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YMMV: David Bowie
David Bowie's career has been so expansive and varied that debate is inevitable, and here are the subjective tropes to prove it.

  • Archive Panic: Bad enough he's recorded so many albums and guest spots, and made so many music videos and concert films...but there's a whole filmography to explore too.
  • Award Snub
    • Only one competitive Grammy win (1985) and a Lifetime Achievement Award (2006) that wasn't televised, since a lot of those are given out each year. The snubbing is partially due to his not actually being nominated for his music until 1984 (his first Grammy nomination was for Best Children's Album in 1979, for his Peter and the Wolf narration), and "Let's Dance" had the bad luck of competing against Michael Jackson's "Thriller".
    • On the other side of the coin, Jackson fans tend to be appalled to learn that Bowie was the winner of the Best Male Video Award at the inaugral MTV Video Music Awards in 1984, because "China Girl" went up against "Thriller". ("Thriller" took home 3 other awards, bear in mind.) Maybe the fact that the lifetime achievement award, the Video Vanguard, has been named after Jackson since 1991 assuages their anger, given that Bowie won it long before Jackson did.
  • Breakaway Pop Hit: "Cat People (Putting Out Fire)", partially because he included a rearranged version of the song on Let's Dance. Now it's better-known for its appearance in Inglourious Basterds rather than the film for which it was written.
  • Broken Base: Inevitable due to all his style and image makeovers, though the biggest split came when the mainstream-oriented Let's Dance arrived.
  • Covered Up: Bowie co-wrote "China Girl" with Iggy Pop for the latter's 1977 album The Idiot, but it's Bowie's cover of the song on 1983's Let's Dance that is better known. On the other side of the coin, he had to put up with unaware listeners of The Nineties who thought he was covering a Nirvana song with "The Man Who Sold the World" (which must have been particularly confounding since Kurt even says "That was a David Bowie song" at the end of Nirvana's version) and the same treatment from fans of The Wallflowers regarding ""Heroes"".
  • Death of the Author: Bowie has been quoted as saying that art is for the use of the public and the interpretation of the listener is more important than the intention of the artist.
  • Dork Age/Fanon Discontinuity: Three major periods are commonly singled out by fans and even the man himself.
    • Pre-Space Oddity (1964-68) — Covers all his early singles and first, self-titled album.
    • Post-Let's Dance (1984-1988) — Tonight and Never Let Me Down, which carried on the mainstream pop-rock approach of Let's Dance, were not nearly as well-received (though the latter did receive some good reviews at the time while some of his classic albums had to be Vindicated by History), and the Glass Spider Tour supporting Never Let Me Down was much-criticized for its heavy Spectacle. Bowie has called this era his "Phil Collins years", and regrets that he stuck with the style for so long, trying to follow what his new fans wanted rather than what made him happy. Older fans upset with Bowie going mainstream in the first place extend this age to include Let's Dance and the Serious Moonlight tour, in which case it lasted five years instead of four...even longer if they didn't like what followed.
    • The Tin Machine era (1989-92) — Bowie breaking out of his '80s rut via a Hard Rock group was initially welcomed but quickly met with more brickbats, never mind the fact that it set up his work in The Nineties. (From that decade onward, how dorky a given album is becomes a matter of personal taste.) This period also has a generally-acknowledged bright spot in the solo Sound+Vision tour. Speaking of tours...
    • Dishonorable Mention: As it was made in the doldrums of his drug addiction and the Troubled Production of the Diamond Dogs Tour, 1974's David Live is often said to be his worst album of all time, due to his strained voice.
  • Face of the Band: Bowie consciously tried to avert being Tin Machine's face — always insisting that his other bandmates be interviewed alongside him, letting his drummer sing two tracks on the second album — but failed. The trope page uses lyrics from "Ziggy Stardust" as its header quote: Ziggy was initially just a singer/guitarist in the Spiders from Mars, but he "became the special man" to the fans, much to the jealousy and resentment of the other Spiders.
