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Music / David Bowie

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David at his most normal, just the way he wanted.

"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 (8 January 1947 – 10 January 2016), better known as David Bowie, was one of rock music's most influential figures. He went 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 '60s — David Bowie first caught the eye and ear of the public in the autumn of 1969, when his space-age mini-melodrama "Space Oddity" (from David Bowie — now better known as Space Oddity) reached the top five of the UK singles chart. After three years of musical experimentation and jumping between record labels, 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 18 months) epitomised a career often marked by musical innovation, reinvention, and striking visual presentation. He also produced Lou Reed's album Transformer around the same time, and The Stooges' Raw Power.

In 1975, Bowie decided to toss everything he had built up out the window and record Young Americans, which the singer identified as "plastic soul". Bowie proceeded to achieve his first major American crossover success with both the album and the number-one single "Fame"; it was during this period that he became one of the few white performers invited to play Soul Train. The sound of Young Americans constituted a radical shift in style that initially alienated many of his UK devotees, but attracted swaths of American newcomers to his fanbase. After this, he had his first major film role with The Man Who Fell to Earth.

Not entirely sure what to do next, Bowie spent about a year continuing his funk-influenced act (while, at the same time, starting to show some influences from German bands like Kraftwerk and Neu!) with his last "character", The Thin White Duke (showcased on his critically and commercially successful album Station to Station), a bizarre, thin, well-dressed, thoroughly sociopathic European aristocrat who — much as Bowie himself did at this point — survived primarily on "red peppers, cocaine, and milk."

After a series of nasty PR incidents stemming from becoming Lost in Character as the Duke, Bowie realized that his cocaine addiction was taking a horrific toll on his mental health and retreated to Berlin to rehabilitate. There, he confounded the expectations of both his record label and his audiences worldwide by recording the experimental, minimalist album Low in 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 (until his last album, anyway), the so-called "Berlin Trilogy" albums (named for his place of residence during this period as he pulled himself out of addiction, although significant portions of Low and Lodger were actually recorded elsewhere) all reached the UK Top Five, though their overall critical and commercial success was uneven ("Heroes" was well-regarded by critics at the time; the other two weren't). They have since become Vindicated by History and are regarded as some of his best works. Around the same time, he also produced Iggy Pop's solo albums The Idiot and Lust for Life, both from 1977, all of which have been canonised as classics.

After the Berlin Trilogy, Bowie had UK number ones with the 1980 single "Ashes to Ashes" and its parent album, Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps), and paired with Queen for the 1981 UK chart-topper "Under Pressure". In 1982, Bowie jumped record labels again after over a decade of putting up with a financially unsatisfactory contract, and, seeking to make back the money his old label never allowed him to keep, consolidated his most commercial sound— and his most profitable one— 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 SpongeBob SquarePants.

The '80s were also significant for Bowie in that they marked an unusual milestone for him: after the 1983 Japanese CD release of Let's Dance and the 1984 CD release of Tonight, Bowie's previous record label took it upon themselves to re-release the remainder of Bowie's catalog on the format as well. in 1985, Bowie's first 14 studio albums were all released on CD, with the remaining songs in his backlog included on several greatest hits albums; as a result, Bowie became the first artist to have his entire catalog made available on Compact Disc.

Bowie stayed with the commercial sound of Let's Dance for two more albums: 1984's Tonight and 1987's Never Let Me Down. Although both were successful commercially, they were unpopular critically speaking. Eventually, in 1988, a dissatisfied Bowie moved on to front the (ahem) short-lived rock band Tin Machine, which was warmly received at first but was shunned more and more up until their split in 1992; they've since been Vindicated by History thanks to their noticeable influence on grunge and 90s Alternative Rock in general. Since then the following albums were released to increasing critical acclaim as the Turn of the Millennium arrived.

In The '90s, Bowie returned to solo work with 1993's Black Tie White Noise, an electronic/jazz/house hybrid album which yielded another Top 10 single in "Jump They Say". At the end of the year he would go to provide the music for the BBC mini-series The Buddha of Suburbia, which was also released as an album. 1994-5 saw Bowie reunite with Eno to produce 1. Outside, a much Darker and Edgier Industrial Rock Opera which explored the concept of murder as an art form. While 1. Outside was slated to have two sequel albums, Bowie scrapped the idea and instead issued Earthling in 1997, which explored Drum N Bass. The song "I'm Afraid of Americans" was notable for being remixed by Nine Inch Nails and issued as a single. NIИ lead and (at the time) sole member Trent Reznor also featured in the video as a stalker tracking down a paranoid Bowie.

After successfully embracing a variety of different genres. 1999's 'hours...' saw Bowie settle into his "neo-classicist" phase. A year later, Bowie recorded Toy, an album containing re-recordings of several of his 1960s singles alongside a couple of new songs. However, issues with his record company led to the project being shelved, with the two new songs finding their way onto 2002's Heathen in a re-recorded form instead. Heathen also reunited Bowie with Tony Visconti, with the team going on to produce the rest of his albums. Reality was released in 2003, which saw Bowie embark on a major worldwide tour. However, a prolonged heart attack and subsequent angioplasty in 2004 forced him to cut the tour short, resulting in him making fewer and fewer public and media appearances.

By The New '10s, Bowie was an apparently-retired Reclusive Artist...until January 8, 2013 (his 66th birthday), when he announced a new album, The Next Day, and presented its first song and video online. He no longer performed live or granted interviews by that stage. While he would not appear onstage, his next major project Lazarus (a musical stage play co-written with Enda Walsh, Inspired by… the source novel for The Man Who Fell to Earth) was set to debut off-Broadway in late 2015. It was followed by what would turn out to be his final studio album, note , released on his 69th birthday in January 2016. Two days after its release, Bowie passed away after an eighteen-month battle with liver cancer that he had been keeping secret. Two weeks later, NASA immediately discovered a planet in some other galaxy. You do the math.

As soon as the world learned of Bowie's death, crowds and TV crews from throughout the world gathered at the "Aladdin Sane" mural opposite Brixton Station in south London, which immediately became a shrine and remains so to this day.

Bowie and his work have been referenced, parodied, and otherwise in a colourful 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 shape-shifting anti-villain 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, the Ready Jet Go! episode "Potatoes on Mars" had a "Life on Mars?" parody, 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 (2008)). 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. Bowie was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1996. 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.note  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 '70s, 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 the 2009 sci-fi Cult Classic Moon and the 2011 techno-thriller Source Code.

