David Bowie is set to premiere the video to his new single ‘Blackstar’ on Thursday, November 19. The track was penned for the opening credits of The Last Panthers, Sky Atlantic’s six-part thriller about legendary criminal gang the Pink Panthers, and now he and series director Johan Renck (whose CV includes Breaking Bad and promos for Madonna, Suede and The Libertines) have continued their creative collaboration with the 10-minute video.
“I haven’t done a music video in a long time,” Renck told NME, “but when Bowie asks, you’d jump at it.”
From the teaser clip – which features imagery of a decaying skull in a astronaut’s helmet, three blindfolded men attached to makeshift crucifixes, and Bowie holding a book aloft emblazoned with the Blackstar symbol – it looks to be as portentous and foreboding as the track itself. Sinister and subdued, as gogglebox themes go, it’s hardly Baywatch’s fist-pumping ‘I’m Always Here’ – but is further proof of his mercurial genius.
The song is set to drop on November 20, with the ‘Blackstar’ album released on Bowie’s 69th birthday in January. Here, Johan Renck explains how the song came about.
How did you end up hooking up with David Bowie?
“Well, the whole thing was quite random, I have to say. On The Last Panthers, we started talking about the title sequence and I had a very particular idea of what I wanted it to be visually and I also had the idea I wanted to work with a childhood icon or idol.
“In this artistic world, you might as well find a way to work with somebody that you have admiration for. I have a huge love for music and always have. We were talking about candidates and someone suggested David Bowie. I thought it was a fun but completely unrealistic idea. We threw the question towards their camp and very quickly – within a day or two – received a response saying yes, David’s tentatively interested in doing something like this.
“Already that blew my mind! I had a telephone conversation with him – I took the call when we were shooting in a prison in Suffolk – and we had a very intelligent, sane conversation. I’m not usually starstruck but he was asking questions about the series that made me think.
“I sent him rough cuts of the first two episodes and he really enjoyed those. He asked if there was anything else, so I sent him the mood board I did for the opening credits, featuring images from the show and chimaeras and demons from the worlds of Bosch and Grunewald, to which he said ‘everything fits, everything’s right, we should do this.'”
What did you think of ‘Blackstar’?
“He hit the target completely, because the opening credits embody a lot of different aspects of the show. It’s quite dark and melancholic. It feels inspired by a lot of different music cultures – there’s oriental, Eastern European, and even north African influences in there. It’s theatrical. It’s a song that has a biblical aspect to it; it promises impending doom. And it’s quite beautiful and almost sentimental at the same time.
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“To me, it’s the perfect piece of music to walk into the world of The Last Panthers. We such a great collaboration during the opening titles. They say don’t meet your heroes but when it comes to Bowie, he truly is the most brilliant person I’ve ever met. I haven’t done a music video in a long time, but when Bowie asks, you’d jump at it.”
The video and full track premieres on Sky Atlantic and Sky Arts at 8:45pm, Thursday 19 November, ahead of the second episode of The Last Panthers.