''I thought I was used to everything,'' Björk says slowly. ''But yesterday it dawned on me that there's a possibility that I'm becoming...everything...I detest.''
Greeting dusk in the conservatory of London's swank Lanesborough Hotel, cooled by the same breeze that riffles the unobtrusive shrubs, Iceland's most famous export strokes kir royale whose rusty hue matches the dyed tips of her shoulder-length hair. The 29-year-old singer who has just released her second solo album, Post, to the expected critical blandishments should be basking in royal repose. Instead, says Björk, ''I'm really tense. I'm sorry! I'm not usually like this.''
Her distress traces back to a magazine profile she read the day before, which implied that Björk recorded Post in the Bahamas to avoid the advances of Madonna (who was eager to perform with Björk on a British awards show). ''Believe me, I'm used to being misunderstood. But this.'' she rails in an accent equal parts steel and trill. ''I would never say, 'I escaped to the Bahamas so f---ing Madonna couldn't reach me!' I wasn't Björk anymore [in the article]. I was someone else, and that's scary.''
Who, then, might Björk be? She is the child prodigy who at age 11 boasted a best-selling album in Iceland. She is the teen punk who, while performing on Icelandic TV at 20 with her pregnant midriff exposed, reportedly prompted a heart attack in one viewer. She is the singer whose darting-swallow voice lifted the Sugarcubes to college-radio stardom in the late '80s. She is the photographers' darling who's modeled for Gaultier, the single mother of 9-year-old Sindri (her son with ex-husband Thor), and the solo performer whose first effort, 1993's Debut, sold almost 2.5 million copies worldwide.
But, judging by Post a determinedly eclectic collection that swoops from the martial ''Army of Me'' to the robotic ''Enjoy'' (cowritten with trip-hop star Tricky) to the delightfully bombastic ''Blow a Fuse'' it might be easier to determine what Björk is not:
She is not afraid of Madonna. When La Ciccone asked Björk to duet on the BRIT Awards by singing ''Bedtime Story,'' her contribution to Madonna's latest album, ''I was supposed to get her personal number and call her up, but it just didn't feel right,'' Björk says carefully. ''I'd love to meet her accidentally, really drunk in a bar. It's just all that formality that confuses me.''
She is not, as some have presented her, a dippy pixie. ''I get quite defensive when people think I'm really untogether and airy-fairy,'' she says. ''They think I'm this sort of elf. A side of me is [innocent], but the other side of me is a single mother who's had to fight, hardcore.''
Neither, however, is she cold-blooded: ''I go on emotional roller-coaster rides all the time. Emotions are just fact to me.'' But that doesn't mean she's extravagant. Of Post's hype, she says dismissively, ''I don't think I'm going to be that big. To people that buy records, I think I'm still quite eccentric.''
It's fortunate, then, that according to the former kiddie star, ''I'm not doing it for fame. I hate attention. I always want to be back of the class, but for some reason people seem to pull me out front.'' Why is that not surprising?