Bowie at his most normal
"Do you have one really freaky sequin space suit, man? Or do you have several ch-ch-ch-ch-changes? Do you smoke grass out in space, man? Or do they smoke astroturf? Oh yeah, oh, it's such an artificial high!"David Robert Jones
, better known as David Bowie
(born 8 January 1947 in London
), one of rock music's most influential figures, has gone by many names
, many sounds
, and many visual styles throughout his career.
Although his recording career began in 1964
— he released numerous singles (which are collected on the 1991 compilation Early On
) and an album during the middle years of The Sixties
— David Bowie first caught the eye and ear of the public in the autumn of 1969, when his space-age mini-melodrama "Space Oddity" reached the top five of the UK singles chart. After a three-year period of experimentation he re-emerged in 1972 during the glam rock era as the flamboyant, androgynous alter ego Ziggy Stardust, spearheaded by the hit single "Starman" and the album The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars
. The relatively short-lived Ziggy persona (about eighteen months) epitomised a career often marked by musical innovation, re-invention and striking visual presentation. He also produced Lou Reed
's album Transformer
around the same time.
In 1975, Bowie achieved his first major American crossover success with the number-one single "Fame" and the hit album Young Americans
, which the singer identified as "plastic soul
"; it was during this period that he became one of the few white performers invited to play Soul Train
. The sound constituted a radical shift in style that initially alienated many of his UK devotees. After this, he had his first major film role with The Man Who Fell to Earth
Not entirely sure what to do next, he spent about a year continuing his funk-influenced act (while, at the same time, starting to show some influences from German bands
) with his last "character", The Thin White Duke, a bizarre, thin, well-dressed European aristocrat who — much as Bowie himself did at this point
— survived primarily on "red peppers, cocaine, and milk." He then confounded the expectations of both his record label and his American audiences by recording the minimalist album Low
(1977) — the first of three collaborations with Brian Eno
and Tony Visconti over the next two years. (The other two being "Heroes"
later in '77 and Lodger
in 1979.) Arguably his most experimental works, the so-called "Berlin Trilogy" albums (named for his place of residence during this period as he pulled himself out of addiction) all reached the UK Top Five, though their overall commercial success was uneven. Around the same time he also produced The Stooges
' Raw Power
(1973) and Iggy Pop
's solo albums The Idiot
(1977) and Lust For Life
Bowie had UK number ones with the 1980 single "Ashes to Ashes" and its parent album, Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps)
. He paired with Queen
for the 1981 UK chart-topper "Under Pressure", but consolidated his commercial — and, until then, most profitable — sound in 1983 with the album Let's Dance
, which yielded the hit singles "Let's Dance", "China Girl" (a cover of an Iggy Pop
song from The Idiot
which he co-wrote), and "Modern Love".
1983 was also marked by The Hunger
and Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence
, further establishing his side career as an actor. His best-known role after The Man Who Fell to Earth
would be Jareth, the Goblin King in 1986's Labyrinth
(which has gotten quite the reputation for gratuitous crotch shots in the process of becoming a Cult Classic
). Ranging from supporting roles to cameos, his acting work covers everything from The Last Temptation of Christ
to a voiceover role in Sponge Bob Square Pants
He stayed with the commercial sound of Let's Dance
for two more albums, but dissatisfied with the results, moved on to front the (ahem) short-lived rock band Tin Machine. From there he returned to solo work to increasing critical acclaim as the Turn of the Millennium
arrived. After emergency heart surgery in 2004 forced him to cut a tour short, he made fewer and fewer concert, film, etc. appearances. As of The New Tens
he was an apparently-retired Reclusive Artist
, until January 8 2013 (his 66th birthday), when he announced a new album and presented its first song and video online.
Bowie and his work have been referenced
, and otherwise
in a colorful variety of works. The 1998 film Velvet Goldmine
presents a No Celebrities Were Harmed
take on Bowie's glam rock years. He's portrayed as a shapeshifting antivillain in The Venture Bros.
, the Doctor Who
story "The Waters of Mars" has a Bowie Base One on the Red Planet, the villains of one My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic episode
are known as Diamond Dogs, etc. Two of his songs informed, and became the titles of, a very successful BBC
series and its follow-up in the new millennium (namely, Life On Mars
and Ashes to Ashes
). At the 2012 Olympic Games
in London, the closing stretch of the opening ceremony's Parade of Nations had Great Britain's team marching to ""Heroes"", which became the team's unofficial theme song. And he's a popular subject for Real Person Fic
, while his various characters turn up in fics of their own.
Notable for keeping his political opinions to himself
and concentrating on entertainment. He married Somalian supermodel-actress Iman in 1992, and the couple had a daughter, Alexandria Zahra Jones, in 2000. Via his first marriage to Angela Barnett in The Seventies
, he is also the father of Zowie Bowie, better known these days as Duncan Jones
, who made a name for himself as the director of 2009 sci-fi masterpiece Moon
and the 2011 techno-thriller Source Code
's A.V. Club has an excellent Primer
article that runs down his musical career, and Radio Soulwax
's short film Dave
is an excellent introduction to Bowie as well, with the audio consisting solely of numerous songs by Bowie and the visuals recreating his album covers and music videos.
Parts of David Bowie's package, known only as "The Area
", have its own cult known as "Areaology"
devoted to it.
- 1974 - David Live
- 1978 - Stage
- 1983 - Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture
- 1999 - LiveAndWell.com
- 2005 - Live EP (Live At Fashion Rocks) note
- 2009 - Live Santa Monica '72 note
- 2009 - VH-1 Storytellers
- 2010 - A Reality Tour
- 2010 - Live Nassau Coliseum 1976 note
Discography with Tin Machine:
- 1989 - Tin Machine
- 1991 - Tin Machine II
- 1992 - Tin Machine Live: Oy Vey, Baby
"Are there Tropes on Mars?" (Note: See the individual album pages for their specific tropes)
- Aborted Arc: 1. Outside was intended as the first of a trilogy, but since it became an Orphaned Series, the world shall never know what was to become of its characters.
- Adam Westing: His appearance on Extras has become a small classic ("Little fat man who sold his soul…"), but years before that there was the long-form video/Short Film Jazzin' for Blue Jean (1984). One of his two characters, flamboyant but snotty Screamin' Lord Byron, is a sendup of his '70s personas and excesses.
- A.I. Is a Crapshoot: The plot of his song "Saviour Machine".
- Alas, Poor Yorick: Parodied in the live performances of "Cracked Actor" on his 1974 and '83 tours — as per the song's title, he was dressed as a hybrid of Hamlet and a Hollywood star and "filmed" as he sang to a prop skull. The segment climaxed with him French-kissing it in '74; in '83 he tried to do so but his stagehands stepped in to stop that nonsense.
- Album Intro Track
- "Future Legend", an Opening Narration, on Diamond Dogs.
- "Leon Takes Us Outside", an instrumental piece with cryptic spoken-word phrases on top of it, on 1. Outside.
- All-Loving Hero: The "Wild Eyed Boy from Freecloud". The protagonist of "We Are Hungry Men" thinks he's this.
- Alter Ego Acting: His 1970s stage personas, most famously Ziggy Stardust and The Thin White Duke, are examples of Type 3 (see Secret Identity Identity below).
