David Bowie

Why Do People Hate David Bowie?

David Bowie was one of the most influential and innovative musicians of the 20th century. He captivated audiences with his constantly evolving musical style and flamboyant stage persona.

However, despite his massive success and cultural impact, Bowie has also been a polarizing figure who has drawn significant backlash and criticism throughout his career. Here is an in-depth look at some of the reasons why David Bowie has haters.

Criticism of His Stage Personas and Alter Egos

One of the most common critiques of Bowie focuses on his various outlandish stage personas and alter egos that he adopted over the years. From Ziggy Stardust to Aladdin Sane to the Thin White Duke, Bowie appeared to take on new identities and looks with each album cycle.

While many fans were enthralled by his chameleonic talents, others accused him of being inauthentic, masking himself behind increasingly bizarre characters.

Some believe these flamboyant personas were a pretentious attempt to market himself. Others felt he was mocking the norms of gender and sexuality in a way that was offensive.

There was a sense that his gender-bending, futuristic costumes and avant-garde style were more about generating controversy and attention than the music itself. Critics saw Bowie’s alter egos as evidence of someone desperate to be perceived as edgy and different, rather than a genuine artist.

Was Bowie Just Putting on an Act?

  • Bowie adopted wild personas like Ziggy Stardust early in his career to generate buzz and redefine himself.
  • While fans saw it as creative expression, critics felt it was a disingenuous publicity stunt.
  • Constant reinvention made some question the authenticity of his music and art.
  • Alter egos seen as pretentious bid to market himself as sexually provocative.

His Looks and Style Drew Accusations of Inauthenticity

  • Outlandish costumes and futuristic style intended to be shocking and avant-garde.
  • His androgynous look led some to accuse him of inappropriately blurring gender lines.
  • Flamboyant image led claims that music took backseat to controversy.
  • Reinvention from album to album was attempt to simply grab headlines.

Lyrics Focused on Taboo Subjects

The lyrical content of many David Bowie songs also stirred controversy and criticism over the years. He was among the early mainstream artists to explicitly reference taboo topics like sex, drug use, and gender identity in his music. While some praised this as bold, artistic social commentary, others found the lyrics to be gratuitous, hedonistic, or even immoral.

Songs like “Rebel Rebel” and “Suffragette City” were slammed at the time for their overt sexual references. “China Girl” was accused of exploiting racial stereotypes. Even his glam anthem “Fame” was seen by some as celebrating shallow values and mindless celebrity worship. Critics argued artists have a duty not to promote dangerous ideas like drug abuse or sexual deviance to young audiences.

Sexual and Drug-Related Lyrics Viewed as Irresponsible

  • Songs like “Rebel Rebel” and “Suffragette City” contained overt sexual references.
  • Lyrics faced backlash for supposedly promoting drug use and sexual deviance.
  • Critics saw lyrics like “Fame” as irresponsible glorification of shallow values.
  • Some argued Bowie failed his duty as an artist by referenced taboo topics.

Racial Controversy Around Song “China Girl”

  • “China Girl” accused of relying on offensive Asian stereotypes in lyrics.
  • Perceived as improper appropriation of another culture for commercial gain.
  • Part of larger criticism of Bowie exploiting taboo topics for fame.

Perceived Lack of Authenticity and Artistic Gravity

There is also a general criticism of David Bowie that he lacked a consistent musical identity and the sort of gravitas expected of a serious artist.

By constantly reinventing his sound and style, some believe he failed to cultivate a coherent artistic voice. To detractors, Bowie represents the triumph of spectacle over substance in music.

Rather than sticking to a genre and honing his craft over decades like other artists, Bowie was seen to just chase whatever avant-garde trend seemed most shocking at the time. Glam, punk, electronic pop – he cycled through it all.

To some, that makes Bowie appear more as a savvy pop culture vulture than a genuine musician. They feel he lucked into success by latching onto sensational new movements, without the raw talent of the originators.

Perceived as Lacking Musical Gravity and Coherence

  • Constant reinvention seen as prioritizing spectacle over artistic substance.
  • Failed to cultivate lasting artistic identity across decades like others.
  • Seemed to just chase whatever trend or genre was popular at the time.
  • More savvy opportunist than authentic genre pioneer to critics.