The Onion'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. There's also Pushing Ahead of the Dame, a well-regarded blog by music journalist Chris O'Leary, which features long historical and critical essays on every song Bowie ever recordednote .

Parts of David Bowie's package, known only as "The Area", have its own cult known as "Areaology" devoted to it.

He ended at #29 in 100 Greatest Britons.

The great man now has his own long-awaited Best Album Crowner, where you vote for your favourite Bowie album!

Studio Album Discography:

Live Discography:

  • 1974 - David Live
  • 1978 - Stage
  • 1983 - Ziggy Stardust: The Motion Picture
  • 1999 -
  • 2005 - Live EP (Live at Fashion Rocks) note 
  • 2007 - Glass Spider (Live Montreal '87) note 
  • 2008 - Live Santa Monica '72 note 
  • 2009 - VH1 Storytellers
  • 2010 - A Reality Tour
  • 2010 - Live Nassau Coliseum '76 note 
  • 2017 - Cracked Actor (Live Los Angeles '74)
  • 2018 - Welcome to the Blackout (Live London '78)
  • 2018 - Serious Moonlight (Live '83) note 
  • 2018 - Glastonbury 2000 note 
  • 2020 - I'm Only Dancing (The Soul Tour 74)
  • 2020 - Ouvrez le Chien (Live Dallas 95)
  • 2020 - No Trendy Réchauffé (Live Birmingham 95)
  • 2021 - Look at the Moon! (Live Phoenix Festival 97)
  • 2021 - Something in the Air (Live Paris 99)
  • 2021 - David Bowie at the Kit Kat Klub (Live New York 99)

Notable compilations:

  • 1976 - Changesonebowie
  • 1981 - Changestwobowie
  • 1982 - Rare note 
  • 1989 - Sound + Vision note 
  • 1990 - Changesbowie note 
  • 1991 - Early On (1964-1966) note 
  • 1993 - All Saints note 
  • 1997 - The Deram Anthology (1966-1968) note 
  • 2002 - Best of Bowie note 
  • 2008 - iSelect note 
  • 2014 - Nothing Has Changed note 

Discography with Tin Machine:

Non-Album Singles:

  • "Liza Jane" / "Louie, Go Home" (1964)note 
  • "I Pity the Fool" / "Close to You" (1965)note 
  • "You've Got a Habit of Leaving" / "Baby Loves That Way" (1965)note 
  • "Can't Help Thinking About Me" / "And I Say to Myself" (1966)note 
  • "Do Anything You Say" / "Good Morning Girl" (1966)note 
  • "I Dig Everything" / "I'm Not Losing Sleep" (1966)
  • "Rubber Band" / "The London Boys" (1966)note 
  • "The Laughing Gnome" / "The Gospel According to Tony Day" (1967)note 
  • "The Prettiest Star" / "Conversation Piece" (1970)note 
  • "Holy Holy" / "Black Country Rock" (1971)note 
  • "Moonage Daydream" / "Hang On to Yourself" (1971)note 
  • "John, I'm Only Dancing" / "Hang On to Yourself" (1972)note 
  • "John, I'm Only Dancing (Again)" / "John, I'm Only Dancing" (1979)note 
  • "Alabama Song" / "Space Oddity" (1980)note 
  • "Crystal Japan" / "Alabama Song" (1980)note 
  • "Peace on Earth/Little Drummer Boy" / "Fantastic Voyage" (1982)note 
  • "Dancing in the Street" / various remixes (1985)note 
  • "Perfect Day '97" / various remixes (1997)note 
  • "Rebel Never Gets Old" / various remixes (2004)note 
  • "'Tis a Pity She Was a Whore" (2014)note 
  • "Tryin' to Get to Heaven" / "Mother" (2021)note 

Other studio tidbits:

  • 1981 - Christiane F. note 
  • 1982 - Baal note 
  • 1986 - Labyrinth note 
  • 2017 - No Plan note 
  • 2020 - Is It Any Wonder? note 
  • 2021 - Toy note 