- Ambiguously Bi: Some of his identities have been bi, but the man himself? Probably, but it's complicated.
- American Title: Of the ironic variety with Young Americans and its title track, a rather cynical portrait of ennui and disappointment in America in The Seventies.
- Anachronic Order: 1. Outside; applies to both the liner notes' short story and the arrangement of songs and spoken-word segues on the album itself.
- Anti-Love Song: "Up the Hill Backwards" is his best example of this.
- As Himself: In Christiane F and Zoolander.
- Award Bait Song: "Absolute Beginners", from the film of the same name.
- Ax-Crazy: "Running Gun Blues" is sung from the viewpoint of a soldier who no longer has a war to fight and goes on to "promote oblivion" on his own ("I've cut twenty-three down since Friday"), the young woman who's the subject of "Day-In Day-Out" becomes one by the end of the song after years of struggling to get by, and "Valentine's Day" is about a man with a voice in his head ordering him to kill. This trope also applies to Bowie's character in the Italian-produced Western Il mio West (Gunslinger's Revenge in the U.S.), a psychotic outlaw who practically paralyzes a town with his and his equally mad gang's presence.
- Bishōnen: Oh, yes.
- Disney's Kickin' It did a '70s parody episode with a Ziggy Stardust Expy; the actor (at left◊) was fourteen. Bowie himself◊ was in his early/mid-20s in that phase. The kid pulled it off.
- Blipvert: In the video for "Underground", as Bowie descends an invisible staircase in an alley, a closeup of his face is suddenly interrupted by a blipvert of Match Cut closeups of him through the years (including stage personas and movie characters). It switches back to the normal-time closeup, but just as quickly launches into another, lengthier blipvert of still more close-ups that finally slows down to focus on an animated one, and it's this Bowie that the video follows through the first chorus.
- Scary Monsters opens and closes with "It's No Game"; the respective tracks are parenthetically titled Part 1 and Part 2.
- The opening track of Black Tie White Noise is the mostly-instrumental "The Wedding"; the closing track is "The Wedding Song", which adds a full set of lyrics to the music. This also allows the album to open and close with the peals of church bells.
- Assuming "Tired of My Life" is actually his first written song (as one of his collaborators claims) and Reality is last album, then "Tired of My Life" and the thematically similar "Bring Me The Disco King" formed this work for his entire discography — until 2013 and The Next Day came along.
- Book Worm: He couldn't bear to travel in The Seventies without at least a trunk full of books, and once put a list up at Bowienet of his favorite recently-read/re-read books… with 51 titles on it!
- The Saturday Night Live performance of "Boys Keep Swinging" muted the second line of the couplet "When you're a boy/Other boys check you out"; in fact, the song wasn't released as a U.S. single on the basis of that line (though the video couldn't have helped its chances either — it caused a small stir in the U.K.).
- The steamy Homage to From Here to Eternity at the end of the video for "China Girl" was graphic enough that it had to be recut; the only home video release that includes the original version is the David Bowie — Video 45 VHS from 1983.
- In the "Loving the Alien" video, during the second chorus Bowie suddenly has a nosebleed on the line "They break the sky in two". An alternate version that dropped the nosebleed is the one commonly screened now (and on the Best of Bowie DVD set), but the original turned up on two VHS compilations, one of which also had…
- The original video for "Day-In Day-Out". In the revised version, the baby's blocks at the end of the video spell out mom, food, and luck. In the original, that last word wasn't luck, though it rhymes with it…
- Breaking the Fourth Wall: Jazzin' for Blue Jean starts with Bowie (as Vic) narrating the camera directions. In a wonderful callback, it also ends with Vic trying to direct what happens in the final scene, which doesn't work, so Bowie breaks character and argues with (real-life) director Julien Temple.
- Briefer Than They Think: His starmaking Ziggy Stardust stage persona (and Aladdin Sane Expy) lasted less than two years and only covers two albums, one tour, and the 1980 Floor Show TV special. The Ziggy look persisted into early 1974, as can be seen on the cover of Diamond Dogs, but by the time he toured for that album it was gone too.
- Brilliant but Lazy: On some albums he is known for just providing the songs and letting the musicians and producers do most of the work (The Man Who Sold the World where he left writing the lyrics and vocal melodies to the last possible moment and Let's Dance where producer Nile Rodgers claimed that Bowie just lay on the sofa while he made his album).
- Call Back: In chronological order…
- Major Tom, the protagonist of "Space Oddity", is revisited in "Ashes to Ashes" (Scary Monsters), and is referenced again in the Pet Shop Boys remix of "Hallo Spaceboy" (1. Outside).
- The border surrounding then-present day Bowie in the video for "Fame '90" consists of a bunch of little screens. Several of them are showing looped montages of stills of Bowie over the years (both his music and acting careers) or clips from previous videos and TV appearances. In fact, one screen simply runs Bowie's 1975 performance of "Fame" on Cher's variety show!
- The filmed-but-unreleased Concept Video for "The Pretty Things Are Going to Hell" — the title of which combines Hunky Dory's "Oh! You Pretty Things" and Iggy and the Stooges' "Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hell" from Raw Power — was based around Bowie encountering four of his "past selves" (The Man Who Sold the World, Ziggy Stardust, The Thin White Duke, and Pierrot) as played by life-sized, mannequin-like puppets. See below for more…
- The packaging for The Next Day◊ is literally the packaging for "Heroes"◊ with the original title crossed out and a white box with the new title pasted over his face on the front, and a similar white box on the back for the track listing. The first released track, "Where Are We Now?", references several Berlin landmarks.
- In the video for "The Stars (Are Out Tonight)", one of the new neighbors looks and sometimes dresses like Thomas Jerome Newton, and that's not the only reference to The Man Who Fell to Earth in the clip (look at the cover of the tabloid magazine early on)…
- The penultimate track on The Next Day, "You Feel So Lonely You Could Die", ends with the opening drums from "Five Years".
- The Hello Steve Reich remix of "Love Is Lost" quotes "Ashes to Ashes". The first and shorter of the two videos made for it features the puppet versions of The Thin White Duke and Pierrot from the aforementioned, unreleased "The Pretty Things Are Going to Hell" video.
- Camp: Ziggy Stardust is only the most famous example of this in his work.
- Canon Discontinuity: His early singles and first album, though he revisited some of those songs for the Toy project. There's also the odd case of "Too Dizzy", which was dropped from all reissues of Never Let Me Down.
- Can't Get Away with Nuthin' : The old woman in "God Knows I'm Good" (Space Oddity) decides just this once to shoplift — and merely "a tin of stewing steak" at that — figuring that God will overlook the crime. When she's caught and stopped before she can leave the shop, the apparent divine judgment causes her to collapse in fright.
- Celebrity Endorsement: He's done quite a few of these, perhaps inevitably as he did commercial work before he was a celebrity, appearing in an ad for Luv ice cream pops in The Sixties.
- When "Space Oddity" was released, he endorsed the Stylophone he played on the record in a print ad campaign.
- He participated in several of the original "I Want My MTV" promos starting in 1983.
- He shilled for Pepsi in 1987 (the ad teamed him up with Tina Turner); in turn the soda company sponsored the Glass Spider Tour.
