David Bowie’s magic was his ability to never lose touch with that enigmatic side of his character that made Ziggy Stardust a sensation. He approached life differently from the rest of the pack and, as he got older, Bowie maintained that anti-establishment voice burning bright, and he was stating things that desperately needed to be told by someone of his status. Yet, despite the need, he was the only one doing so.
Following his death in 2016, numerous clips surfaced across the internet that showed Bowie giving a voice to society’s most ignored voices. He used his platform to tell the world some uncomfortable truths. The most famous of these incidents came in 1983 when he blasted MTV for their lack of coverage of black artists, revealing how they only aired said artists during graveyard hours. Considering MTV were the great power holders at this time, there could have been severe repercussions for Bowie, but he wasn’t content to avoid the uncomfortable truth.
“Having watched MTV over the past few months, it’s a solid enterprise with a lot going for it,” Bowie fiercely barked. “I’m just floored that by the fact that there’s so few black artists featured on it. Why is that?”
This incident wasn’t the only time that Bowie shared his appreciation of music from Black communities, the same artist that were being denied the respect they deserved. In 1993, the Thin White Duke appeared on an NBC’s Today programme. The host, Bryant Gumbel, reminded the singer about a previous comment that he’d made about how rappers were the only musicians that were genuinely creative. “Yes, I believe that’s so,” Bowie said in response to the presenter bringing up his previous remark.
Gumbel then asks the Starman if he thinks artists have sold-out in a bid for commercial success, leaving their roots behind to appease the masses. Rather than reaching for the easy soundbite, Bowie offers a nuanced explanation that supported how he reached this conclusion.
“I don’t think it’s that so much,” Bowie said in response to artists selling-out. “I think that the white generation have come of age and are part of the administration now, the people who brought rock ‘n’ roll to us in its white form. I think the quality and the significance of the social message has moved very much fundamentally to the black and Hispanic market. And that’s where the new force of music is coming from. With Black music, there’s a very strong social point to make. There’s a means of discovery and a purpose.”
In the same interview, Bowie also touched on the creative process and how he approaches things from an artistic sense, rather than thinking about how his music will exist in a commercial sphere — the same ethos that he let shine in his interviews.
“It’s nice to think, I guess to be cynical about it, that it’s a good career opportunity for young people, but I don’t think it is,” he told Gumbel. “I think everybody who picks up a guitar and puts pen to paper has something in his system, in himself, that he wants to express to others and have them understand him—or her.” Speaking about his music, he adds, “If I don’t put my all into something that I’m writing, I inevitably regret about it.”
Bowie lived in a way that made sure he had no regrets in every different walk of life. His words on hip-hop, and it is the essential genre in the world, would go on to become an accepted view just a few years later when people gave the genre the credit it deserved. Bowie could look past the tabloid caricature of hip-hop and look at how this genre was telling the truth of the artist’s background, an unpopular mainstream perspective in 1993. It would have been easier for Bowie not to use his platform to speak uncomfortable truths that aim at those in power, but Bowie was never to take the simple path.