"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", in which a world-saving computer fears the possibility of itself becoming a crutch for humanity and threatens to cause an apocalypse unless they shut it down.
  • 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: "Leon Takes Us Outside", an instrumental piece with cryptic spoken-word phrases on top of it, on 1. Outside.
    • "Future Legend", an Opening Narration, on Diamond Dogs, which presents an in media res description of the post-apocalyptic Hunger City that serves as the album's setting.
  • All-Loving Hero: The "Wild Eyed Boy from Freecloud", who manages to be so Jesusesque in his compassion towards and forgiveness of others that he holds no qualms with letting his enemies hang him for the crime of being too cheery. When the titular mountain causes an avalanche that destroys the village attempting to kill him, the Wild Eyed Boy is filled with despair despite having been saved.
  • Alter-Ego Acting: His 1970s stage personas, most famously Ziggy Stardust and The Thin White Duke, are examples of Type 3; Bowie acknowledged their status as individual characters, but also stated that they were reflections of certain aspects of his own self at the time he portrayed them, Ziggy embodying his wild and alienlike demeanor in the early 70s and the Duke embodying his cocaine addiction and fascination with the occult. Unlike the Duke, however, Bowie was as far from a fascist as one could possibly get, and expressed horror when he started espousing neo-Nazi beliefs on live TV after getting Lost in Character.
  • Ambiguously Bi: Some of his identities have been bi, but the man himself? He was probably at least bicurious, but it's complicated, especially due to Bowie's repeated Flip-Flop of God on the matter.
  • Anachronic Order: 1. Outside, in which the album's story is told so thoroughly out of order that it becomes difficult to figure out if there's even meant to be an order to any of it; applies to both the liner notes' short story and the arrangement of songs and spoken-word segues on the album itself.
  • Animated Music Video: "When the Wind Blows" features an animated Bowie silhouette among clips from the movie.
  • Anti-Love Song: "Up the Hill Backwards" is his best example of this, being a cynical reflection on the fallout of his recent divorce with his first wife.
  • Artist and the Band: He had his early singles "Liza Jane", "You've Got a Habit of Leaving", and "Can't Help Thinking About Me" respectively credited to Davy Jones with the King Bees, Davy Jones & the Lower Third, and David Bowie with the Lower Third. After the release of "Do Anything You Say", he used the David Bowie stage name for the remainder of his career.
  • As Himself: He appears as himself in Christiane F., Zoolander, and Bandslam, the last film is the most notable as he serves as a major plot point and actually appears in the last minutes of the film.
  • The Atoner: After the nadir of his cocaine bender where he appeared to endorse fascism, Bowie devoted the rest of his life to anti-racism, or at least stating his anti-racist beliefs more explicitly. He criticized early MTV for not playing black artists and was a fan of hip-hop, to the point where producer Tony Visconti cited Kendrick Lamar's 2015 album To Pimp a Butterfly as a key influence on .
  • 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.
  • Becoming the Mask: The Thin White Duke was originally just another alter-ego of Bowie's, but through his increased paranoia through his cocaine addiction, he ended up believing he was the Thin White Duke rather than David Bowie, and it wasn't until he suffered a nasty crash and saw the collateral damage his internal rampage caused that he broke free of the mask, as explored in Low.
  • Bishōnen: Western performer, but oh, yes. If not a direct inspiration for many a bishōnen, he's often the example people cite as the most analogous example in Western media: throughout the 70s in particular, he was known for his waiflike body type, angular facial structure, and sharp eye shape, all of which would serve as key features of the bishōnen image in the decades ahead.
  • Blind Seer: One of Bowie's characters in , a blindfolded figure who moves and enunciates in an oracle-like manner.
  • 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.
  • Bookends:
    • 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 his 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 '70s 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!
    • In 2013 he posted to his Facebook a list of 100 of his favourite books. Some of them are well-known titles you'd expect to see (Nineteen Eighty-Four, A Clockwork Orange, The Great Gatsby), but some of them are quite obscure. What may also surprise people is the diversity of his reading — it's unlikely that many people would have expected titles like Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States or John Cage's Silence: Lectures and Writing to be on his list, but there you are.
  • Bowdlerise
    • 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.
  • Breather Episode: "Strangers When We Meet", the closing track to Outside, is considerably Lighter and Softer than the rest of the album. One website describes it as " a boarded-up window being pried open to let in the sunlight."
  • Briefer Than They Think: His star-making 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.
    • The harmonica in "I Can't Give Everything Away" is (no doubt intentionally) quite reminiscent of the harmonica in "A New Career in a New Town". Fans have also cited similarities in the song to "Never Let Me Down", "Soul Love", and "Thursday's Child".
  • Canon Discontinuity: His early singles and first album, though he revisited some of those songs for the Toy project. Additionally, five early singles, including his very first recording— 1964's "Liza Jane"— appear on the 2014 Nothing Has Changed compilation. His 1967 debut album, however, was absent from the Five Years box set that came out the next year; this does however also seem to be due to legal issues, as the rights to that album still lie with Deram Records to this day, rather than with Bowie's estate. 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 did quite a few product endorsements, perhaps inevitably as he did commercial work before he was a celebrity, appearing in an ad for Luv ice cream pops in The '60s.
    • 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.
  • Celebrity Is Overrated: The point of "Fame" and "The Stars (Are Out Tonight)", both of which describe the celebrity lifestyle as troubled and hollow. This is especially the case on the latter song, which unlike the Lyrical Dissonance of "Fame" sounds downright angry towards the concept of celebrity and portrays the celebrity couple in its music video as tormenting, otherworldly harpies.
  • 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 '70s "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...
  • Cluster F-Bomb: "Girl Loves Me" features the heaviest amount of swearing in a Bowie song, most of it being the constant repetition of "fuck" throughout the chorus.
  • 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 '80s 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).
  • Continuity Nod:
    • On the Diamond Dogs Tour (1974), Bowie performed "Space Oddity" in a chair that was lifted by a cherry picker 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 (to the point where the original Changes duology went out of print until being reinstated in 2016 for One and 2018 for Two). 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", 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.
  • Cool Old Guy: Given things like his embrace of new technologies (composing the soundtrack for Omikron: The Nomad Soul being an obvious example), collaborations with younger artists, and continuing to produce new music right up to his death, he certainly qualified.
  • 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.