- He appeared in two ads for XM Satellite Radio at the Turn of the Millennium. In the second one, he steals Snoop Dogg's bling and gets away with it.
- He became the "face" of fashion house Louis Vuitton in late 2013.
- See also Japandering below.
- Celebrity Is Overrated: The point of "Fame" and "The Stars (Are Out Tonight)".
- Celebrity Paradox: Played with in the short story that accompanies 1. Outside, which is written as the diary of Detective Nathan Adler. Briefly recounting the history of the shocking performance art that paved the way for the "art-crime" fad, he notes that in The Seventies "Bowie the singer remarked on a coupla goons who frequented the Berlin bars wearing dull surgery regalia: caps, aprons, rubber gloves and masks." No first name is given…
- Charity Motivation Song: He was supposed to sing on Band Aid's "Do They Know It's Christmas?" but couldn't make the recording session; he did record a brief B-side spoken-word message and, later, an introduction for the video's debut on Top of the Pops. He finally got to sing the song with his fellow Live Aid performers the following year.
- Christmas Songs: The "Peace on Earth" / "Little Drummer Boy" counterpoint duet he performed with Bing Crosby for the latter's 1977 Christmas Special still gets airplay today, and is loved both for itself and as kitsch.
- Christmas Special: Besides Bing Crosby's Merrie Olde Christmas, he played the narrator in a new introductory sequence for The Snowman in 1983. While the VHS and DVD releases use the original Raymond Briggs intro, most American viewers probably saw the Bowie version first, as this was what HBO aired.
- Chronically Killed Actor: He isn't hesitant to kill off his own characters in his music — poor Ziggy Stardust dies at the hands of his fans, and the protagonist in the "Jump They Say" video is Driven to Suicide. A significant number of his film and TV characters are hustled off by The Grim Reaper as well. (In fact, Mr. Rice's Secret starts with his character dying and he's only seen in flashbacks throughout.) And if they live, it probably won't be to enjoy a Happy Ending…
- Classical Mythology: The Cyclops was the inspiration for "The Supermen". See also A Load of Bull below.
- Concept Album: These make up a significant portion of his 1970-76 output. Beyond this, he invented quite a few characters/personas over the years for his work. And that's not even including his various film characters, such as Thomas Jerome Newton and Jareth.
- Concept Video: A favorite trope of his from the turn of The Eighties onward — see "Look Back in Anger", "Ashes to Ashes" (though its concept is vague enough that it overlaps with Surreal Music Video), "China Girl", "Day-In Day-Out", "Jump They Say", "Thursday's Child", etc. His contributions to the medium made him one of the original recipients of the MTV Video Vanguard Award at the first Video Music Awards ceremony in 1984, and his only competitive Grammy win was in 1985 for Best Short Form Music Video (Jazzin' for Blue Jean).
- Confetti Drop: The Serious Moonlight Tour's spectacle included a balloon drop over the crowd (as seen in the "Modern Love" video).
- Contemptible Cover: The original covers for Diamond Dogs and Tin Machine II had to be censored to remove male genitalia (or, well, half-man half-dog genitalia in the former case).
- Continuity Nod
- On the Diamond Dogs Tour (1974), Bowie performed "Space Oddity" in a chair that was lifted by a cherrypicker over the audience; he sang the song into a telephone. Thirteen years later, the Glass Spider Tour opened with Bowie again in a chair, this time lowered onto the stage by wires as he recited the Opening Narration of "Glass Spider" into a telephone.
- Bits and pieces of the cover art for Aladdin Sane and the Berlin Trilogy albums appear on the back cover of Scary Monsters.
- "Fame '90" was the "new" song included on Changesbowie, a 1990 Greatest Hits Album. The title refers back to the greatest hits albums Bowie released in 1976 and '81, respectively — Changesonebowie and Changestwobowie — which this one superseded. The cover has a photo montage of bits of Bowie's studio album covers from 1969-80 surrounding the close-up of him that Changesonebowie used. From there, the Sound+Vision Tour program's cover features a photo montage patterned after the Changesbowie cover — but all the photos are of then-present day Bowie, and in the central photo he approximates his '76 pose.
- The ending of "The Buddha of Suburbia" revives that of "All the Madmen" (see Gratuitous Foreign Language below), and shortly before that, the guitar break from "Space Oddity" is quoted.
- The "Little Wonder" video incorporates a Ziggy Stardust lookalike into its action, while in a more subtle example the young fellow in the Union Jack coat looks suspiciously like Bowie did when he first started recording in the mid-1960s.
- Costume Porn: His Glam Rock period had a lot of this, but it turns up later too — from his Pierrot outfit in the "Ashes to Ashes" video to his Unlimited Wardrobe in Labyrinth to his Earthling-era, Alexander McQueen-designed frock coats. In-story, Screamin' Lord Byron's onstage look in Jazzin' for Blue Jean is all about this.
- The Cover Changes The Meaning: The title track of Tonight is a cover of an Iggy Pop number he co-wrote… minus the opening that establishes that the sweetheart the singer is addressing is dying of a drug overdose, turning it from a teenage death song into a straightforward, optimistic love song (and duet with Tina Turner).
- Cover Album: Pin Ups.
- Cover Version: Since Hunky Dory, most of his studio albums contain at least one cover version, showing that Bowie is as good a musician/singer as he is a songwriter. The original performer is listed in parentheses.
- Hunky Dory — "Fill Your Heart" (Biff Rose)
- The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars — "It Ain't Easy" (Ron Davies)
- Aladdin Sane — "Let's Spend The Night Together" (The Rolling Stones)
- Young Americans — "Across The Universe" (The Beatles)
- Station To Station — "Wild Is the Wind" (Johnny Mathis, though Nina Simone's version was the one that inspired Bowie's take.)
- Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) — "Kingdom Come" (Tom Verlaine)
- Let's Dance — "China Girl" (Iggy Pop, from The Idiot), "Criminal World" (Metro)
- Tonight — "Neighborhood Threat" and "Tonight" (Iggy Pop), "God Only Knows" (The Beach Boys), "I Keep Forgettin'" (Chuck Jackson) note
- Never Let Me Down — "Bang Bang" (Iggy Pop)
- Tin Machine — "Working Class Hero" (John Lennon, from John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band)
- Tin Machine II — "If There Is Something" (Roxy Music)
- Black Tie White Noise — "I Feel Free" (Cream), "Don't Let Me Down and Down" (Tarha), "I Know It's Gonna Happen Someday" (Morrissey) note , "Nite Flights" (Scott Walker)
- Heathen — "Cactus" (The Pixies), "I've Been Waiting for You" (Neil Young), "I Took a Trip on a Gemini Spaceship" (The Legendary Stardust Cowboy)
- Reality — "Pablo Picasso" (The Modern Lovers) and "Try Some, Buy Some" (George Harrison). During this period he also released "Love Missile F1-11" (Sigue Sigue Sputnik) as a b-side for "New Killer Star".
- He frequently covered The Velvet Underground's White Light/White Heat" and/or "Waiting for the Man" in concert. Jacques Brel's "My Death", a staple of Ziggy Stardust-era shows, was brought back for the Outside Summer Festivals Tour and the Earthling Tour.