  • Family-Unfriendly Aesop: "Black Tie White Noise" presents the Aesop "Racial harmony is possible, but not without great difficulty and violence along the way." (He wrote this in the wake of the 1992 Rodney King riots.)
  • Growing the Beard: Hunky Dory, his fourth album, is generally regarded as his first great one.
  • Ho Yay: The "Dancing in the Street" video he and Mick Jagger did for Live Aid in 1985 is the most notorious example of this in the careers of both men, and has been the subject of much mockery as a result. Said mockery reached an apex in 2011 when Family Guy showed the entire video as an Overly Long Cutaway Gag in "Foreign Affairs", prefaced as "the gayest video of all time".
    • He also played up his bisexual image onstage during the Ziggy Stardust years. He and guitarist Mick Ronson used to be the page image for Faux Yay, after all.
  • Mainstream Obscurity: Low eternally dukes it out with his Glam Rock hits Hunky Dory and The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust And The Spiders From Mars for the title of his Magnum Opus...but how many have actually listened to it and know that (among other things) four tracks are straight instrumentals?
  • Memetic Badass
    • The Venture Bros. portrays him as the shapeshifting overlord of the Guild of Calamitous Intent. ("The guy from Labyrinth turned into a bird!") In season 5 it's mentioned that he isn't the real David Bowie, just a guy who likes to pretend to be him.
    • On Naruto The Abridged Comedy Fandub Spoof Series Show, he's an indestructible ninja with a habit of breaking into song and insisting that he's not David Bowie.
    • In Flight of the Conchords he is a sort of Gandalf-figure (portrayed, sadly, not by the man himself) who appears to Bret in three dreams, each time in the guise of a different character: Ziggy Stardust, the Pierrot of "Ashes to Ashes", and Jareth.
    • One member of Doctor Horrible's Sing-Along Blog's Evil League Of Evil is called Dead Bowie, but it's not clear whether he's meant to be the man himself or just a themed villain.
    • The Sifl and Olly Show claims the Great Pyramids of Egypt were built in anticipation of his arrival.
    • Eric Idle's 1999 novel The Road to Mars takes place in a future where a Ridiculously Human Robot of choice is the BowieBot android. Carlton, one of the 4.5 models — looking like Bowie in his Let's Dance days — serves as a secretary to the heroes (a comedy team) and has the book's primary subplot, in which it explores the concept/history of humor and whether an artificial intelligence can ever acquire a sense of it. (This book started as an unproduced screenplay; Idle is a friend of Bowie's and wrote the concept/part for him to play.)
  • Memetic Sex God: "If you have seen Labyrinth, then you are not a virgin."
  • Misaimed Fandom: "All the Young Dudes", written for Mott the Hoople, was seen as a celebratory anthem for the glam rock movement. In fact David Bowie has confirmed that it is precisely the opposite and the news carried by the young dudes is actually one of a future apocalypse.
    • Julian Priest, the character portrayed by Bowie in the television series The Hunger, has gained a large amount of...affection from fans over the years.
  • Misattributed Song: An unusual case. "All the Young Dudes" was first performed by Mott the Hoople, but the cumulative effect of Bowie writing, producing, and performing backing vocals and saxophone on it (he also recorded his own version and made it a concert setlist staple) means they aren't properly associated with it.
  • Never Live It Down
    • His Glam Rock yielded a lot of great work and made his name, but its campiness and glitter can unfairly overshadow what he did later.
    • Those born after 1975 or so often first encounter Bowie via Labyrinth, and for them it can be hard not to think back to his ostentatious, very 1980s look and Large Ham performance in it when considering his other work. (Luckily, it fits better into his overall career than one would think, since he's so often an ostentatious-looking Large Ham anyway.) It's also become his best-known film role in popular culture; the only one that compares to it, Thomas Jerome Newton, suffers for the fact that The Man Who Fell to Earth is a Mind Screw of a movie that doesn't get as much exposure on video (the last Region 1 DVD release has been out of print for several years as of 2013) or cable (due to its hard-R-rating content).
  • Newbie Boom: After Let's Dance.
  • One-Scene Wonder: To Memetic Mutation. The Onion A.V. Club has an article on the subject.
