Today, January 10 2016, generations of musicians rushed to eulogise and mourn the life of pop and rock legend David Bowie. Arguably the most influential performer of his generation, Bowie changed not only the course of countless careers, but the music industry itself. To celebrate his undeniable legacy, we’re talking about 8 of your favourite artists who owe their careers to the man behind Ziggy Stardust.
8. Taylor Swift
Perhaps an unusual place to start, but Swift’s hugely successful fifth album, ‘1989’, owes it’s synth heavy instrumentation to the sound that Bowie pioneered in the ‘70s – more than a decade before the year her album draws inspiration from. Contributing ‘1989’ producer Jack Antanoff took to Twitter to acknowledge the debt that his musical style owes Bowie following his passing.
7. Kanye West
No one combines drama and rock quite like Kanye West and the reaction to his often controversial performance style is reminiscent of the outrage that David Bowie’s early on-stage stunts drew. Kanye’s recent preference for mixing traditional musical genres to create a completely unique sound is another move right out of Bowie’s playbook.
The quintessential multi-instrumentalist, Prince is known for playing almost every instrument that appears on his records – a feat that would have seemed unimaginable in a pre-Bowie world. The “Space Oddity” star was reported to have played an impressive 11 instruments and was one of the first musicians to record his own backing tracks.
5. Daft Punk
No one mixes performance art with electronic music quite like Daft Punk, no one that is, except for David Bowie. The faceless duo have become known for their use of visuals with distinctive characters and strong elements of storytelling, a trait no doubt borrowed from the Godfather of visual pop.
Pink’s mass appeal over the last fifteen years has largely been thanks to a string of witty, bitingly honest songs which have captured the hearts of her hugely dedicated fanbase. But Pink’s most crucial strength as a performer has been in the extraordinary aerial and acrobatic moments which litter her acclaimed world tours and promotional performances. Bowie, a trained mime, was the first artist to combine the kind of performance typically reserved for circuses with live music.
In 1995, Madonna accepted Bowie’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on his behalf and shed some light on his considerable influence on her, talking about the first time she saw The Thin White Duke in concert.
“So my best friend spent the night at my house and when we thought everyone was asleep, we snuck out of my window, which was no mean feat as I was wearing my highest platform shoes and a long black silk cape. Don’t ask… We arrived at Kobal Hall and the place was packed. The show began. And I don’t think that I breathed for two hours.
“It was the most amazing show that I’d ever seen, not just because the music was great, but because it was great theater. And here’s this beautiful, androgynous man, just being so perverse… So unconventional, defying logic and basically blowing my mind. I came home a changed woman, and my father was not sleeping and he knew exactly where I went, and he grounded me for the rest of the summer.
“But it was worth every minute that I sat and suffered in my house that summer.”
Indeed it was. Madonna’s strength has always been her skill as a live performer and she’s no stranger to mixing great music with “great theatre.” Without Bowie’s influence, seminal moments in her career simply wouldn’t have been possible – the Thin White Duke’s presence is clear everywhere from the dizzy heights of The Blonde Ambition tour to her experiments blending electronica and rock in the early ‘00s.
2. Adam Lambert
Since competing on Idol in 2009, it’s been pretty clear that Lambert was heavily influenced by David Bowie, from his keen sense of fashion to his non-conformity to gender roles. However, it was during Adam’s most controversial performance on the American Music Awards, in which he kissed another man on television (it’s crazy to think how tame that sounds now) that he most resembled his idol.
In 1972, when Bowie declared himself bisexual in a magazine interview, it shook not only the industry, but an entire nation. Only five years earlier, sexual activity between two men was illegal in the UK and Bowie, much like Lambert, put his career on the line by admitting to being queer. But Bowie’s frank and honest exploration of his own sexuality influenced a generation of young gay and bisexual men and women who finally had a role model to look up to.
It’s not too much of a stretch to imagine that artists like Adam Lambert wouldn’t exist without Bowie.
1. Lady Gaga
No current popstar quite embodies the sensibilities of David Bowie like Lady Gaga. Gaga’s list of influences appears to have changed with each album that she’s made, but the one constant inspiration in Gaga’s music, image and persona has been Bowie.
Gaga puts it best herself when she says:
“What I have in common with David Bowie is the way that I combine theatrics and the visual in all of my performances. The fashion and the imagery and what I am trying to say as an artist goes much further beyond the music… the intention for me is not to sound just like Bowie. It is to pull references from all these different people and create something fresh and new and futuristic and pop and different.”
Perhaps Lady Gaga has sailed a little too close to the wind when referencing other artists during her career, but Bowie’s presence has always felt organic. Gaga has enjoyed more images in the past seven years than many artists do in a lifetime, but her sense of fashion and art have always been rooted in the landscape Bowie created.
Without David Bowie, pop music would be an entirely different arena. So much of what we accept as part of typical pop performance in 2016 is owed to David Bowie. The intersection between fashion and music, the art of reinvention, dance and rock meeting seamlessly – we owe all this and more to the original Starman. Every time you see your favourite pop prince or princess express their musical standpoint through fashion, every time they blur the lines between masculine and feminine and whenever they gear up for a fresh reinvention, remember the man who, more than half a century ago, made all of those things seem possible.
In his final song “Lazarus”, released just last week, Bowie sang, “I’ll be free… Just like that bluebird, now ain’t that just like me… I’ll be free.”
We can all only dream of being as free as you were, David.