- At The Concert For New York, given a month after the attacks of 9/11/2011, Bowie did a remarkable minimalist cover of "America" by Simon & Garfunkel.
- Crapsack World: "Hunger City", the setting for the Diamond Dogs album, was this — not surprising as much of the material on it was originally intended for a musical version of 1984. If one sticks to a Bowie-verse, this setting may or may not be as a result of the catastrophe predicted in Ziggy Stardust's "Five Years".
- Other Crapsack Worlds appear in the songs "Scream Like a Baby", "Bombers", "Oh! You Pretty Things", "Sons of the Silent Age" (the lyrics that aren't a Silly Love Song) and the album 1. Outside, and possibly "All The Madmen," though that one's subject to Ambiguous Situation (is the narrator mad or the outside world?).
- Creator Thumbprint: Apocalypses, dystopias, cocaine, mental instability, alienation, celestial imagery, and science fiction imagery/subject matter turn up again and again. The Onion's article "NASA Launches David Bowie Concept Mission" is built around references to his "spacier" work, and mentions other common subjects of his when it notes that "the mission will primarily study paranoia, decadence, and the fluidity of sexual identity in a zero-gravity environment". There is also a reflective, often melancholy bent to his work from hours... through Reality.
- The Criterion Collection: Appears in three films that have made it into this august series: The Man Who Fell to Earth (also participated in the DVD Commentary for it), Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence, and The Last Temptation of Christ. He also figures into the special features on the La Jetée disc via a French TV excerpt that looks at how the "Jump They Say" video directly homages that Short Film, and another Criterion title, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, has a soundtrack featuring translated cover versions of his songs.
- Darker and Edgier/Lighter and Softer: His albums alternate between these a lot. Space Oddity -> The Man Who Sold The World -> Hunky Dory is one example — though Hunky Dory only counts as lighter musically, as lyrically it's incredibly dark.
- The Buddha of Suburbia -> Outside -> Earthling would be another example.
- With regards to his stage personas in The Seventies, the flamboyant, messianic Ziggy Stardust was followed by the variants of Aladdin Sane and Halloween Jack (Diamond Dogs)...and then came the depths of darkness with The Thin White Duke.
- Deliberately Monochrome: "Wild Is the Wind", "The Drowned Girl", most of the non-film clip portions of "Absolute Beginners" and "As the World Falls Down", and "Sue (Or in a Season of Crime)". "China Girl" and "Loving the Alien" alternate between color and black-and-white scenes.
- Domestic Abuser: "Repetition" is about a bitter man who verbally and physically abuses his wife.
- Doorstop Baby: The protagonist of "Day-In Day-Out" starts this way...and life does not, it is strongly implied can not, get better for her as an adult unless she indulges in shady behavior. Even then, happiness is only fleeting.
- Double Meaning Title: "D.J." has a notorious one — the letters can stand for deejay...or David Jones. Realizing this makes the song and its video, about the breakdown of a Stepford Smiler who has no life beyond what he plays, that much more disturbing.
- Drag Queen: Certainly not full-time, but he posed in a "man's dress" for the original album cover of The Man Who Sold the World, wore a stewardess uniform for his Saturday Night Live performance of "TVC15", and in the video for "Boys Keep Swinging" his three "backup singers" are all him in drag (and get their own Fashion Show at the end, complete with the first two whipping off their wigs and smearing their lipstick).
- Driven to Suicide: The protagonist of the song and video "Jump They Say".
- Drugs Are Bad: The point of "Crack City" (Tin Machine).
- Dude Looks Like a Lady: In the very late '60s/early '70s, thanks to his long, flowing locks. See the aforementioned The Man Who Sold the World cover and the back cover of Hunky Dory.
- '80s Hair: Just look at Labyrinth, the Never Let Me Down videos, and the Glass Spider Tour. Of course, he knew the power of a nice mullet back in The Seventies as Ziggy Stardust...
- Eldritch Abomination: More prominent in his earlier works than later on in his career. "The Width of a Circle" features Bowie having sex with one while "The Supermen" describes them as "guardians of a loveless isle". Both songs are from The Man Who Sold the World.
- Epic Instrumental Opener: The title track of Station to Station starts with over a minute of train sound effects, then over two minutes of instrumental rocking before the singing kicks in. (In live performances, the band approximated the train effect.) On the same album, the instrumental opening of "Stay" takes over a minute.
- Epic Rocking: "Cygnet Committee", "The Width of a Circle", "Time", "Sweet Thing/Candidate/Sweet Thing (Reprise)", "Station to Station" from Station To Station, ""Heroes"" (the album version).
- Even the Guys Want Him: Don't lie.
- Everyone Hates Mimes: He trained as a mime in an avant-garde theater troupe in the late 1960s and incorporated it into some Ziggy Stardust shows, but later realized that "Nobody in the world likes mime."
- Everything Is an Instrument: Reeves Gabrels used a vibrator (yes, as in the sex toy) to make buzzing sounds on the guitar during the Tin Machine years.
- Everything's Better with Sparkles: Ziggy Stardust lived up to his name when it came to makeup — including, on occasion, a glittering circle in the middle of his forehead. Jareth has enough sparkle that, at least at DeviantArt, Twilight comparisons/jokes have been made (though the general consensus among fans is that the Goblin King glitters rather than sparkles).
- The Exotic Detective: Detective Professor Nathan Adler of Art-Crime Inc. in 1. Outside: It's his job to not only investigate grisly "art-crimes" to find out who done 'em, but also determine whether they actually qualify as works of art or not. ("Art's a farmyard. It's my job to pick thru the manure heap looking for peppercorns.") He has aspects of the Hardboiled Detective — he wears a trenchcoat and fedora, and has a world-weary, growling voice in his spoken-word segues — but is far more erudite and intellectual.
- Eye Scream: Twice in Real Life! His left eye's permanently-dilated state was the result of a childhood fight, and during a Reality Tour show in 2004, the same eye was struck by a thrown lollipop. By the by, he featured one of the most famous examples of this trope on his 1976 tour, showing the entirety of Un Chien Andalou before taking the stage...
- Fading into the Next Song: The "Sweet Thing"/"Candidate"/"Sweet Thing" (reprise) sequence on Diamond Dogs.
- Fake Band: Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars.
- Fashion Show: The "Boys Keep Swinging" video ends with one.
- Freaky Fashion, Mild Mind: As seen in this interview from the Ziggy period.
- Freaky Is Cool: A view held by both the artist and his fanbase.
- Genre Roulette: Just pick a concert setlist or Greatest Hits Album and you'll get this.
- Glam Rock: One of the best-known examples of this genre; in exchange, it's the one that made him truly famous.
- God-Is-Love Songs: "Word on a Wing" from Station To Station.
- Gratuitous Foreign Language: Japanese on "It's No Game Part 1" and French on "All the Madmen" and "The Buddha of Suburbia." The former is the Japanese translation of the English lyrics, and the latter translates to "Open the dog."
- Greatest Hits Album: Unlike a lot of musical artists, Bowie is actually very open to the concept of compilations. This and his frequent label swapping has resulted in 46 of these over the past four decades. 2002's Best of Bowie is notable for how much work was put into making it complete; see the other wiki for more details.
