David Bowie has vastly contributed to popular culture as we know it today.
‘But what about The Beatles!?’ I hear you cry. Well I’m sorry, it would still be a resounding no from me (in whatever Simon Cowell voice you imagine in your head). The Beatles were more responsible for the starting of something we now call the super-group; yes, they are influential and yes, they rocketed to international stardom but I still don’t believe they hold whatever it was that Bowie so magically possessed. The Beatles built on something that already existed; classic, guitar-driven rock ‘n’ roll, they did not, for example, revolutionise ideas of fashion, constructed identity and the live show in the way that Bowie did.
1972 was the year David Bowie released The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars, a fantastic album including massive hits (‘Five Years’, ‘Moonage Daydream’, ‘Ziggy Stardust’) and a spectacular tour- albeit ending in a rather abrupt way for Bowie’s band. But the most interesting and intriguing thing about this LP is its invention of Bowie’s new character, Ziggy Stardust himself. A pop star constructing his own alter ego style persona had not been done before, and the extent to which Bowie dedicated himself to his new role as fallen rockstar and extraterrestial being created a whole new way in which the world began to view popular culture.
Although Ziggy Stardust is now ranked extremely highly in album countdowns around the world, at its time of release the reviews were less favourable. The themes and ideas Bowie chose to express during the album and the tour were considered pretty risky for its time, and many of these were expressed through his staging and fabulous choice of costumes. The Ziggy Stardust tour included a whole host of different outlandish outfits: from the all-in-one play-suit style outfit that Kate Moss recently wore to collect Bowie’s award, to the elaborate kimonos imported from Japan and specially made for the shows. And of course, who can forget the forehead decoration.
Fashion became drastically important to Bowie and his band, in conveying the story they were telling, exploring different approaches to sexuality and ultimately influencing the genre of Glam Rock to become how we know it today. The clothes were often revealing, and the interaction between the different males on stage became quite a talking point, as no one could quite figure out where Bowie and his friends stood in regards to their sexuality, making many people uncomfortable- my grandad included, apparently. However, as these things often are, for some it was problematic, for others it was liberating.
Hardcore Bowie fans are some of the most impressive in the world. If you watch documentaries about his live performances then you often get to view this spectacular scene. Hoards of young men and women with an Aladdin Sane lightning bolt strewn across their faces cramming into concert halls, all ready to catch the slightest glimpse of the man they so admire. Bowie fans idolise him; painting their faces, dressing in similar clothing and testing the limits of gender representation. And this is exactly why I believe that popular culture, and especially fashion, would not exist in the way it does today without David Bowie.
He was a massive influence on Glam Rock, a genre we now widely associate with this outlandish style of dress, but it would not be the same if Bowie hadn’t performed Starman on Top of the Pops. His fans adored his sense of style and consequently a whole generation of young people began to ignore the suits of the Beatles and the Mods and began to push the boundaries, mainly with tighter trousers and more adventurous patterns. This has continued to the present day, through the clothes we wear now. Let’s face it, kimonos are in, aren’t they?