Among the many noteworthy contributions David Bowie has gifted us, his synthesis of music and video is quite possibly the greatest of them all. He pioneered the evolution of this new art form before there was Vh1 or MTV, not just for promotional health but to expand on his already booming iconic visions. From narrative to inventive, abstract to expressionist, costumes to characters, poetic visuals as symbolism, colors, angles, and editing, Bowie mastered cinematography and music and transformed the music video. We’ve compiled a list of his most transcendent work.
1. “Lazarus” 2016
Just before parting, Bowie graces us with his piece de resistance in his latest album and video. A swan song of musical excitement, visual artistry and an open letter claiming the end, if not, his immortality. The song and dance of his two characters, one sick in white and the other reborn in black, reveals the inner workings of Bowie’s self, perhaps through his years, and his ultimate message to the audience, “Oh, I’ll be free, ain’t that just like me,” as he transcends back into the armoire, or whence he came. Leave it to Bowie to continue his life performance as the enigmatic and provocative pioneer of music, art and fashion until his final days on earth, leaving us with a grandiose, yet effortless, finale.
2.. “Space Oddity” 1969
Ground Control to Major Tom!
The original video for Bowie’s promotional film, “Love You Till Tuesday”, was not only a revolutionary marketing experiment but a seminal example of mixing pop music and videography as a new form of art. So much so, the MoMA showcased it alongside contemporary trailblazers, The Beatles’ “Penny Lane”, as quintessential presentations of what we’ve come to know as the music video. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S-rB0pHI9fU) And in true Bowie fashion, the preconceived vision of Space launched 9 days prior to Mankind’s Giant Leap as Apollo 11 experienced a real “Space Oddity” with the incredible first moon landing. Pretty far out!
3.“Ashes to Ashes” 1980
One of the most innovative and expensive music videos of the early 1980s, “Ashes to Ashes” solidified Bowie’s iconic artistry as the chameleon visionary and introduced us to his new alter-ego post-Berlin era. Filmed on the same set as “Space Oddity”, the supposed sequel revisits Bowie’s character Major Tom with intense solarized color film and striking black and white imagery, looking like stills from a Warhol catalog. Blending Pop Art with Pop Music in video form catapulted Bowie’s career into a new commercialized endeavor, captivating a broader audience, while saying au revoir to the strung-out 1970s.
4. “Fashion” 1980
We are the Goon Squad, and we’re comin’ to town.
A much more stripped down music video from Bowie’s “Scary Monsters” era, reflects on the New Romantics movement, an early 1980s post-punk fusion of fashion, pop culture, and music inspired by Bowie and his Glam Rock contemporaries, later epitomised by dance-floor kids and groups like Duran Duran. Performing with his band in front of an unenthused crowd, Bowie moves wildly, staring blankly, while masked followers of fashion stand in line for something, somewhere. What’s it all mean? Perhaps, Bowie’s message is that self expression through art and dance trumps creative conformity.
5. “Let’s Dance” 1983
Shot in a bar in rural Australia, “Let’s Dance” is one of Bowie’s most popular videos and songs to this day. The narrative video focuses on an aboriginal couple and their struggles with the western culture status quo, and the implications of dancing in a pair of fancy red shoes. Gaining popularity amongst the MTV generation, Bowie proves that his music and vision is as profound a history lesson than any of the ones you got in high school. And that's why the maestro of Pop Culture rules!