- The Grim Reaper: "Look Back in Anger" is about an encounter with a tired, bored Angel of Death.
- Heavy Meta: "Hang on to Yourself" is perhaps the best example of this from Ziggy Stardust.
- He's Back: The announcement of The Next Day (and release of its first single/video) when virtually everyone in his fanbase and in the music press was sure he'd retired over (among other things) his health issues.
- Homage: In his music videos...
- "Look Back in Anger" is a variant on The Picture of Dorian Gray.
- "China Girl" ends with a steamier take on the lovers-in-the-surf scene from From Here to Eternity.
- The framing device for the film clips in Absolute Beginners comes from a vintage British cigarette commercial. The brand and its slogan — "You're never alone with a Strand" — are quoted by Bowie's character in the film.
- The experiments conducted on his character in "Jump They Say" are based on those conducted on the protagonist of the French sci-fi short La Jetee. (The Criterion Collection's DVD of the short includes an excerpt from a French TV program about this video and its homage.)
- Horror Host: The function of his character Julian Priest in the second season of the horror anthology The Hunger (yes, inspired by/named after the movie he starred in years before). His Mad Artist backstory is complex enough that the season opener "Sanctuary" is devoted to telling it, and he doesn't address the audience until the final sequence, but subsequent episodes feature him in bookends to each story in classic horror host style.
- Iconic Outfit
- The lightning bolt makeup he wore for the Aladdin Sane cover and inner sleeve is probably his single most-referenced "look" in pop culture.
- The eyepatch he wore (due to conjunctivitis) during a Dutch television appearance in 1974 is forever tied to his character Halloween Jack from Diamond Dogs, which he was promoting at the time.
- Impractically Fancy Outfit: His glam rock period, in particular, featured a lot of these.
- Intergenerational Friendship: The plot of the early song "Little Bombardier": a lonely old veteran strikes up a friendship with some little kids, but his intentions are taken the wrong way by the local authorities.
- Isn't It Ironic?: Dating back to TheBBC using "Space Oddity" (which has a Downer Ending) as part of its moon landing coverage in 1969, several of his songs have been subject to this trope over the years. "Fame" may be the most frequent victim of this, often being used to celebrate glamour and the celebrity life when it's actually about the hollowness of those things. And Iggy Pop's "Lust For Life", which Bowie wrote the music for, is not the most appropriate choice for advertising Royal Caribbean Cruise Line...
- Japandering: Twice — in Japan for Jun Rock sake in 1980 (with an instrumental that became an A-side there and a B-side in the U.K.), and in Italy for Vittel bottled water in 2003. The latter, a cheeky spot in which Bowie shares a house with most of his 1970-80 personas, was re-edited with a different song and turned into the U.S. ad for Reality.
- Kubrick Stare: The video for "Valentine's Day" — which, in another case of Lyrical Dissonance, is a pleasant-sounding song about mass murder — is effectively one big Kubrick Stare for Bowie.
- Large Ham: Yes, he's capable of subtlety and delicacy as both a singer and an actor, but he has rarely (if ever) passed up an opportunity to be hammy if that's what's called for. Two of his videos from Lodger are good examples, as is the original soundtrack version of "Cat People (Putting Out Fire)" (which is — more or less — the lament of a lovelorn Reluctant Monster).
- Last Note Nightmare: "Space Oddity" has a particularly nasty one.
- Leave the Camera Running/Throw It In: The closing track of Diamond Dogs ("Chant of the Ever-Circling Skeletal Family") ends with a tape loop, the result of a blunder in the studio that Bowie and company decided to keep in.
- Limey Goes to Hollywood: Bowie moved to the U.S., ultimately settling down in Los Angeles, after the release of Diamond Dogs to work on courting American audiences (the Ziggy Stardust period was merely a cult success there); the Diamond Dogs Tour solely toured North America. During this period he recorded Young Americans and Station to Station and filmed The Man Who Fell To Earth (a British production shot in the U.S.)...the downside was his Creator Breakdown unfolding during all this; he didn't think well of L.A. for a long time afterward.
- Limited Special Collector's Ultimate Edition: Several of his albums have received this treatment, but none more so than Station To Station in 2010 — the Special Edition included an additional two discs containing his much-bootlegged Nassau Coliseum concert from '76. The Deluxe Edition...oh my...all for an album that has a less-than-40-minute runtime and six songs.
- Loads and Loads of Roles: On 1. Outside, he gives voice to a 52-year-old detective, a 14-year-old female murder victim, mad artists of both genders, a 78-year-old shopkeeper, etc. (There are pictures of most of them in the booklet, via the magic of makeup, costume, and image manipulation.)
- A Load of Bull: One of the mad artists in 1. Outside, pictured in the booklet, is known only as "The Minotaur" and conceals his face beneath an elaborate bull head mask. Bowie wears a similar mask in the video for the album's first single, "The Heart's Filthy Lesson", in which a cabal of other bizarre artists create a minotaur of their own (as Bowie explained in an interview. He's also a painter in Real Life and has created several works featuring minotaurs).
- Love Before First Sight: The plot of the video "As the World Falls Down", and it applies to both people in the "relationship".
- Lyrical Dissonance: Songs such as "Janine", "Cygnet Committee", "Bombers", "Oh! You Pretty Things", "Young Americans", "Fantastic Voyage", and "Day-In Day-Out" set lyrics on such topics as love martyrdom, the apocalypse, troubled youth, and so on to deceptively upbeat music.
- Mad Artist
- 1. Outside is based around a mystery involving mad artists.
- Julian Priest, his Horror Host character in The Hunger TV series.
- Messianic Archetype: Ziggy Stardust, who is worshiped to the point that he believes the hype about him by the time he dies at the hands of his fans. Thomas Jerome Newton in The Man Who Fell to Earth undergoes a similar journey to save his people, but his sacrifices, betrayal, and suffering tragically amount to nothing.
- Mind Screw: Bowie loves surrealism and it shows. Particularly good examples include:
- "Width of a Circle" (The Man Who Sold the World)
- "Life on Mars?" and "Quicksand" (Hunky Dory)
- The video for "Ashes to Ashes"
- 1. Outside (A mind screw about mind screws)
- Mohs Scale of Lyrical Hardness: The bulk of his work ranges from 4 ("Let's Dance", "Modern Love", etc.) to 8 ("The Heart's Filthy Lesson", "The Next Day", Tin Machine's "Shopping for Girls", etc.). The world his songs chronicle isn't the most optimistic at its best, and at its worst it's a tragically-portrayed dystopia. His worldview is summed up surprisingly well in the liner notes of his first album — the one released when he was just 19 — which were written by then-manager Kenneth Pitt:
"It [Bowie's "line of vision"] sees the bitterness of humanity, but rarely bitterly. It sees the humor of our failings, the pathos of our virtues. David writes and sings what he sees to be the truth, and the truth is rarely an ode to the moon and to June. His moon is pock marked and grey. June is not for brides, it is for the birds — if it isn't raining."
- Mood Whiplash
- "Rebel Rebel" is much more upbeat than most of the rest of the songs on Diamond Dogs.
