David Bowie is arguably the most influential musician in modern history. With truly revolutionary artistry such as The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars and Hunky Dory, Bowie was the man behind some of the best selling tracks of all time. With a reputation such as this, fans were confused to learn about the rockstar’s cameo in Spongebob Squarepants, a cartoon TV show that Bowie adored.
Spongebob Squarepants began in 1999, a creation of marine educator Stephen Hillenburg. The show features a sponge (unsurprisingly) called Spongebob, who, along with his starfish sidekick Patrick, get themselves in all sorts of trouble in the Nickelodeon-produced children’s show. Bowie, however, appeared in season five, episode 12, in the form of a blue alien-like citizen of Atlantis, the underwater town steeped in theory on both dry land and, apparently, the underwater world of Bikini Bottom (the city where Spongebob and his gang of aquatic creatures live).
Bowie – or Lord Royal Highness, as he’s so adequately named in this much-loved cartoon – appears after Spongebob and Patrick, as well as other iconic characters, stumble across a mysterious medallion that transports them to the strange world of Atlantis, which is drenched in folklore as well as the blue waters of the Spongebob Squarepants universe. Lord Royal Highness isn’t entirely different from Bowie’s iconic real-life look, though, and an easter egg can be spotted in the form of the eyes Hillenburg has decided to give the blue-faced creature. The one blue and one green eye choice is a nod to Bowie’s compelling look, making him all the more unique in the sometimes boringly similar pop genre he has paved the way for.
The episode ‘Spongebob’s Atlantis Squarepantis’ also made history in itself, becoming the first musical TV movie of the series. Despite some critics describing the pivotal episode as flat, dull and unimaginative, it was an instant hit with fans worldwide, many of whom didn’t recognise Bowie’s unique voiceover work until afterwards.
However, it wasn’t just the look of Lord Royal Highness that appealed to fans, it was also the most crucial line in the entire episode as Bowie asks: “what is art?” to the posse of underwater creatures in front of him, to which Squidward (Spongebob’s miserable neighbour) gives a strangely academic answer, a binary opposite to the overall tone of the light-hearted storyline, over sophisticated classical music. Bowie, however, gave a much better response to his own question, replying to Squidward’s outburst with “art is what happens when you learn to dream”, a poignant message to fans who have caught on to Bowie’s cameo and know his fantastic legacy.
Years later, Bowie responded to his cameo on his blog, saying: “I’ve hit the holy grail of animation gigs. Yesterday I got to be a character on…tan-tar… Spongebob Squarepants. Oh yeah!! We, the family, are thrilled. Nothing else needs to happen this year, well, this week”. Bowie didn’t need persuading when he was offered the cameo because he adored the show, saying that because he wanted to be in something his kids liked, it “gets the ball rolling”. In fact, he loved the show so much that he pledged that any of his iconic songs could be used by the Spongebob team in any capacity. This was taken advantage of for the Spongebob Squarepants Musical, where Bowie’s hit ‘No Control’ was featured, and ‘Starman’ for promoting the spin-off show The Patrick Star Show.
For now, though, revisit Bowie’s performance in the clip below.