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David Bowie's career has been so expansive and varied that debate is inevitable, and here are the subjective tropes to prove it.


  • Archive Panic: Bad enough he's recorded so many albums and guest spots, and made so many music videos and concert films...but there's a whole filmography to explore too.
  • Award Snub: Only one competitive Grammy win (1985) and a Lifetime Achievement Award (2006) that wasn't televised, since a lot of those are given out each year. The snubbing is partially due to his not actually being nominated until 1984, and Let's Dance had the bad luck of competing against Michael Jackson's Thriller.
  • Breakaway Pop Hit: "Cat People (Putting Out Fire)", partially because he included a rearranged version of the song on Let's Dance. Now it's better-known for its appearance in Inglourious Basterds rather than the film it was written for.
  • Broken Base: Inevitable due to all his style and image makeovers, though the biggest split came when the mainstream-oriented Let's Dance arrived.
  • Covered Up: Bowie co-wrote "China Girl" with Iggy Pop for the latter's 1977 album The Idiot, but it's Bowie's cover of the song on 1983's Let's Dance that is better known. On the other side of the coin, he had to put up with unaware listeners of The Nineties who thought he was covering a Nirvana song with "The Man Who Sold the World".
  • Cult Actor: His film work has a bent towards the eccentric, fantastical, or otherwise non-mainstream (especially his leading roles); combined with his unique charisma and genuine talent, he has a definite cult actor reputation.
  • Death of the Author: Bowie has been quoted as saying that art is for the use of the public and the interpretation of the listener is more important than the intention of the artist.
  • Dork Age/Fanon Discontinuity: Three major periods are commonly singled out by fans and even the man himself.
    • Pre-Space Oddity (1964-68) -- Covers all his early singles and first, self-titled album.
    • Post-Let's Dance (1984-1988) -- Tonight and Never Let Me Down, which carried on the mainstream pop-rock approach of Let's Dance, were not nearly as well-received, and the Glass Spider Tour supporting Never Let Me Down was much-criticized for its heavy Spectacle. Bowie has called this era his "Phil Collins years", and regrets that he stuck with the style for so long, trying to follow what his new fans wanted rather than what made him happy. Older fans upset with Bowie going mainstream in the first place extend this age to include Let's Dance and the Serious Moonlight tour, in which case it lasted five years instead of four.
    • The Tin Machine era (1989-92) -- This deliberate effort to shed the previous dork age was almost as poorly received, never mind the fact that it set up his work in The Nineties. (From that decade onward, how dorky a given album is becomes a matter of personal taste.) This period also has a generally-acknowledged bright spot in the solo Sound+Vision tour.
  • Face of the Band: Bowie tried to avert being Tin Machine's face, but failed. The trope page uses lyrics from "Ziggy Stardust" as its header quote -- Ziggy was initially just a singer/guitarist in the Spiders from Mars, but he "became the special man" to the fans, much to the jealousy and resentment of the other Spiders.
  • Growing the Beard: Hunky Dory, his fourth album, is generally regarded as his first great one.
  • Ho Yay: The "Dancing in the Street" video he and Mick Jagger did for Live Aid in 1985 is the most notorious example of this in the careers of both men, and has been the subject of much mockery as a result. Said mockery reached an apex in 2011 when Family Guy showed the entire video as an Overly Long Cutaway Gag in "Foreign Affairs", prefaced as "the gayest video of all time".
    • He also played up his bisexual image onstage during the Ziggy Stardust years. He and guitarist Mick Ronson used to be the page image for Faux Yay, after all.
  • Magnum Opus Dissonance: His entire career is rife with this, as the songs he wrote for art are generally in the shadow of those he wrote for commerce, though there are songs that happily overlap the two aims. However, the first and biggest example for him would be a little song he slapped together out of boredom... he was actually embarrassed by it. "Space Oddity", his first hit -- and still popular to this day.
  • Memetic Badass
    • The Venture Brothers portrays him as the shapeshifting overlord of the Guild of Calamitous Intent.

  "The dude from Labyrinth just turned into a bird!"