  • Cover Album: Pin Ups. Bowie wanted to release a new album, but not to include new material because of a dispute with his publisher. His solution? Record an album of songs from The British Invasion that had influenced him.
  • 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 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)
    • Pin Ups — A full album of covers, including "Anywhere Anyway Anyhow", "I Can't Explain" (both The Who), "Rosalyn", "Don't Bring Me Down" (both The Pretty Things), "Shapes of Things" (The Yardbirds), "I Wish You Would" (originally by Blues singer Billy Boy Arnold, popularized by The Yardbirds), "See Emily Play" (Pink Floyd), "Here Comes the Night" (first performed by Lulu, but associated with Them), "Where Have All the Good Times Gone" (The Kinks), "Friday on My Mind" (The Easybeats), "Everything's All Right" (The Mojos), and the album's hit "Sorrow" (first recorded by The McCoys, popularized by The Merseys).
    • 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 9/11/2001, Bowie did a remarkable minimalist cover of "America" by Simon & Garfunkel.
    • During David Gilmour's On an Island tour, Bowie showed up as a guest star to perform covers of "Arnold Layne" and "Comfortably Numb", both by the last band Gilmour was in.
    • He collaborated with Massive Attack to cover Nat King Cole's "Nature Boy" for the Moulin Rouge! soundtrack.
  • Crapsack World: In general, the world Bowie's 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 pockmarked and grey. June is not for brides, it is for the birds — if it isn't raining.
    • "Hunger City", the setting for the Diamond Dogs album, is a dystopia — 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.
  • Darker and Edgier: invoked His albums, or stretches of such, tend to alternate between this and Lighter and Softer (owing to his penchant for the New Sound Album trope), but an even clearer example of this can be seen with his stage personas in The '70s. After the flamboyant tragic rock messiah of Ziggy Stardust and the variants of Aladdin Sane, et. al., with 1976's Station to Station came The Thin White Duke — a heartless Fascist. This persona owed a lot to a Creator Breakdown and his heavy drug abuse at the time (including cocaine addiction), and Bowie's decision to pull himself up from it all was accompanied by a choice to not only dump the persona, but to only be himself on stage afterwards.
  • Death by Transceiver: "Space Oddity", in which Major Tom is implied to be stranded in space, left to die, after his radio to ground control dies:
    Ground Control to Major Tom
    Your circuit's dead, there's something wrong
    Can you hear me, Major Tom?
  • 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.
  • Digital Destruction: Bowie's backlog hasn't had the best luck with CD releases over the years, from RCA Records sourcing their releases from multi-generation cassette masters to contested equalization choices on subsequent remasters. In terms of specific albums, some prominent issues are as follows:
    • Space Oddity: Parlophone Records' 2015 remaster of the album was a noticeably rushed job and— by their own admission— not cross-examined with the original 1969 LP, resulting in a number of audio transfer issues such as a tape buzz during the line "someone else to hear" in "Cygnet Committee". Because of this, the Conversation Piece Boxed Set in 2019 went for the earlier 2009 remaster, which was made to match the original release, in addition to including a new remix by producer Tony Visconti that's been mostly praised as an improvement upon the '69 mix.
    • Hunky Dory: The initial US CD release by RCA Records featured tape damage on "Changes", while the same track and "Oh! You Pretty Things" are noticeably compressed on the concurrent European CD. The US CD additionally suffers from a volume and equalization imbalance, with the tracks from Side Two being louder and brighter than the tracks from Side One.
    • The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars: The 30th anniversary expanded edition of the album in 2002 reverses the stereo channels.
    • Aladdin Sane: The album was an unusual victim of RCA Records' self-admittedly rushed CD releases of the Bowie catalog in The '80s. Unlike other albums in the series, Aladdin Sane was pressed solely in Japan regardless of region (other albums had European copies made by PolyGram in West Germany), but used two different plants with different masters: CSR and Denon. The Denon master, featured on European copies and later American ones, is considered overly-muddy compared to the CSR master (used solely for early American copies) and the original LP, featuring a lower volume, reduced treble, and increased bass.
    • Diamond Dogs: The original European CD release by RCA Records is unusually and noticeably bass-boosted compared to all other versions of the album, resulting in a sound often described as dark and muddy. Of note is that this is the only instance where a European RCA Bowie CD has more issues than its American counterpart; other Bowie albums in the series either have more issues on American discs, have more issues with one manufacturer than another in the same region, or are negligible in difference.
    • Young Americans: The original US CD release by RCA Records cuts off the first two opening drumbeats in the Title Track due to a mastering error. Meanwhile, the 1991 Rykodisc reissue erroneously uses earlier mixes of "Win", "Fascination", and "Right" (most prominently distinguished by their heavy reverb), which staff member Jeff Rougvie claimed was the result of them simply seeking out the best-sounding tapes from Bowie's vaults without cross-referencing them with the original LP (the 1989 Boxed Set Sound + Vision also uses the earlier version of "Fascination" due to the same error, which was fixed on the expanded 2003 reissue). The 1999 and 2016 remasters reinstate the LP mixes.
    • Station to Station: The original US CD release by RCA Records is mastered at an abnormally low volume compared to the label's other Bowie CDs, and turning the dial up reveals that the sound is extremely thin compared to the original LP; the latter can also be said of the Japanese RCA CD, which is simply a volume-boosted version of the US CD. Both discs also lop off the very start of "Word on a Wing". The European RCA CD doesn't have any of these problems; consequently, a repressing of it was included in the 2010 deluxe edition as a bonus disc.
    • Low: The original CD releases by RCA Records have their own sets of issues depending on the region. American CDs feature an imbalanced equalization, with the left channel being noticeably brighter than the right. European CDs lack the equalization problem, but add fade-ins to almost every song (the exceptions being "Breaking Glass", "What in the World", "Be My Wife", and "Subterraneans"), despite many of them being written with cold-opens in mind.
    • "Heroes":
      • Due to a mastering error, the initial US CD release by RCA Records lops off the first 1.8 seconds of "Beauty and the Beast". The European RCA CD, meanwhile, features an audibly congested low end, a trait not present on other releases.
      • The initial version of the 2017 remaster, included in the Boxed Set A New Career in a New Town [1977–1982], featured an audible volume drop partway through the Title Track. Parlophone Records claimed that it was to obscure irreversible damage on the master tape, but eventually relented after further complaints and included a revised version of the remaster on replacement discs for affected buyers. This fixed version was also incorporated on the standalone CD, LP, and digital releases.
    • The Greatest Hits Album Fame and Fashion erroneously reverses the stereo channels on side two. Not only is this carried over to the CD release, but the US version of the latter additionally features narrower mastering on the tracks corresponding with side one.
  • 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", 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), and did a photoshoot dressed up as Baby Grace and Ramona A. Stone, amongst other characters, as part of 1. Outside's production.