- "Boys Keep Swinging" is a joyfully Camp tune; on Lodger it comes between "Look Back in Anger" and "Repetition" — which are about The Grim Reaper and Domestic Abuse, respectively.
- Music Is Politics: Faced this issue more than once with managerial and money problems in the mid-1970s and record labels wanting an old sound rather than a new one in the '70s (RCA wanted him to do more blue-eyed soul as opposed to Low) and the turn of The Nineties (he left EMI over their reservations about a second Tin Machine album).
- Must Have Nicotine: During an Italian TV appearance in 1999, he admitted "I can ask for cigarettes in every language!" He finally kicked this habit at the Turn of the Millennium.
- Neoclassical Punk Zydeco Rockabilly: As one example, David Live captures the transition from Diamond Dogs (the album the tour was supporting) to Young Americans via a mostly-Glam Rock setlist with horn-heavy, soul-influenced arrangements; this approach became even more pronounced later in the tour, which introduced some of the Young Americans songs.
- New Media Are Evil: Averted; Bowie was one of the first "old guard" rock stars to embrace the internet and use it to promote his work, communicate with fans, etc.
- New Sound Album: All the time. His first full-length album was typical of 1960s British pop with touches of music hall, and then he moved on to...
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: At the Video Game Lookalikes website, he warrants a separate page due to the surprising number of characters who resemble him, including several from the Final Fantasy franchise. There's even a Pokémon, Zangoose, who resembles Bowie's famous Aladdin Sane cover!
- Non-Actor Vehicle: Made a side career out of this in conjunction with One-Scene Wonder.
- Not What It Looks Like: The infamous "Victoria Station incident" of 1976, in which Bowie was photographed appearing to give a Nazi salute to the English fans who had gathered for his return to the country. Bowie has always maintained that the photographer merely caught him in mid-wave. Gary Numan, who was in the crowd at the time, confirms Bowie's account. It looked worse because he was wearing a plain black shirt and trousers and standing upright in the back of a drophead Mercedes, and his interest in Nazism and Fascist ideology had been well-covered in the press...however one slices it, this was the public low point of his Creator Breakdown.
- Older Than They Look: He's still lookin' good at 66, if the photo that accompanied The Next Day's release announcement is any indication.
- On a Soundstage All Along: Jazzin' for Blue Jean ends this way, albeit on a city street rather than a soundstage.
- One Man Song: Jean Genie, Aladdin Sane, Ziggy Stardust, John, I'm Only Dancing,...
- One-Word Title: Besides Tonight, he had two stretches of one word titles for his albums — first with the Berlin Trilogy and Stage, then with all his studio albums from Earthling through Reality.
- Opening Narration: "Future Legend", the Album Intro Track of Diamond Dogs, is this; "Glass Spider" is a song that opens with spoken-word narration.
- Orphaned Series: 1. Outside was supposed to have two follow-ups.
- Other Common Music Video Concepts
- Backwards Action: "Let's Dance" and "China Girl" both have brief segments involving this.
- Band from Mundania:
- Both hours... videos put Bowie in domestic settings and then ease in fantasy elements. In "Thursday's Child", he and his current lover are getting ready for bed when in the bathroom mirror he sees a reflection of his younger self and an old lover. In "Survive", he broods alone in a cluttered kitchen over a romantic breakup — and then gravity goes askew.
- In "The Stars (Are Out Tonight)" (The Next Day), Bowie and Tilda Swinton play an ordinary, happy suburban couple who get their world turned upside down by some unsettling, younger newcomers (a celebrity couple known for their tabloid troubles, to be precise).
- Dance Hall Daze: "Never Let Me Down" is set at a dance marathon.
- Dancing In the Streets: Though "Dancing in the Street" would better qualify as this if there were more than just him and Mick Jagger gadding about.
- Monochrome Background: "Life on Mars?" and "Be My Wife" take place against all-white backdrops.
- Movie Tie-In Music Video: "Underground" and "As the World Falls Down". Impressively, given the source film, only the latter incorporates film clips.
- Performance Video: All his promo clips up through 1977's ""Heroes""; after this, the bulk of them are either surreal or concept-based. "Modern Love", which was shot on the Serious Moonlight Tour, is the best-known of his post-'77 solo performance vids. The Tin Machine videos are all performance-based.
- Pietà Plagiarism: Three times!
- In the video for "The Heart's Filthy Lesson" (1. Outside), Bowie can be seen "cradled" by a mutilated mannequin in a few shots.
- The album cover for 'hours...'◊ has an older long-haired Bowie cradling a (slightly!) younger short-haired version of himself.
- In the "Love Is Lost" video, The Thin White Duke cradles a faceless "Ashes to Ashes" Pierrot. Both are actually life-sized puppets.
- Pop-Star Composer: Labyrinth, The Buddha of Suburbia, and Omikron: The Nomad Soul.
- Pun-Based Title: Aladdin Sane.
- Radio Friendliness: Suffered in the U.S. thanks to this trope — once he abandoned his Let's Dance-era sound, that was pretty much the end of radio support for his work there. Before that, Low and "Heroes" were radio-unfriendly everywhere, only yielding three singles between them.
- Rearrange the Song: Often. Aside from many concert rearrangements, examples include:
- "John, I'm Only Dancing" (1972) was given a funky revamp and some new lyrics as "John, I'm Only Dancing (Again)" in 1975.
- "Space Oddity" was remade as an acoustic number in 1979, as a prelude of sorts to Scary Monsters's follow-up song "Ashes to Ashes".
- "Cat People (Putting Out Fire)" was given a poppier arrangement for Let's Dance.
- "Fame '90" was this for "Fame" (1975).
- The never-formally released Toy (it was leaked online in 2011) featured new takes on his mid-1960s work.
- Record Producer: In The Seventies, he gave a helping hand to some of his influences when he produced Transformer for Lou Reed, Raw Power for The Stooges, and The Idiot for Iggy Pop.
- Red Eyes, Take Warning: In "Cat People (Putting Out Fire)", the singer's eyes start as green as he warns his inamorata of his dangerous need for her...in verse two, they turn red, and he mentions that "Those who feel me near/Pull the blinds and change their minds".
- Refrain from Assuming: It's called "Space Oddity," not "Major Tom". Although there is a song called "Major Tom (Coming Home)" by Peter Schilling that is about the same character.
- Repurposed Pop Song: Several of his songs have been used for advertisements (see Isn't It Ironic? above), though the most elaborate case was the 1987 Pepsi ad he did with Tina Turner, which featured a rewritten version of "Modern Love".
- Retraux: The "Wild Is the Wind" video's visuals mimic the look of American jazz programs of The Fifties.
- The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: "Cygnet Committee".
- Ripped from the Headlines:
- "God Knows I'm Good" (see Can't Get Away with Nuthin' above) was inspired by a newspaper article.
- "Joe the Lion" ("Heroes") is the No Celebrities Were Harmed version of Chris Burden, an artist who once had himself crucified on a Volkswagen ("Nail me to my car/And I'll tell you who you are"). Burden and this incident are directly mentioned in the liner notes of 1. Outside.
