Musical genius, fashion pioneer, film star – what couldn’t David Bowie do? Well, for those of you saying “predict the future”, wooh, are your faces about to be red.
Judging by his freakishly accurate prescience, Bowie really was some kind of sorcerer. Prepare to be open-mouthed in amazement as we revisit the Bowie claims of the past that have come true in the present.
Online music streaming
Back in 2002, Bowie made this declaration to The New York Times: “Music is going to become like running water or electricity.” A bold statement, Bowie was referring to the changing nature of the mass availability of music (which, at the time, was making headlines through the explosion of Napster and LimeWire-based file-sharing), but his words seem terribly fitting for the ease with which we access music today. His words on how this would impact upon the music industry also ring very true for what the situation is today:
”I don’t even know why I would want to be on a label in a few years, because I don’t think it’s going to work by labels and by distribution systems in the same way. The absolute transformation of everything that we ever thought about music will take place within 10 years, and nothing is going to be able to stop it. I see absolutely no point in pretending that it’s not going to happen… You’d better be prepared for doing a lot of touring because that’s really the only unique situation that’s going to be left. It’s terribly exciting. But on the other hand it doesn’t matter if you think it’s exciting or not; it’s what’s going to happen.”
And although he was a little way off the mark when it came to the issue of copyright (“I’m fully confident that copyright will no longer exist in 10 years, and authorship and intellectual property is in for such a bashing”), these words demonstrate how switched-on Bowie was when it came to looking to the future.
In addition to his openness towards a new method of selling records, Bowie also pioneered an early form of social networking. Launched in 1999, BowieNet gave users access to a voluminous archive’s worth of music, photos and videos, as well as providing space for the creation of the user’s own personal page within the site. Remember how you’d choose a song for your MySpace profile back in those halcyon mid-‘00s days? BowieNet was doing it the decade previously, offering space for audio and video plugins to adorn the user’s specific page.
Not only did Bowie predict the future in this instance, he also managed to prove Jeremy Paxman wrong, which is no mean feat. In an interview from the same year, the University Challenge host dismissed BowieNet as “just a tool” and “a different delivery system” for buying music. Au contraire, Jeremy: “We’re on the cusp of something exhilarating and terrifying,” Bowie responded. “The actual context and the state of content is going to be so different to anything we can envisage at the moment.”
He then offered this wizardly glimpse into the future: “What the Internet is going to do to society, both good and bad, is unimaginable.”
Bowie was breaking down the boundaries of gender in popular culture at a time when mainstream exposure to such a concept was almost non-existent. The androgynous nature of Bowie’s multiple personas – the Thin White Duke, Ziggy Stardust, and the kimono-wearing Aladdin Sane – characterised his music in a way that exposed those who interacted with Bowie to a different kind of thinking.
It was a visionary method of exploring the complex question of gender that built bridges for the important (and encouraging) global discussion on the issue that continues today.
In a moment not-too-dissimilar from The Simpsons predicting the design of the iPod five years prior its release, Bowie went one better and predicted the iPad a mere 30 years before it hit the shelves.
This prophetic moment came in the £250,000 video (at the time the most expensive music video every made) for ‘Ashes To Ashes’ (0:25 in), where Bowie (as Pierrot) held up a hand-held tablet to the camera with a moving image projected on it. It’s uncanny, right?
The birth of Kanye?
This one’s a bit ludicrous, so bear with us here a minute: Twitter user Alistair Coleman posited that the cover art of Bowie’s ‘The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars’ foretold the birth of Yeezus. Ahem.
His theory went as such: ‘Ziggy’’s artwork features the exterior sign of a London furrier, which went by the name ‘K. West’. A fine coincidence, we hear you say. Well, if you then take a look at the album’s tracklist, you come across a song entitled ‘Five Years’, which foretells the end of the world (“We’ve got five years, that’s all we’ve got”). And guess who was born five years and two days after Ziggy’s release? One Kanye West, that’s who.
Tenuous? Never. Although Kanye hasn’t brought about the apocalypse just yet – so we’re not too keen on Bowie’s remarkable talent for prescience being fulfilled in this instance.