  • Driven to Suicide: The protagonist of the song and video "Jump They Say" commits suicide.
  • Dude Looks Like a Lady: In the very late '60s / early '70s he appeared androgynous, thanks to his long, flowing locks. See the cover of The Man Who Sold the World and the back cover of Hunky Dory.
  • Earth Song: "Time Will Crawl" is a song inspired by the Chernobyl disaster. The lyrics are about pollution and industry's destruction of Earth.
  • '80s Hair: Bowie sported a pronounced bleached blonde mullet throughout the '80s, dropping it upon the formation of Tin Machine. The even bigger red mullet from his glam rock years was also a direct precursor to the style's prevalence in the Reagan/Thatcher era.
  • Eldritch Abomination: Eldritch abominations were 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.
  • Elvis Has Left the Planet: News of his death was met with comments such as "Ziggy has gone back to Mars" and "Jareth has returned to his kingdom".
  • 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: Some of his songs can get past six minutes:
    • Space Oddity: The 9:33 "Cygnet Committee" is the most prominent example, but "Unwashed and Somewhat Slightly Dazed" (6:12) and "Memory of a Free Festival" (7:09) also qualify.
    • The Man Who Sold the World: "The Width of a Circle" is just over eight minutes.
    • Diamond Dogs: The Title Track is the longest song on the album at six minutes long. The "Sweet Thing"/"Candidate"/"Sweet Thing (reprise)" trifecta are often considered a single 8:50 song, and were usually performed that way live.
    • Young Americans: The six and a half minute "Somebody Up There Likes Me", plus, on the Rykodisc version of the album, "It's Gonna Be Me" (6:27) and "John, I'm Only Dancing (Again)" (6:57).
    • Station to Station: The title track in particular, at 10 minutes 14 seconds, is the longest studio track he ever released. "Word on a Wing" (6:03), "Stay" (6:15), and "Wild Is the Wind" (6:02) also qualify. In fact, this album's mean song length is itself nearly six minutes!
    • Low: "Warszawa" is over six minutes, although it doesn't qualify so much as "rocking".
    • Heroes: "Heroes" runs six-plus minutes on the album; most people are more familiar with the shorter single edit that leaves out the first two verses.
    • Scary Monsters (And Super Creeps): "Teenage Wildlife" is just under seven minutes.
    • Let's Dance: The 7 and a half minute title track.
    • Tonight: "Loving the Alien" is just over seven minutes long.
    • Never Let Me Down 2018: The 2018 version of "Glass Spider" clocks in at just short of 7 minutes long thanks to the new ambient-industrial angle it takes.
    • Tin Machine: "Heaven's in Here" clocks in at 6:01.
    • The Buddha of Suburbia: "Sex and the Church", "The Mysteries", and "Ian Fish, U.K. Heir" all exceed the six-minute mark.
    • Outside: "The Motel" at 6:51, "A Small Plot of Land" at 6:34. The album itself is also notable for its length: at 74:36, it is the longest studio album Bowie ever put out. Bowie later regretted its length and suggested in interviews that it would've been more digestible as a double album (as in, keeping the tracklist identical but splitting it across two CDs even though it can fit snugly on just one).
    • Earthling has "Little Wonder" (6:02), "Dead Man Walking" (6:50), "Seven Years In Tibet" (6:22).
    • 'hours...' has "If I'm Dreaming My Life" at 7 minutes long.
    • Heathen has the 6 minute "Slip Away". "Safe" on the Super Audio CD release comes close, being just seven seconds short of the 6-minute mark.
    • Reality: "Bring Me the Disco King" clocks in at just a quarter under eight minutes, and it outpaces every preceding track on the album.
    • : The title track is nearly ten minutes long, while "Lazarus" is 6 and 1/2, and "I Can't Give Everything Away" is almost 6 minutes long.
    • Other songs: "Cat People (Putting Out Fire)" (6:41) from the 1982 remake of Cat People, and "Absolute Beginners" (8:04) from the namesake film.
  • Even the Guys Want Him: Garnered a reputation for this throughout his life, aided by his constant bi-curiosity. Hell, he reportedly had a threesome with Mick Jagger and Lou Reed.
  • 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, The Twilight Saga 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...
  • Face Death with Dignity: Or perhaps more Do Not Go Gentle. is an album-length confrontation with mortality. Bowie released it two days before he died.
  • Fake Band: The band Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars exists in-universe in the album named after them, and David Bowie put the band together for tours for live shows for the album.
  • Family Theme Naming: Both his children's name rhyme with Bowie. Duncan's middle name is Zowie and he was known as Zowie Bowie in his youth. His later daughter, Alexandria, works as Lexi Bowie. Both children seem to deliberately subverted this with Duncan Jones going by Duncan Jones and and Alexandria going by Lexi Jones.
  • Fashion Show: The "Boys Keep Swinging" video ends with a fashion show.
  • Freaky Fashion, Mild Mind: As seen in this interview from the Ziggy period, in which the man dressed like a Doctor Who alien turns out to actually be an eloquent and genial individual behind the glitter and hair dye.
  • Freaky Is Cool: A view held by both the artist and his fanbase, with Bowie having always placed a positive emphasis on his bizarre and alienlike public image, an emphasis gladly carried on by his fans to this day.
  • Friendly Rivalry: Held ones with Marc Bolan and Lou Reed throughout all three individuals' lifetimes; the three frequently attempted to one-up each other and at times got into arguments about Creative Differences, but at the end of the day considered each other kindred spirits of sorts.
  • Future Food Is Artificial: "Ground Control to Major Tom: Take your protein pills and put your helmet on."
  • Genre Mashup: 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.
  • Genre Roulette: Bowie's career was notorious for never adhering to a consistent genre, the only real glue being an air of artsiness in both music and lyrics. Just pick a concert setlist or Greatest Hits Album and you'll get a wide variety of songs that sound so unlike one another that it becomes somewhat jarring to listen to if unprepared.
  • Glam Rock: His glam rock is one of the best-known examples of this genre; in exchange, it's the one that made him truly famous, and he's nowadays considered the archetypal glam rock musician.
  • God-Is-Love Songs: "Word on a Wing" from Station to Station, the only song on the album written with sincere intent (compared to the clinical and calculated nature of every other track on the album); the song's lyrics are written as a prayer to God.
  • Grand Finale: has some of his longest and most ambitious songs (plus, in the case of the title track a very elaborate video) in ages, with the final two tracks seeming to be spelling out his death...and he died two days after it was released. Producer Tony Visconti confirmed it was intended as this trope all along. Visconti revealed that Bowie kept working after he finished and made demo recordings of five additional songs. Bowie called Visconti a week before his death saying that he wanted to make another album. It's quite likely that these demo recordings will become one of the most painful What Could Have Beens in music history.
  • Gratuitous Foreign Language: Japanese is used on "It's No Game Part 1" and French is used on "All the Madmen" and "The Buddha of Suburbia." The former is the Japanese translation of the English lyrics, and the latter translates to Word Salad Lyrics, specifically "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.
  • Hard Truth 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.)
