Bowie leaves everyone guessing (again)

The video for David Bowie’s third single, The Next Day, from his new album of the same name, premiered online this week to much fanfare, weary head-shaking from the Catholic church and not a little polarised debate, writes Jeremy Garner

The video for David Bowie’s third single, The Next Day, from his new album of the same name, premiered online this week to much fanfare, weary head-shaking from the Catholic church and not a little polarised debate, writes Jeremy Garner

Directed by Italian-born Floria Sigismondi, who also behind the videos for Marilyn Manson’s The Beautiful People and Die By The Drop by The Dead Weather, it’s not hard to see why it’s got the cut-through to ignite a lot of comments.

Positively dripping with religious symbolism, not to mention blood, metaphor and provocation, it’s been made with its tongue firmly superglued into its cheek, and draws a new contrast almost every few seconds. 

There’s not only the obvious examples – such as sexual repression vs. sexual deviancy, and self-flagellation vs. self-liberation, life vs. death – but, arguably, more pithier contrasts such as innocence vs. cynicism (Bowie’s smiley, Pythonesque “Thank you everyone” to camera at the end, planted to give a nod to the viewer’s unwitting complicity) and the switching of roles between art direction and character.

That is, the camped-up and dingy dark hues of the blacks and blood-reds of the props and costumes (just check out the lipstick on Marion Cotillard as she pouts at the bar) are so (knowingly) unsubtle as to almost become characters in themselves, with the actors so stereotypical and rustled-up-by-the-wardrobe-dept iconic that they become part of the set rather than carry the narrative.

Watching the video, though, it’s hard to avoid being swept up in the fun of it all. According to Sigismondi she aims to make her music videos “…entropic underworlds inhabited by tortured souls and omnipotent beings.”

Well it’s certainly packed with lashings of that, and yet, maybe due to the song’s uneasy blend of claustrophobic sprightliness (it’s worth noting, by the way, that most of the discussion online is about the video and not the music) you can’t help feeling that they had an absolute ball making it. I probably shouldn’t say it, but the good times shine through. And that’s perhaps the greatest contrast. Oh dear, I almost feel guilty.

However, one of the most interesting aspects for me about the video, and the album in general, is not just what it is saying… but what it isn’t.

Take for example how the album just seemed to be ‘released’ a couple of months ago. In these times of transparency, when people expect to be kept in the loop at all times, and want to know everything – now! Before it’s even happened! – the album just ‘appeared’.

If the definition of originality in music is to do what comes instinctively and veer away from what everyone else is doing, then this in itself could be taken as a great artistic gesture.

I guess on the one hand, Bowie is so bankable that he doesn’t need any promotion, and thus could afford to take the ‘risk’, but against the backdrop of the interest online, when everything is analysed with a fine toothcomb, it’s refreshing to say nothing and let the music speak for itself, and thereby generate more intriguing conversations.

In a way, it’s quite pleasingly dated in this regard: no one can accurately tell you what you should think about it because everyone’s guessing. The music – and video – can mean a thousand different things to a thousand different people. In the same way that Beck did with Song Reader, this feels so old school that it actually feels quite new.

Which shows that, above all else, David Bowie still knows how to sell music.

Jeremy Garner is executive creative director of communications agency Weapon7. See @weapon7.

Prod company: Black Dog Films
Executive Producer: Coleen Haynes
Jr Exec Producer: Chris Clavadetscher
Producer: Oualid Mouauness
DP: Jeff Cronenweth
Stylist: Marjan Malakpour
Hair Stylist: Pamela Neal
Makeup: Kathy Jeung
Editorial Company: Bonch
Music Video Commissioner: Bryan Younce

  • Andi

    Some people just don’t know when to retire.

  • Ha, I hear you Andi. Though at the same time, when you’ve got the money and the power and still have a following (however blind and/or dwindling it may be) why not continue to have fun and produce new material?

  • Eyeballs, blood and skinny bald girls fail to get much of a point across. Here’s an equally subversive song that’s a lot easier for us retards to understand. No S&M imagery needed.

  • jeffrey

    If it is good, it‘s GOOD!

    I like the Album a lot, though I must add that this video did not do much for me, and the song is one of the lesser ones, I think…
    Would love to see a video for “You will set the world on fire” though…. Thats a cool song!

  • Andi

    Benjamin, you’re quite right. His blind followers lap up whatever drivel he churns out.
    Not that I’m envious at all…