Skip to content

The powerful symbolism of David Bowie's Blackstar

David Bowie was one of the most innovative and influential artists in music history, who explored diverse genres, styles and identities throughout his career. On his final album, Blackstar, released two days before his death in 2016, Bowie delivered a musical and visual masterpiece that reflected on his life, his art and his mortality.

The music video for Blackstar, the album's title track, is a surrealistic and symbolic piece of art that contains many hidden references and messages. In this article, we will analyze some of the main symbols and meanings of the music video for Blackstar, by David Bowie.

A brief biography of Bowie and his relevance in popular culture

David Robert Jones was born in London in 1947 and adopted the stage name David Bowie in 1966 to avoid confusion with Monkees singer Davy Jones. Bowie began his musical career in the late 60s, influenced by rock, folk and blues, but soon stood out for his ability to reinvent himself and experiment with new sounds and images.

Bowie created several characters and alter egos, such as Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane, Thin White Duke and Halloween Jack, who expressed different facets of his personality and artistic vision. Bowie also dabbled in other forms of art, such as film, theater, painting and literature, and collaborated with other artists such as Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Brian Eno, Queen and Mick Jagger.

The artist was a pioneer of glam rock, art rock, electronic pop and experimental rock, and influenced several generations of musicians, of different styles and genres. Bowie was also a pop culture icon, which addressed themes such as sexuality, androgyny, alienation, spirituality and death, with boldness and originality.

David Bowie died on January 10, 2016, aged 69, from liver cancer, which he kept secret until the end. He left a legacy of more than 25 studio albums, hundreds of songs, dozens of films and countless fans around the world.

blackstar, david bowie, symbolism

The context and importance of the album “Blackstar”

Blackstar was Bowie's 25th and final studio album, released on January 8, 2016, his 69th birthday. The album was recorded in secret, between January and November 2015, in New York, with the collaboration of a jazz band led by saxophonist Donny McCaslin. The album was produced by Bowie and Tony Visconti, his longtime partner.

Blackstar was acclaimed by critics and the public, being considered one of Bowie's best works, and one of the best albums of 2016. The album received several awards, such as the Grammy for Best Rock Album, and the Brit Award for Best British Album. Year. Blackstar was also a commercial success, reaching number one on the charts in several countries, and selling more than two million copies.

The album was conceived as Bowie's parting gift to his fans, and as a way of dealing with his own mortality. Blackstar is full of references to his career, his life and his death, and presents a dark, experimental and innovative musical style, which mixes elements of jazz, rock, electronica and hip hop.

The work is made up of seven tracks, ranging from four to ten minutes in length, and exploring themes such as space, religion, love, violence, fame and legacy. The tracks are:

  • Blackstar: the title track and the longest on the album, almost ten minutes long, divided into two distinct parts. The first part is a slow and atmospheric introduction, which evokes an atmosphere of mystery and ritual. The second part is a change of pace and tone, which becomes more lively and optimistic, with a chorus that says “I'm a blackstar, I'm not a filmstar, I'm not a popstar, I'm not a wandering star, I'm a black star”. The song's lyrics are enigmatic and full of references to space, religion, fame and death. The song also contains a section in which Bowie sings in an invented dialect, reminiscent of the Nadsat language, used in the book and film A Clockwork Orange, one of his influences. The song's music video is a surrealist and symbolic work of art, which will be analyzed in more detail below.
  • 'Tis a Pity She Was a Whore: The second track on the album, just over four minutes long, is an agitated and chaotic rock song, which contrasts with the previous track. The title of the song is a reference to the play of the same name by English playwright John Ford, written in the 17th century, which tells the story of incest between two brothers. The song's lyrics are ambiguous and suggest a violent and tragic sexual relationship between Bowie and a woman, who could be a prostitute, a spy or a personification of death. The song expresses Bowie's anguish and anger in the face of love and death.
  • Lazarus: The third track on the album, just over six minutes long, is a melancholy and emotional rock song that became one of Bowie's biggest hits. The title of the song is a reference to the biblical character Lazarus, who was resurrected by Jesus four days after his death. The song's lyrics are a farewell to Bowie, who identifies with Lázaro, and who sings about his past, his present and his future. The song begins with the phrase “Look up here, I'm in heaven”, which reveals that Bowie is in the afterlife, and that he observes his life on Earth. The song also contains phrases like “I've got scars that can't be seen” and “I've got nothing left to lose”, which show that Bowie is suffering from cancer, but is also ready to go. The song ends with the phrase “Just like that bluebird, oh, I'll be free”, which indicates that Bowie found his freedom and peace. The song's music video is a continuation of the music video for Blackstar, and shows Bowie in a hospital bed, blindfolded, writing in a notebook, while being haunted by a shadowy figure. Then he gets up and goes into a closet, which symbolizes his coffin, and disappears.
  • Sue (Or in a Season of Crime): The album's fourth track, just over four minutes long, is a frenetic and experimental jazz song, which was originally released in 2014, in a different version, with the participation of Maria Schneider's Jazz Orchestra. The song tells the story of a man who kills his wife, Sue, out of jealousy, and later regrets it and commits suicide. The song's lyrics are narrated in the first person, and mix elements of detective novel, drama and tragedy. The song also references the play Macbeth, by William Shakespeare, with phrases such as “Sue, the clinic called, the x-ray's fine” and “I'm the great I am”, which echo the lines of the characters Macbeth and Lady Macbeth , who are also consumed by guilt after committing murder. The song reflects Bowie's dark and violent side, which explores the limits of morality and sanity.
  • Girl Loves Me: The fifth track on the album, just over four minutes long, is an electronic pop and hip hop song, which stands out for its use of invented languages. The song is sung partly in Nadsat, the dialect used by the young delinquents in the book and film A Clockwork Orange, and partly in Polari, a jargon used by the British gay community in the 20th century. The song's lyrics are confusing and obscene, and seem to portray a scene of sex, drugs and violence, with phrases like “Where the fuck did Monday go?” and “Cheena so sound, so titi up this malchick, say.” The song also makes reference to the character Pinocchio, with the phrase “I'm sitting in the chestnut tree, who the fuck's gonna mess with me?”, which alludes to the song “Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf?”, sung by the doll. wooden in Disney movie. The song shows Bowie's rebellious and transgressive side, who plays with words and social norms.
  • Dollar Days: The album's sixth track, just over four and a half minutes long, is an acoustic and melodic rock song, which contrasts with the previous track. The song is one of the most personal and emotional on the album, and reveals Bowie's feelings about his homeland, England, and his career. The song's lyrics are full of nostalgia and irony, with phrases like “I'm dying to push their backs against the grain and fool them all again and again” and “I'm trying to, I'm dying too”. The song also contains the phrase “Don't believe for just one second I'm forgetting you”, which can be interpreted as a message from Bowie to his fans, or to his wife, Iman. The song expresses Bowie's love and longing, as he says goodbye to his homeland and his audience.
  • I Can't Give Everything Away: The seventh and final track on the album, just over five minutes long, is an electronic and atmospheric pop song, which ends the album on a note of hope and mystery. The song is a statement by Bowie, who recognizes his limits and his secrets, and who states that he cannot reveal everything he knows and what he feels. The song's lyrics are simple and direct, with phrases like “I know something is very wrong” and “This is all I ever meant, that's the message that I sent”. The song also contains a reference to the song A New Career in a New Town, from the 1977 album Low, with the use of harmonica, which creates a sense of continuity and cycle in Bowie's work. The song conveys the serenity and wisdom of Bowie, who accepts his destiny and his legacy, and leaves an enigma for his listeners.
blackstar, david bowie, symbolism

analysis and Symbolism of the Blackstar music video

O music video for Blackstar, directed by Swedish filmmaker Johan Renck, who also directed the music video for Lazarus, is a work of art in itself, which complements and expands the song in concept and experience. The work is almost ten minutes long, and was released on November 19, 2015, on the streaming website Vevo, receiving acclaim from specialized critics, the public and musical and audiovisual awards around the world.

The song's music video is a surrealistic and symbolic piece of art, which contains many hidden references and messages. Its narrative takes place on a desert planet, where strange and disturbing scenes take place, involving characters such as a dead astronaut, a woman with a tail, a crucified scarecrow, a mysterious book, a blindfolded eye and a glowing skull. Each of these elements has a deep meaning, which will be analyzed below.

The dead astronaut

The first scene of the music video shows a woman with a tail, who approaches a dead astronaut, whose skull emits a blue light. She opens the helmet's visor and takes the skull with her, leaving the body behind. This scene is a clear allusion to Bowie's character Major Tom, who first appeared in the 1969 song Space Oddity, and later in other songs such as Ashes to Ashes and Hallo Spaceboy. Major Tom was an astronaut who was lost in space and communicated with Earth through his ship. He represented the adventure, freedom and alienation of Bowie, who felt out of place in the world.

By showing the dead astronaut, Bowie suggests that he is ending his space journey and saying goodbye to his most famous alter ego. The shiny skull symbolizes his creative essence and artistic legacy, which is taken by the woman to a mysterious city, where he is worshiped as a sacred relic. The woman with the tail may symbolize Bowie's wife, Iman, who accompanied him until the end of his life, and who preserved his memory and his work.

The black star

The song and album title, Blackstar, has several possible meanings. One of them is a dark star, which is a type of star that emits little or no light, but still has mass and gravity. A black star could be the result of a star that collapsed in on itself but did not become a black hole. This concept could be a metaphor for Bowie's condition, who suffered from cancer and knew he was dying, but still maintained his strength and inner brilliance. Bowie may also have been referring to his own star, who was unique and different from the rest, and who did not fit into any musical genre or category.