  • 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. This look has been immortalised in the David Bowie Mural on the side of Morleys department store in Brixton, south London (in a pedestrian area, but can just barely be seen on Google Street View from the right position).
    • 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 outfits that were both unusual and fancy.
  • 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 The BBC 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...
    • Parodied by The Onion (of course) with "Song About Heroin Used to Advertise Bank".
  • 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).
  • Leave the Camera Running: 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.
  • Lost in Character: Station to Station is always cool but this is him at pretty much his worst. In 1975 his cocaine use turned into addiction, and he was paranoid and sort of believed he was his character The Thin White Duke and was saying crazy things. His relationship with his manager was deteriorating. It is why he moved to Berlin "I moved from the cocaine capital of the world (Los Angeles) to the smack capital of the world (West Berlin)..." He goes on to say that fortunately, he had no feel for smack and cocaine was hard to get in Berlin, so he cleaned up as he worked on what would become known as his Berlin Trilogy. There's a very good documentary following him during this period, filmed in 1974, called Cracked Actor (it's on YouTube). His diet at the time consisted of only milk, red peppers, and cocaine—the essential food pyramid! He got down to 85 lbs. (He was 5 foot 10.)
  • Loudness War: Some of his recent work has gotten hit badly by mastering-induced loudness. features it particularly strongly; it comes in at DR5.
  • Lucky Charms Title: The 2016 album is written as , and pronounced Blackstar. The same applies to its title track.
  • 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. The Tin Machine II track "Shopping for Girls" takes this trope to the limit. A jaunty tropical guitar number on the surface, its lyrics are an uncomfortably intimate look at the child sex trade.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The Movie Buff: Was a considerable as he admitted in a French interview. When asked for his favorite films, he said "All...from Truffaut to Fassbinder. But the kind of film I really like is the old German Expressionist films of Fritz Lang, Murnau and Pabst." His own music videos are filled with references to many films, famous and obscure. Ashes to Ashes refers to Federico Fellini's I Clowns while another refers to Chris Marker's La Jetee.
  • Music Is Politics: Faced issues with the music industry's politics more than once. Among other things, the mid '70s saw him facing managerial and money problems, the late '70s saw RCA try to get him to make more blue-eyed soul as opposed to Low, the turn of The '90s saw him leave EMI over their reservations about a second Tin Machine album, and 2002 saw him part ways with Virgin when they shelved Toy due to financial concerns.
  • 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.
  • New Media Are Evil: Defied; 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. He was the first major artist of any kind to release music online, both singles and albums, and publicly expressed interest in the ways that the internet would change the music industry. He also composed the soundtrack for the video game Omikron: The Nomad Soul and voiced its main character.
  • 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:
  • No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup: Tony Visconti would put effects on the tracks at the recording level, instead of the usual practice of recording instrumental and vocal parts without effects and only adding them at the mixing stage. Visconti said that Bowie preferred working this way because he wanted to act on ideas immediately rather than risk losing inspiration when it came time to mix.
  • Non-Actor Vehicle: Made a side career out of this in conjunction with One-Scene Wonder, being a semi-frequent actor in films from The Man Who Fell to Earth in 1976 all the way up to The Prestige in 2006. However, after the campiness and commercial failures of Absolute Beginners and Labyrinth in 1986 proved to be a Star-Derailing Role to Bowie, the rest of his film appearances would be in either obscure, critically maligned productions or simple cameo appearances in higher-profile titles.
  • Non-Appearing Title: Multiple songs do not feature their titles in their lyrics. In chronological order: "Space Oddity", "Letter To Hermione", "Cygnet Committee", "Memory Of A Free Festival", "The Width of a Circle", "Eight Line Poem", "Song For Bob Dylan", "Queen Bitch", "Ziggy Stardust", "Cracked Actor", "Future Legend", "Sweet Thing (Reprise)", "Chant Of The Ever Circling Skeletal Family", "Repetition", "The Wedding Song", "Pallas Athena", "The Buddha Of Suburbia", "Untitled No. 1", "A Small Plot Of Land", "The Motel", "Battle For Britain (The Letter)", "Seven Years In Tibet", "Law (Earthlings On Fire)", "Sunday", "Heathen (The Rays)", "Heat", "The Informer", "Lazarus"
  • 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 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.
  • On a Soundstage All Along: Jazzin' for Blue Jean ends with a reveal that it takes place on a city street rather than a soundstage.
  • 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 (The Next Day being the exception, as has been written out as Blackstar in press releases.)
  • Opening Narration:
  • Orphaned Series: 1. Outside was supposed to have two follow-ups.
  • Other Common Music Video Concepts
    • 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.
  • Our Minotaurs Are Different: 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).
  • Pastiche: The first verse of "D.J." is sung in the style of Talking Heads frontman David Byrne.
  • 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:
    • 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.
  • Postmodernism: Bowie identified himself as part of the postmodernist movement. He stated in The Complete David Bowie:
    David Bowie: I don’t think there’s one truth, one absolute. It’s an idea that I have always felt instinctively, but it was reinforced by the first thing I read on postmodernism, a book by George Steiner called In Bluebeard’s Castle. That book just confirmed for me that there was actually some kind of theory behind what I was doing with my work – realizing that I could like artists as disparate as Anthony Newley and Little Richard, and that it was not wrong to like both at the same time. Or that I can like Igor Stravinsky and The Incredible String Band, or The Velvet Underground and Gustav Mahler. That all just made sense to me.
  • Pop-Star Composer: Aside from his main music releases, he has worked on in Labyrinth, The Buddha of Suburbia, Omikron: The Nomad Soul, and The Last Panthers.
  • Progressive Rock: While Bowie never embraced the progressive rock genre whole-hog, it did serve as a clear influence on his sound as early as Space Oddity. It would especially pop up later with the experimental elements on Station to Station, the Berlin trilogy, and eventually . Bowie also frequently sought out musicians with backgrounds in the genre to back him in the studio and on stage.
  • Protopunk: His "Ziggy Stardust" era was a major influence on the Punk Rock movement.
  • Pun-Based Title:
    • Space Oddity is a pun on "space odyssey".
    • Aladdin Sane is homophonous with "a lad insane" in addition to making an Aladdin reference.
    • Bowie and his Earthling era touring band performed some "secret" shows and released a single under the name Tao Jones Index - this being a pun on the Eastern philosophical concept of Tao (pronounced "Dow") Bowie's real name, and Dow Jones, the American stock market index.
  • Quiet Cry for Help: The refrain to ''Killing A Little Time" features the lyrics "I'm falling, man..! I'm choking, man..! I'm fading, man..! Just killin' a little time..!"
  • Radio Friendliness: His radio playtime decreased in the U.S. — 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 "Heroes" were radio-unfriendly everywhere, only yielding three singles between them.