  • Refuge in Audacity: David Bowie spent most of the 60s and early 70s attempting to achieve music stardom without much success. He then hit upon a solution - simply create a character called Ziggy Stardust who was already a mega-star and live that part. It worked.
  • Rule Of Sean Connery: Whether you use him a little or a lot, your project will be cooler for his presence.
  • Signature Song: As his first hit, "Space Oddity" is usually regarded as this, since the range of his career and resultant arguments over his best era make it hard to settle the question otherwise. However, "Life on Mars?" and ""Heroes"" have become competitors for the title in recent years. While relatively early in his canon, "Changes" kinda pokes fun at this, and (ironically) became another one of his signature tunes.
  • So Bad, It's Good: Some of his pre-1969 songs, especially the novelty tune "The Laughing Gnome", and his "Dancing in the Street" duet with Mick Jagger in 1985, mostly because of the goofy, Ho Yay-fueled video (another reason the mid-'80s are often called Bowie's big Dork Age).
  • So Cool It's Awesome: In particular, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars is often considered one of the best albums of all time.
  • Tearjerker: See the tearjerker page for this artist. Beyond songs, The Man Who Fell to Earth can also qualify as this; while Thomas Jerome Newton is a Tragic Hero with the flaw of naivete rather than The Woobie, by movie's end he definitely could use a hug...
  • They Changed It, Now It Sucks: Due to his frequent reinventions, Bowie has faced this constantly — "I preferred him as singer-songwriter, space alien, blue-eyed soul singer, Kraftwerk-esque krautrocker, etc." But it was especially bad after Let's Dance, partially because it overlapped with It's Popular, Now It Sucks.
  • Tough Act to Follow: Cracked's "5 Works of Art So Good, They Ruined Their Whole Genre" calls The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust a tough act to follow in glam rock.
  • True Art Is Incomprehensible, True Art Is Angsty, and Mind Screw: The premise of the 1.Outside narrative.
  • Vindicated by History: Hunky Dory didn't get much attention until after the success of Ziggy Stardust, but once it did...well, two of the tunes that are Signature Song candidates ("Changes" and "Life on Mars?") are from it. This also applies to the Berlin Trilogy, which underperformed on the charts compared to his previous albums (especially outside of the U.K.) — in fact, ""Heroes"", now another Signature Song candidate, did not make waves as a single when it was new.
  • What Do You Mean, It Wasn't Made on Drugs?: Averted with Station to Station. And this was right after he was in a movie that also begs this question, but the filmmakers themselves weren't on drugs.
  • The Woobie: As Bowie has a good deal of sympathy/empathy for the plight of the "freaky" folk of the world, tales of misunderstood, suffering souls turn up occasionally in his work.
    • The old veteran in "Little Bombardier" (from his debut album). After years of loneliness and depression, things seem to turn around for him when he strikes up an Intergenerational Friendship with some schoolchildren — and then the police, who suspect he means ill, nip that in the bud.
    • The "missionary mystic of peace/love" known as the "Wild Eyed Boy from Freecloud" (Space Oddity). Sentenced to hang by frightened villagers, willing to accept his fate, and only lives because of an avalanche from the titular mountain that destroys the village — despite his pleas for it to stop, leaving him brokenhearted.
    • The title character in the play The Elephant Man is an unabashed, Real Life-inspired woobie, and Bowie essayed the role on Broadway to much acclaim in 1980. (As per the play's instructions, he used body movement and voice inflection to suggest his deformity.)
    • The protagonist of "Jump They Say" (Black Tie White Noise) is a little...different from others mentally, and is Driven to Suicide by — depending on interpretation — voices in his head or society as a result. It's even worse in the video, where Bowie plays the poor soul as a businessman taken captive by his heartless peers and subjected to electroshock therapy, paving the way for his fateful jump. (To twist the knife in further, it's after his jump that the viewer sees a wedding band on his finger...) Also has a sad Reality Subtext, in that the song's inspired by the demise of Bowie's schizophrenic half-brother Terry.

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