    • On Naruto the Abridged Comedy Spoof Series Show, he's an indestructible ninja with a habit of breaking into song and insisting that he's not David Bowie.
    • In Flight of the Conchords he is a sort of Gandalf-figure (portrayed, sadly, not by the man himself) who appears to Bret in three dreams, each time in the guise of a different character: Ziggy Stardust, the Pierrot of "Ashes to Ashes", and Jareth.
    • One member of Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog's Evil League Of Evil is called Dead Bowie, but it's not clear whether he's meant to be the man himself or just a themed villain.
    • The Sifl and Olly Show claims the Great Pyramids of Egypt were built in anticipation of his arrival.
  • Memetic Outfit
    • The lightning bolt makeup he wore for the Aladdin Sane cover and inner sleeve is probably his single most-referenced "look" in pop culture.
    • The eyepatch he wore (due to conjunctivitis) during a Dutch television appearance in 1974 is forever tied to his character Halloween Jack from Diamond Dogs, which he was promoting at the time.
  • Memetic Sex God: "If you have seen Labyrinth, then you are not a virgin."
  • Misaimed Fandom: "All the Young Dudes", written for Mott the Hoople, was seen as a celebratory anthem for the glam rock movement. In fact David Bowie has confirmed that it is precisely the opposite and the news carried by the young dudes is actually one of a future apocalypse.
    • Julian Priest, the character portrayed by Bowie in the television series The Hunger, has gained a large amount of affection from fans over the years.
  • Misattributed Song: An unusual case. "All the Young Dudes" was first performed by Mott the Hoople, but the cumulative effect of Bowie writing, producing, and performing backing vocals and saxophone on it (he also recorded his own version and made it a concert setlist staple) means they aren't properly associated with it.
  • Never Live It Down: His Glam Rock period; it yielded a lot of great work, but its campiness and glitter can unfairly overshadow what he did later. A related issue is his flip-flopping over his sexuality.
  • Newbie Boom: After Let's Dance.
  • So Bad It's Good: Some of his pre-1969 songs, especially the novelty tune "The Laughing Gnome", and his "Dancing in the Street" duet with Mick Jagger in 1985, mostly because of the goofy, Ho Yay-fueled video (another reason the mid-'80s are often called Bowie's big Dork Age).
  • So Cool It's Awesome: In particular, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars is often considered one of the best albums of all time.
  • Tear Jerker: See the tearjerker page for this artist. Beyond songs, The Man Who Fell to Earth can also qualify as this.
  • They Changed It, Now It Sucks: Due to his frequent reinventions, Bowie has faced this constantly -- "I preferred him as singer-songwriter, space alien, blue-eyed soul singer, Kraftwerk-esque krautrocker, etc." But it was especially bad after Let's Dance, partially because it overlapped with It's Popular, Now It Sucks.
  • True Art Is Incomprehensible, True Art Is Angsty, and Mind Screw: The premise of the 1.Outside narrative.
  • Vindicated by History: Hunky Dory didn't get much attention until after the success of Ziggy Stardust, but once it did...well, two of the tunes that are Signature Song candidates ("Changes" and "Life on Mars?") are from it. This also applies to the Berlin Trilogy, which underperformed on the charts compared to his previous albums (especially outside of the U.K.) -- in fact, ""Heroes"", now another Signature Song candidate, did not make waves as a single when it was new.
  • What Do You Mean It Wasn't Made on Drugs?: Averted with Station to Station -- see Creator Breakdown above. And this was right after he was in a movie that also begs this question, but the filmmakers themselves weren't on drugs.
  • The Woobie: As Bowie has a good deal of sympathy/empathy for the plight of the "freaky" folk of the world, tales of misunderstood, suffering souls turn up occasionally in his work.
    • The old veteran in "Little Bombardier" (from his debut album). After years of loneliness and depression, things seem to turn around for him when he strikes up an Intergenerational Friendship with some schoolchildren -- and then the police, who suspect he means ill, nip that in the bud.
    • The "missionary mystic of peace/love" known as the "Wild Eyed Boy from Freecloud" (Space Oddity). Sentenced to hang by frightened villagers, willing to accept his fate, and only lives because of an avalanche from the titular mountain that destroys the village -- despite his pleas for it to stop, leaving him brokenhearted.
    • Thomas Jerome Newton -- a quiet, homesick extraterrestrial who falls prey to Earthly flaws, vices, and torment -- is technically a Tragic Hero with the flaw of naivete, and these tropes aren't supposed to overlap. Still, he's Moe in his human disguise and Ugly Cute in his true form, and by movie's end definitely could use a hug...
    • The title character in the play The Elephant Man is an unabashed, Real Life-inspired woobie, and Bowie essayed the role on Broadway to much acclaim in 1980. (As per the play's instructions, he used body movement and voice inflection to suggest his deformity.)
    • The protagonist of "Jump They Say" (Black Tie White Noise) is a little...different from others mentally, and is Driven to Suicide by them as a result. It's even worse in the video, where Bowie plays the poor soul as a businessman taken captive by his heartless peers and subjected to electroshock therapy, paving the way for his fateful jump. (To twist the knife in further, it's after his jump that the viewer sees a wedding band on his finger...) Also has a sad Reality Subtext, in that the song's inspired by the demise of Bowie's schizophrenic half-brother Terry.
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