  • Rearrange the Song:
    • "John, I'm Only Dancing" (1972) was given a funky revamp and some new lyrics as "John, I'm Only Dancing (Again)" in 1974.
    • "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.
    • The never-formally released Toy (it was leaked online in 2011) featured new takes on his mid-1960s work.
    • "Fame '90" was a remix of the 1975 single "Fame", made for the Changesbowie Greatest Hits Album in 1990 and featured in the soundtrack to Pretty Woman.
    • In 2003, he recorded a new version of "Rebel Rebel", featuring an arrangement by Mark Plati without the original's reference to quaaludes. This was issued on a bonus disc that came with some versions of Reality the same year and on the 30th Anniversary Edition of Diamond Dogs in 2004. Also in 2004, "Rebel Rebel" was blended in a mash-up with the Reality song "Never Get Old"; the result was issued as the single "Rebel Never Gets Old".
    • The 2020 Is It Any Wonder EP is chock-full of this, featuring re-recordings of various past songs made during the sessions for Earthling that bring them more in-style with the industrial and drum & bass styles he was focusing on during the mid-to-late 90s.
  • Record Producer: In The '70s, 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 and Lust for Life 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 verse two, they turn red, and he mentions that "Those who feel me near/Pull the blinds and change their minds".
  • Remaster: One of the first high-profile remastering campaigns in popular music was that for Bowie, who licensed out his 1969-1980 back-catalog to Rykodisc at the turn of The '90s in order to replace the out-of-print RCA Records CDs, which drew Bowie's ire for their highly variable quality. Rykodisc's CDs were sourced from the original master tapes (unlike the RCA discs, which used multigeneration safety tapes equalized for cassette) and included outtakes and rarities as bonus tracks, setting a standard for later remasters/reissues in the music industry. Virgin Records would then follow up on this with similar expanded remasters of his 1983-1989 albums in 1995. Bowie's catalog would be remastered again multiple times in subsequent years, first by EMI and Virgin in 1999, then incrementally by Parlophone Records starting in 2015.
  • 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 '50s.
  • The Revolution Will Not Be Civilized: "Cygnet Committee", in which a hippie uprising for the cause of peace and love descends into violent carnage.
  • 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 Opera: 1. Outside is much more specific about its storyline and characters than his concept albums.
  • The Rock Star: His exploration of the experience of being a rock star, 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 vivid scenery in concerts.
    • 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.
  • Secret-Identity Identity: Struggled with identity issues in The '70s 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" acts as a sequel 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 four self-titled albums. 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 of the seven deadly sins 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.
  • Sex, Drugs, and Rock & Roll: Lived the sex, drugs, and rock and roll life in The '70s, which influenced 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:
    • He's been well-dressed often and iconically enough that this is how he is portrayed in The Venture Bros..
    • 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.
    • Self-parody in Jazzin' for Blue Jean, as Vic attempts to be well-dressed by borrowing one of his roommate's suits.
    • Vendice Partners in Absolute Beginners, being an advertising executive who knows the power of style over substance, dresses in stylish suits.
    • The black-and-white duds of the Sound+Vision Tour in 1990 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, featuring Bowie in snazzy dark suits with slicked-back hair. Bowie would even carry the look into the tours for these albums as well as the few live performances he gave from 2004 to 2006.
    • The Serious Moonlight Tour featured Bowie in clean-cut, New Romantic-inspired pastel suits that ended up becoming emblematic of his pop period during the 80s, and among some are still emblematic of the man himself, to the point where this particular look became the basis for villain Yoshikage Kira in Jo Jos Bizarre Adventure Diamond Is Unbreakable. Bowie apparently seemed to like this look, seeing as how he'd end up introducing variations on it in later live performances throughout the decade, including the blueish-white suit he wore at Live Aid and the cherry-red suit from the Glass Spider Tour.
    • The album cover of Tin Machine features Bowie and his bandmates in neat, black suits, as a way of darkening the look Bowie had become known for throughout the 80s; extends to the music videos he did with the group.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The title of "Space Oddity" references 2001: A Space Odyssey.
    • 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". The influence shows up again in "Girl Loves Me", which is sung mostly in Nadsat and Polari slang (the latter is from the gay subculture of London in The '70s).
    • "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 "Station 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.
    • "Dancing in the Street" references The Beatles song "Back in the USSR".
    • "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".)
  • Significant Birth Date: He shared a birthday with his RCA labelmate, Elvis Presley.
  • Silver Fox: Was almost seventy when he died; was dashingly handsome to the very end and didn't look his age at all.
  • Singer Name Drop:
    • Bowie first name-dropped 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? They wait for me in the hallways!'"
    • The bridge of his cover of "Cactus", which provides Bowie's own spin on the T-Rex-inspired "P-I-X-I-E-S" chant with "D-A-V-I-D".
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Most of his music veers sharply into the cynical side, with common themes such as personal and social degradation and insanity.
  • Speculative Fiction LGBT: For many of his works, but especially as Ziggy Stardust, where he uses Glam Rock and Sci-Fi together to push the boundaries of gender, sexuality, and human experience.
  • 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" are spoken instead of sung.
  • Stage Name: His real name is David Jones, and took the name David Bowie to avoid confusion with Davy Jones of The Monkees.
  • Stalker with a Crush:
    • The early song "Love You Till Tuesday" has a stalker in the form of 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 song was cut on later editions of the album, with Bowie historian Nicholas Pegg theorizing that he became aware of, and embarrassed by, the idea that it could be interpreted as a stalker's, even rapist's, monologue.
  • Stepford Smiler: "DJ" is about/sung by a radio disk jockey who appears jovial and energetic on the streets, but in private is mentally unstable and is suffering from a violent psychological breakdown that ends with him trashing the studio and spray-painting "DJ" on a window.
  • Storefront Television Display: The music video for Bowie's 2017 posthumous single "No Plan" depicts a group of people gathering around a storefront full of TVs, watching a broadcast displaying the song's lyrics and imagery related to them. The use of this imagery nods back to Bowie's role in The Man Who Fell to Earth, in which his extraterrestrial character habitually watched multiple TV sets simultaneously to figure out Earth's various goings-on.
  • Storyboard: Bowie drew storyboards up for the videos he did with director David Mallet at the turn of The '80s.
