Don't Fake It, Baby - No One Could Do It Like Bowie Anymore

Don't Fake It, Baby - No One Could Do It Like Bowie Anymore

In an increasingly cynical industry, his slow-burn success feels ever more remarkable...

It seems like a forgotten thing that David Bowie was once a working class kid from the outskirts of London. The son of a waitress and a charity worker, David’s silver spoon-less creativity went way beyond the expectations of his Bromley peers, building his artistry up from his youth, not a boardroom in sight.

Begging his parents to let him go to dance lessons, attending skiffle sessions and apparently being great at the recorder, young Bowie was nothing but a kid trying to drain any drop of art out of public school systems and schemes available to regular kids. No TikTok to blow him up, no socials to share drafts or scraps of whatever, no music marketing firms to brainstorm his evolution – it’s a painfully forgotten and underappreciated fact that David Bowie grew it all himself. But the memory of his authenticity and identity as a true artist, has become a powerful tool for star factories. Continuing to mythologise Bowie as a once in a life time genius that fell to earth, it feels like we make that kind of art more endangered each year.

Imagine David Bowie today, young and trying to make it. He’d definitely be on TikTok, definitely be making artsy Reels, maybe trying an Instagram live or two cause a friend of a friend said it would help his algorithm. He’d be curating his feed, letting his obsessive artistry splash into the digital realm with filters and collages and whatever else. It would probably look great, amazingly professional for something scrapped together and someone would comment ‘Industry plant’. If his efforts were rewarded, he’d be seen with suspicion.

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A symptom of the TikTok age, people who now gain the success they’ve worked for are always questioned about it. Think Pinkpantheress, Jake Wesley Rogers, Wet Leg – all blowing up with a solid vision and identity from the get go, their comment sections were instantly questioning their legitimacy. Artists that seem sure of their creative brand are seen as crafted, as if it’s impossible for someone to have that much organic vision or for independent artists to create something great without businesses footing the bill.

It seems that if you do everything right, following the old fashioned artist playlist of making great songs and great videos, figuring out your image and bursting with creativity, you’re now subject to questioning. Confidence and ability are now things to be viewed with suspicion, if you’re ‘too good’, you can’t be legitimate. With tracks like ‘The Man That Sold The World’ and ‘Space Oddity’ released before anyone really cared, Bowie would now be deemed too good, a phony. No one can be that creative without help from a team of professional workshopping the idea, duh.

But I guess we’ve caused it, mutating an industry into something so confusing that manufactured artists come with whole teams hired to pretend that they earnt it. Aligning themselves with the same androgyny that Bowie brought to the mainstream, more and more acts step out of boardrooms looking like Ziggy every time the name trends again. You can hear the exact conversations that birth it, throwing Bowie’s name out like a hammer hitting into a gold mine. Leaving behind so much art and influence to borrow from, he’s sure to be a hit in marketing mood-boards for the next label project that wants to play the edgy artist card.

An easy way to separate the boys from the lads, Bowie’s name seems to be thrown into the mix as an antidote to the obvious, like a fool proof way to cash in on the femme trend that’s swept teen culture the last two years. A step above boys with nail varnish, David’s name is used in vein as industry darlings borrow his cultural reference and by-pass all the hard work and vision that made him.

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Previously allowed to perform 'Life On Mars?' at a memorial concert, I guess I just fail to see what acts like Yungblud have in common with Bowie’s legacy. Beyond a somewhat similar interest in androgynous dressing and a leaning towards shock tactics, there’s really no connection in terms of ethos, creative references or skill. Somehow managing to place themselves into his lineage and attach themselves to his legacy simply by mentioning him a couple of times and having agents pull strings, they don’t honour the exact reason why Bowie was such a genius. He didn’t ride trends, he didn’t make decisions based on targeting demographics or appealing to whatever new aesthetic the kids had adopted. Existing so deeply in his own inner world of ideas and creativity, label teams wish they could manufacture something as impressive.

It’s created a lose-lose situation, a vicious cycle that prevents a new star falling to earth. When artists with a thorough vision are questioned, and manufactured acts delegitimise the abilities of genuine creatives, neither side can reach even close to Bowie’s heights. In fact, no one could even begin to climb as it knocks down anyone who bursts into the scene with his kind of creativity or confidence. Manipulating and co-opting his legacy into something that suits this season’s sales plan or marketing calendar, labels have made it seem like no one could ever do that alone. Forgetting his origins as an exceedingly normal kid, the exact kind of artists that perfectly exemplify Bowie’s influence are being shut out of his legacy, their spots taken by conveyer belt acts with budgets big enough to fake it.

But Bowie’s wasn’t a skill you can fake, even with the best team in the world. Releasing close to 30 studio albums over 50 years, no one could manufacture longevity like that, constantly coming up with something new and even more exciting. The proof will come in time, when acts that desperate cling to his name will drop off, and those that were doubted will simply keep on going just like David did.

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Words: Lucy Harbron

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