Another meaning of Blackstar is an injury caused by a projectile, which leaves a dark mark on the skin. This term was used by the album's co-producer, Tony Visconti, to describe the cancer that affected Bowie. Visconti said that Bowie wanted to make an album as a “parting gift” for his fans, and that he knew Blackstar would be his last work.

In the music video, the black star appears as a symbol that Bowie draws with his fingers, and which is also seen on a book, a cloth and a circle of candles. The black star represents his identity, his music and his message, which he transmits to his audience and future generations. The black star can also have an occult connotation, related to magic and the occult, themes that Bowie explored in some of his works. The black star may be a variation of the five-pointed star, or pentagram, which is a symbol used by several esoteric traditions, such as Satanism, paganism and Thelema.

blackstar, david bowie, symbolism

The book and the scarecrow

In one of the most disturbing scenes in the music video, we see a scarecrow crucified in a field, which has Bowie's face and eyes sewn shut. He is watched over by three frightening smaller scarecrows, who squirm to the music. In another scene, we see Bowie holding an old book, which has a black star on the cover and pages illustrated with strange images.

These scenes can be interpreted as a reference to religion, magic and the occult, themes that Bowie explored in some of his works. Bowie was fascinated by figures such as Aleister Crowley, a British occultist who founded the philosophy of Thelema, which was based on the motto “do as thou wilt”. Bowie was also interested in esoteric symbols, such as the pentagram, the Kabbalah and the tarot.

By showing the crucified scarecrow, Bowie may be criticizing organized religion, which he considered oppressive and manipulative. He may also be comparing himself to a messianic figure, who suffers and sacrifices himself for humanity. The book may represent his secret knowledge and creative power, which he reveals to his initiates.

The book may also be an allusion to the Book of the Law, the sacred text of Thelema, which was supposedly dictated by an entity called Aiwass to Crowley in 1904. The book contains the principles and prophecies of the new age of Horus, the Egyptian god of the sun and war, which succeeded the era of Osiris, the god of death and resurrection. Bowie may be artistically suggesting that he is a prophet of this new era, and that his music is his law.

The blindfolded eye

In several scenes of the music video, we see Bowie and other characters with a black cloth covering their eyes, leaving only a hole to see. This visual element has a strong symbolism, which can have multiple interpretations.

One of them is that the blindfold represents blindness, both physical and spiritual. Bowie may be referring to his own loss of vision, caused by an accident he suffered as a teenager when he was punched in the left eye during a fight. This incident left his pupils permanently dilated, giving the impression that he had different colored eyes.

Bowie may also be alluding to his lack of vision about his future, as he was facing imminent death. He may be expressing his anguish and uncertainty about what awaited him after his departure. He may also be questioning his faith and hope, faced with a chaotic and cruel world.

Another interpretation is that the blindfold represents enlightenment, both artistic and mystical. Bowie may have been inspired by initiatory rituals, in which candidates were blindfolded to symbolize their ignorance and renunciation of the material world. By removing the blindfold, they reached a new level of consciousness and wisdom.

Bowie may also be drawing on concepts such as the third eye, which is associated with intuition, imagination and extrasensory perception. He may be indicating that he had a different and superior view of reality, which he shared through his art. He may also be suggesting that he had a connection with the divine, which he manifested through his music.

The skull

One of the most recurring and important objects in the music video is the astronaut's skull, which is taken by the woman with the tail to a city, where it is placed on an altar and venerated by a group of people. The skull is adorned with jewels and flowers, and emits a blue light that mesmerizes the faithful.

The skull is a universal symbol of death, transience and the fragility of life. Bowie uses the skull to represent his final destiny, but also his eternal legacy. The skull is what remains of your physical body, but also what holds your spiritual essence.

The skull is also a symbol of power, wisdom and mystery. Bowie uses the skull to show his status as an icon, guru and prophet. The skull is what inspires admiration, devotion and curiosity. The skull is what conveys your message, your vision and your secret.

blackstar, david bowie, symbolism

I'm a Blackstar, David Bowie

David Bowie's music video and album Blackstar are complex and fascinating works of art that express his genius and uniqueness. The music video is full of symbols and meanings, which reveal his influences, his reflections and his intentions. The album is a way for Bowie to communicate with his audience, and to leave a testimony of his life, his art and his death.

The interpretations presented in this article are just some of the possible ones, and are not intended to exhaust or limit the understanding of the video clip. Each viewer can have their own reading, and discover new layers and nuances in the work. Blackstar's music video is an invitation to imagination, creativity and reflection, which demonstrates Bowie's talent and originality, and which establishes him as one of the greatest artists of all time.