  • Strange Stage: The 1987-1988 Glass Spider Tour featured an elaborately-designed stage featuring a gigantic spider hovering over a wall of scaffolding, on which backup dancers would perform. The stage also made heavy use of LED lighting, which made the whole thing look more visually appealing during nighttime shows; indeed, while the Glass Spider Tour was critically panned, the nighttime performances received much acclaim from the critics who attended those.
  • Stylistic Suck: "Boys Keep Swinging" intentionally features a 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". Of these, "Miracle Goodnight" seems to be the most prominent example, being an abstract collage of offbeat imagery that seems surprisingly prescient of the style of music video that would become popular during The New '10s.
  • Suspiciously Similar Substitute: "Fashion" reworks the melody of "Golden Years", only louder, Darker and Edgier.
  • Studio Chatter: A ringing phone is answered at the end of "Life on Mars?".
  • 10-Minute Retirement:
    • Bowie announced a retirement 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 thanks to the vague wording of the statement.
    • Bowie announced his retirement in 1975, citing his disillusionment with rock stardom. It lasted less than six months before he got back into the habit by starting work on Station to Station; biographers attribute this event to the effects of his cocaine addiction.
    • He temporarily retired 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 had since returned to the stage, though others, most notably "Young Americans", would indeed be retired permanently.
  • 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 by Year: "1984", inspired by Nineteen Eighty-Four and released in 1974.
  • Title Track: 21 of his albums have some form of title track—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". The exceptions? Hunky Dory, Low, Lodger and 'hours...'.
  • Tone Shift:
  • To the Tune of...: Word of God has confirmed that the chorus of "Starman" was ripped-off from "Over The Rainbow".
  • Touched by Vorlons: Bowie's persona's on Space Oddity (1969), Hunky Dory (1971) and Ziggy Stardust from The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972) are all either astronauts who came into contact with extraterrestrial beings and/or aliens themselves. Not to mention the alien in The Man Who Fell to Earth (1975).
  • Translated Cover Version:
    • Bowie re-recorded "'Heroes'" in French as "'Heros'" and in German as "'Helden'", both based on the single edit.
    • "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 recorded a Mandarin version of "Seven Years in Tibet" as a bonus track on the Hong Kong version of Earthling.
    • The movie The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou features performances of Bowie songs in Portuguese.
  • The Trickster: One never knew quite what the new Bowie album would be like for most of his career or, in The '70s, 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 '70s, and though he did mellow out by The '80s, 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.
  • Uncanny Valley Makeup:
    • He wore a lot of unusual makeup in his younger days, as well as on the illustrations of the 1. Outside booklet.
    • In the video for "Thursday's Child," where a separate actor was used to represent the younger Bowie.
  • Uncommon Time:
    • " Soul Love," from The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, has the first two measures of each of its verses in 7/4.
    • "Win," from Young Americans, contains passages in 5/4, while "Who Can I Be Now?", a bonus track from some editions of said album, throws occasional 3/4 measures into otherwise 4/4 passages.
    • "Chant of the Ever Circling Skeletal Family," from Diamond Dogs alternated between 5/4 and 6/4.note 
    • The first half of Station to Station's title track is in 10/4, and "Stay" from the same album cuts a beat from the last measure of each verse.
    • "If You Can See Me" likes to throw in a couple of bars of 3/4 in a 4/4 song every now and then.
  • "Untitled" Title: "Untitled No. 1" from The Buddha of Suburbia is intentionally untitled as a nod to this trope's prominence in the fine art world.
  • Vanilla Edition: Virgin Records and Parlophone Records reissues after the lavish Rykodisc versions. For what it's worth, Parlophone did have their own take on the lavish reissues full of bonus material in the form of the 2015-2018 retrospective box sets, which frequently contained exclusive content not available on the standalone releases. Given the 1969-1980 Bowie discography's historically poor treatment on CD (detailed above under Digital Destruction), it's likely Parlophone was hoping for the vanilla album releases to be a convenient way for consumers to access the Bowie discography without resorting to the original LPs.
  • Video Inside, Film Outside: The music video for "DJ" features videotaped studio scenes set in a DJ's booth and filmed location footage on the city streets. The use of this trope is equal parts practical and stylistic: in the filmed 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" from Labyrinth is a profession of affection from Jareth, the film's antagonist, to Sarah, the protagonist. The film features the song playing during a dream sequence where Sarah envisions herself at a fancy gala with Jareth.
  • 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.) He slips back into his old voice from time to time, though. It's nice glimpse into the past. This live version of "Rock 'n' Roll Suicide" is a pretty good example. Wait until the "They're so natural" bit.
  • Waistcoat of Style: The Thin White Duke's black waistcoat was vital to the character's look; as himself, Bowie would wear one for the Sound+Vision tour as well.
  • War Is Hell: The theme of the negative aspects of war 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: The song "Space Oddity" features the line "Ground Control to Major Tom / Your circuit's dead; there's something wrong..."
  • Wholesome Crossdresser: Engaged in crossdressing occasionally, starting with the UK album cover for The Man Who Sold the World, which depicted him in a satin "man's dress."
  • Who Names Their Kid "Dude"?: He named his son "Zowie." Thankfully, Bowie saw fit to give his son the full name "Duncan Zowie Heywood 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: 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."
  • Writing Around Trademarks: Several reissues of Bowie's RCA Records material on other record labels mimic the original LP labels, but replace the RCA logo due to the inevitable rights issues. A promotional Rykodisc release of The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, which collects both the remastered CD and a mock-RCA LP with added surface noise, swaps out "RCA" for "RYK," while EMI's 2010-2013 reissues of that album, Aladdin Sane, and Station to Station replace it with "BOWIE." Parlophone Records' 2015-2018 reissues of the 1969-1987 catalog, meanwhile, go a step further and use renderings of "Bowie" in the same style as the original logos, covering Philips Records, Mercury Records, and EMI America Records in addition to RCAnote . The technique is also carried over to Bowie's posthumous remix albums and Boxed Set-exclusive compilations.

"I know something is very wrong
The pulse returns for prodigal sons
The blackout's hearts with flowered news
With skull designs upon my shoes

I can't give everything
I can't give everything


Video Example(s):


David Bowie - "The Jean Genie"

David Bowie (1947-2016) was an English rock musician known for his many radical shifts in style, from glam rock to soul to Krautrock and so on. This excerpt from the music video for his 1972 song "The Jean Genie" (the lead single off the following year's Aladdin Sane) depicts many of the hallmarks of his glam rock era. These include the flamboyantly androgynous costumes, the hard-edged sound, and the theatrically opaque lyrics.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (1 votes)

Example of:

Main / GlamRock

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