- Rock Band: Songs of his that appeared in this series:
- Original game: "Suffragette City"
- Track Pack Vol. 1: "Moonage Daydream" (also appeared on Bowie Pack 01)
- Rock Band 3: "Space Oddity"
- Lego Rock Band: "Let's Dance"...in a segment complete with his own Lego avatar
- Bowie Pack 01: "Queen Bitch", ""Heroes""
- Queen download pack: "Under Pressure"
- Bowie Pack 02: "Ziggy Stardust", "Young Americans", "Fame", "Modern Love", "Blue Jean"
- Rock Opera: 1. Outside is much more specific about its storyline and characters than his concept albums.
- The Rock Star: A perfect Real Life example — his exploration of the trope, particularly with the Ziggy Stardust persona, helped pave the path to him living it as completely as anyone ever has. A critic interviewed for the Biography episode on Bowie actually argues (though not in tropes) that he is the Trope Codifier.
- Sanity Slippage Song: "Breaking Glass" from Low, which came at a point when Bowie's sanity had indeed slipped.
- Scenery Porn: His rock-meets-theater aesthetic made him one of the first to use this in concerts. The first two examples below are Great Balls of Fire without the flame.
- The "Hunger City" set of the 1974 Diamond Dogs Tour was not only elaborate, but hid all the musicians and backup singers from view. The second half of the tour dropped this, in part because it was just too expensive.
- The stage of the Glass Spider Tour of 1987 was dominated by an 80-foot-tall representation of the titular creature; Bowie made his grand entrance in a chair that descended from its belly.
- 1990's Sound+Vision featured huge projections of Bowie and others as backdrops and counterpoints to the live performers.
- Averted with his 1976 and '78 tours, which eschewed setpieces and elaborate effects in favor of focusing on lighting to set the mood (to the point that the '76 tour was nicknamed the "White Light Tour").
- Secret Identity Identity: Struggled with this issue in The Seventies where his characters were concerned, in particular Ziggy Stardust and The Thin White Duke. The threat of the heartless, Fascistic Duke, who was partly inspired and "aided" by Bowie's substance abuse problems, consuming him was the primary reason he stopped creating and assuming such stage personas.
- Sequel Song: "Ashes to Ashes" (to "Space Oddity").
- Self-Backing Vocalist: Frequently does his own backup vocals, but not always.
- Self-Deprecation: Jazzin' for Blue Jean features the hapless Vic insulting Screamin' Lord Byron (an obvious parody of Bowie's alter egos) with "You conniving, randy, bogus-Oriental old queen! Your record sleeves are better than your songs!"
- Self-Titled Album: Actually ended up with about 4 of these. His debut album, his second album (which was also known as Man of Words, Man of Music in America; it would later be re-released as Space Oddity), and then Tin Machine and Tin Machine II, named after the hard rock band that he fronted.
- Seven Deadly Sins: All seven are called out by name in "That's Motivation" (Absolute Beginners), a Villain Recruitment Song that promises the target that they will be free to indulge in them with no fear of punishment if they join up.
- The Seventies and The Eighties: A vital part of pop culture in both decades.
- Sex, Drugs and Rock & Roll: Lived this trope hard in The Seventies, as did his stage personas of Ziggy Stardust, the Thin White Duke, etc. Songs on the subject include "Ziggy Stardust" and "Ashes to Ashes" (the latter of which looks back on this period).
- Sharp-Dressed Man: Just look at the page image! He's been this often and iconically enough that this is how he is portrayed in The Venture Bros. Specific examples include...
- The Thin White Duke was famous for his Waistcoat of Style in '76; his look was created via some of the actual costumes Bowie wore in The Man Who Fell To Earth.
- The famous pastel suits of the Serious Moonlight Tour.
- Self-parody in Jazzin' for Blue Jean, as Vic attempts to be this by borrowing one of his roommate's suits.
- His Live Aid outfit.
- Vendice Partners in Absolute Beginners, being an advertising executive who knows the power of style over substance, dresses in stylish suits.
- The album cover of Tin Machine; extends to the music videos he did with the group.
- The black-and-white duds of the Sound+Vision Tour could be seen as a kinder, gentler version of the Duke's look (sometimes his shirts had lacy cuffs).
- All his videos and TV appearances over 1993 when he was promoting Black Tie White Noise.
- The cover of Heathen and the inner booklet of Reality.
- Shout-Out: Truth be told, even giving a separate page over to Bowie's shout outs would probably not be enough room for them all. But here are some representative ones.
- The title of "Space Oddity".
- The chord sequence to "Life on Mars?" is identical to that of "My Way". Bowie was asked to write the original English lyrics for that song, but his version ("Even a Fool Learns to Love") was ignored in favour of Paul Anka's. Bowie notes on the Hunky Dory back cover that the song is "Inspired by Frankie" — Sinatra, that is, since he popularized "My Way".
- From the same album (Hunky Dory), "Queen Bitch" sounds so much like "Sweet Jane" that it's annotated "Some VU White Light returned, with thanks".
- A Clockwork Orange was a key visual inspiration for Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, and the term "droogie" is dropped in "Suffragette City".
- "I heard the news today, oh boy..." is quoted near the end of "Young Americans", which also references both Barbie and "your President Nixon".
- Aleister Crowley is referenced in both "Quicksand" and "Statio To Station".
- The title of Heroes is a shout out to Neu!'s "Hero", as it was one of the bands Bowie was influenced by during his "Berlin phase", alongside Kraftwerk. Kraftwerk itself is given a shout out with another track on the album — "V-2 [Florian] Schneider".
- The "You remind me of the babe" patter in "Magic Dance" is a paraphrase of the closing exchange in the film The Bachelor and the Bobby-Soxer.
- Bowies and jaggers are both kinds of knives. He chose "David Bowie" as a shout-out to Mick Jagger.
- "Under the God" (Tin Machine) references The Ramones' "Beat on the Brat" via the line "Beating on blacks with a baseball bat."
- "Black Tie White Noise", a song about racial discord written in the wake of the Rodney King riots, references Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" by dropping the title into the lyrics. ("We Are The World" is also mentioned, but sarcastically, as Bowie's point is that finding solutions to problems will not be nearly as easy as songs like that make it sound.)
- Shown Their Work: The Bowie-penned short story that makes up the bulk of the liner notes for 1. Outside not only establishes the album's storyline and characters, but also weaves in stories of the grisly "precursors" of the art-crime movement. These are mostly Real Life 20th century artists of the True Art Is Incomprehensible school, and often particularly grisly ones at that: Hermann Nitsch, Chris Burden, Damien Hirst, Ron Athey, and Guy Bourdin. (Burden had previously inspired the "Heroes" song "Joe the Lion".)
- Singer Name Drop
- Bowie first did this on his 1966 single "Can't Help Thinking About Me": "My girl calls my name/'Hi, Dave'..."
- From "Teenage Wildlife": "And you'll take me aside and say/David, what shall I do?"
- The bridge of his cover of "Cactus".
- Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: He's on the cynical side; for elaboration, see Creator Thumbprint and Mohs Scale of Lyrical Hardness above.
- Something Blues: "Running Gun Blues".
- Something Completely Different: His one Heavy Metal album with the Spiders, The Man Who Sold the World — his next album was the start of his glam phase, but still closer to his first two albums than this one.
