I wear oversized headphones late at night, I melt into the song’s cautious yet unruly web of passion and yearning—“I like this resonance / It elevates me.” I sampled that lyric myself and made a loop of it to play before I write, when someone sends me music and I want to inflect the gift with meaning, when I’m nearing romance but unwilling to surrender. 

Björk harnesses the delicate metonym of machine to mimic bodies touching, resisting, then joining heartbeats; cazimi; eavesdropping on their shared fantasy together; to create one of the only lullabies for adults who are neither brooding nor anodyne. We sleep cradled by desire as it dissolves into the will of daybreak.

For more Obsessions, read Liana Satenstein on the allure of Gina Gershon and J Wortham on the pathos of the film Past Lives