- Spelling Song: In his cover of The Pixies' "Cactus" (Heathen), the P-I-X-I-E-S chant in the bridge is changed to D-A-V-I-D.
- Spooky Painting: In the "Look Back in Anger" video, one magically disfigures the face of the artist who painted it.
- Spoken Word in Music: The countdown in "Space Oddity" and the recitation in "All the Madmen".
- Stage Name/One Steve Limit: His real name is David Jones.
- Stalker with a Crush: At least two songs feature one as the singing character.
- The early song "Love You Till Tuesday" has one with a fleeting crush, since he fell for the lady in question on a Sunday.
- "Too Dizzy", from Never Let Me Down, has the singer demanding that the object of his affections reciprocate, never mind that she already has a lover. This became a Cut Song on later editions of the album, with Bowie historian Nicholas Pegg theorizing that he became aware of, and embarrassed by, the Unfortunate Implications it brought up (i.e. that it could be interpreted as a stalker's, even rapist's, monologue).
- Stepford Smiler: "D.J." is about/sung by a radio deejay who is a male version of Type B ("I am what I play"); the video especially suggests he's turning into a Type C.
- Storyboard: Bowie drew these up for the videos he did with director David Mallet at the turn of The Eighties.
- Stylistic Suck: "Boys Keep Swinging"'s rough sound, the result of Bowie having the members of his backing band switch instruments to perform it.
- Subverted Rhyme Every Occasion: One of Bowie's lyrical trademarks is his use of blank verse, though he doesn't write exclusively in that style.
- Surreal Music Video: Many, including "Fashion", "Loving the Alien", "Miracle Goodnight", "Hallo Spaceboy", and "Little Wonder".
- Suspiciously Similar Substitute: A variant with "Fashion": it reworks the melody of "Golden Years", only louder, Darker and Edgier.
- Studio Chatter: The ringing phone that's answered at the end of "Life on Mars?" is probably the first example of this from his work that springs to mind.
- 10-Minute Retirement: For his bigger hit songs, rather than himself, during the Tin Machine period. The solo Sound+Vision Tour in 1990 was hyped as the final tour in which he'd perform them in concert, as he wanted to move on from them. This stuck until 1996's Outside Summer Festivals Tour reintroduced ""Heroes"" to his set lists, and most of the "big" songs have since returned to the stage.
- Bowie himself had one after the last Ziggy Stardust concert when he announced, "Not only is it the last show of the tour, it's the last show we'll ever do." He meant it was his last show as the character Ziggy Stardust, but the audience didn't know that at the time.
- Three Chords and the Truth: Perhaps not just three chords, but many of his songs are built around fairly simple chord progressions (""Heroes"", for example).
- Title Track: 17 of his albums have some form of this—and that's not counting the soundtrack album for The Buddha of Suburbia or Tin Machine's self-titled debut album, which has a song called "Tin Machine".
- To The Tune Of: Word of God has confirmed that the chorus of "Starman" was ripped-off from "Over The Rainbow".
- Translated Cover Version:
- Bowie's song '"Heroes"' has been covered in French as '"Heros"' and in German as '"Helden"'.
- Also, "Ragazzo Solo, Ragazza Sola", a love song to the tune of "Space Oddity" (which Bowie hated; he thought he was singing a direct translation).
- He also recorded a Mandarin version of Earthling's "Seven Years in Tibet".
- The movie The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou features performances of Bowie songs in Portugese.
- Trickster: One never knew quite what the new Bowie album would be like for most of his career or, in The Seventies, which persona it would be... and even after you got it, there was guaranteed to be enough Lyrical Dissonance to keep you scratching your head wondering what it really meant for years. The visual presentation of his work (concerts, videos, live TV performances) varies wildly from period to period as well. He freely courted controversy and flaunted unconventional ways in The Seventies, and though he did mellow out come The Eighties, he never lost the strong sense of humor that served him well both on and offstage. And while the man himself is mellow, he is still capable of creating works of alarming darkness and grotesquerie.
- Trope Overdosed: There are more than 350 references to him on TV Tropes. Might be due to his constant ch-ch-ch-ch-changes?
- Twenty Minutes into the Future: 1995's 1. Outside as the main action starts on December 31, 1999.
- Übermensch: A recurring theme in several early songs, including "The Supermen", "Quicksand", and "Oh! You Pretty Things".
- Uncanny Valley Makeup: A lot in his younger days, and the illustrations of the 1. Outside booklet. Arguably, Bowie is somewhat in the Uncanny Valley even without a specific makeup...
- Video Full Of Film Clips: Several — "This Is Not America" (The Falcon and the Snowman), "Absolute Beginners", "As the World Falls Down" (Labyrinth; crosses over with Movie Tie-In Music Video), "When the Wind Blows", "Real Cool World", and "The Buddha of Suburbia". He doesn't appear onscreen in any way, shape, or form in the first and fifth examples.
- Video Inside, Film Outside: The video for "D.J." uses this with the side effect of furthering the song and clip's premise: In the filmed city streets he's cheery and confident and surrounded by fans, but in the videotaped studio — where he's presumably alone — he's coming unhinged.
- Villainous Cheekbones: His angular cheeks served him well as The Thin White Duke (which came at a time when he was downright bony) and such film villains as Jareth.
- Villain Love Song: "As the World Falls Down" (Labyrinth).
- Villain Recruitment Song: "That's Motivation" (from the film Absolute Beginners; also a Disney Acid Sequence).
- Villain Song: "Please Mr. Gravedigger" (1967 debut album), "Running Gun Blues" (The Man Who Sold the World), "Magic Dance" and "Chilly Down" (Labyrinth). "Station To Station" may also apply due to the Fascist and Nazi-Occult ideologies that formed the Thin White Duke's character.
- Vocal Evolution: His voice started to noticeably deepen between Aladdin Sane and Diamond Dogs. (Flight of the Conchords' "Bowie" affectionately pokes fun at this, with the singers constantly switching between pre- and post-Diamond Dogs-style voices.)
- Waistcoat of Style: The Thin White Duke's black one was vital to the character's look; as himself, Bowie would wear one for the Sound+Vision tour as well.
- War Is Hell: This theme appears in songs as early as "Running Gun Blues" (The Man Who Sold the World) and as late as "I'd Rather Be High" and "How Does the Grass Grow" (The Next Day).
- Wham Line: "Ground Control to Major Tom/Your circuit's dead; there's something wrong..."
- Who Names Their Kid "Dude"?: Or in this case, "Zowie". Thankfully, Bowie saw fit to give his son the full name "Duncan Zowie Hayward Jones" on his birth certificate, in case young Zowie Bowie ended up hating his name and wanted to change to something more normal. He did, and is now famous in his own right as director Duncan Jones.
- Word Salad Lyrics and Word Salad Title: Bowie utilizes the "cut-up" technique often, resulting in some strange lyrical products that usually fall into The Walrus Was Paul territory. 1. Outside not only has examples of cut-up lyrics, but the technique is actually used in-story — in the liner notes' "The Diary of Nathan Adler", Adler takes computer database information on people who knew the victim of the art-murder and feeds it into a randomiser "that re-strings real life facts as improbable virtual-fact" with the hopes of finding "a lead or two".