Glam Genre Viewed as Novelty Act

  • Bowie’s glam rock phase seen as faddish novelty act without depth.
  • Genre focused on outlandish costumes and characters over quality music.
  • Critical view is Bowie cashed in on sensationalism of glam spectacle.
  • Failed to match lasting impact of punk and electronic pop originators.

Alienating His Original Fan Base Over the Years

David Bowie’s constantly shifting artistic identity had the effect of alienating some of his original fans over the course of his career.

The early Bowie fans drawn to his folksy hippie sound reacted negatively to his transition into glam rock. Yet the glam era fans were then turned off by his experimentation with electronica and pop later on.

To early supporters, Bowie’s theatrical Ziggy Stardust character seemed to mock the authentic hippie counterculture they had embraced. The sparse synthesizer-driven music on albums like Low was seen as a betrayal by fans wanting another epic like Ziggy Stardust.

Bowie’s massive 1983 pop album Let’s Dance baffled fans wanting him to stay cutting edge and alternative. This pattern repeated with each major stylistic shift.

Early Folk Fans Felt Betrayed by Glam Shift

  • Bowie’s earliest folk material attracted hippie counterculture fans.
  • Glam rock era with Ziggy Stardust seen as rejecting authentic roots.
  • Fan base that loved musically complex early work felt alienated.
  • Signals the start of losing chunks of his original fan base over time.

Constant Reinvention Confused and Frustrated Fan Bases

  • Fans of glam rock were then confused by Bowie’s experimental electronic phase.
  • Those drawn to cutting edge electronic sound felt betrayed by 1983’s poppy Let’s Dance.
  • This repeated each time he drastically changed musical styles.
  • For many, constant reinvention lacked coherence and sustainability.

Perception He “Sold Out” for Commercial Success

David Bowie also faced ongoing criticism that he sold out artistically in order to achieve huge commercial success in the 1980s. After pioneering avant-garde music and performance art for years, the 1983 album Let’s Dance saw Bowie radically shift to a mainstream pop/rock sound.

The album spawned multiple top 40 hits and catapulted Bowie to global superstardom. However, to fans of his groundbreaking early years, Let’s Dance was viewed as a crass grab for mainstream approval and record sales. The slick production and simple hooks of the album were seen as betraying his credibility as an edgy innovator.

This perspective held that Bowie compromised his art for money and fame, following trends rather than creating them. The notion that he “sold out” became embedded in part of the critical narrative around him.

Let’s Dance Album Marked Turn to Commercialism

  • Let’s Dance represented major shift into mainstream pop/rock sound.
  • Spawned huge #1 hits marking Bowie’s ascent to global celebrity.
  • Early supporters saw album as Bowie cashing in credibility for fame.
  • Slick production seen as sacrifice of innovation for commercial viability.

Perception He Sold Out Heightened by Massive Success

  • Mainstream stardom and mega-hits hardened view he had sold out values.
  • Becoming an international celebrity confirmed for some he had compromised art.
  • From critics’ view, chased fortune over art after pioneering non-commercial work.
  • Sense that money and stardom drove change rather than creative spark.

Associations with Taboo Occult and Fascist Imagery

At various points in his career, David Bowie incorporated taboo occult symbols and imagery associated with fascism into his songs, videos and live performances.

Examples include quoting Hitler in interviews, using Nazi salutes and flaunting the swastika symbol on stage. While Bowie later explained this was artistic provocation intended as critique, many saw it as endorsement.

Particularly during the Thin White Duke era, Bowie’s fascination with fascist imagery coincided with increased drug use and bizarre public behavior. This period fueled accusations that he harbored actual far right sympathies and an unhealthy obsession with death and totalitarianism.

Bowie’s pattern of co-opting shocking controversies for attention made his attempt to distance himself from fascist and occult references seem disingenuous to critics.

Use of Taboo Nazi and Occult Symbols in 1970s

  • Quoted Hitler and used Nazi salutes during Thin White Duke era.
  • Swastika and occult tarot/magic symbols appeared in his videos and shows.
  • Intended as provocative warning of fascism’s dangers, but seen as endorsement.
  • Fed narrative of Bowie fixated on death and totalitarianism.

Bizarre Behavior Increased Suspicions of Sinister Interests

  • Increased cocaine use and odd public statements in late 1970s.
  • Coincided with his use of fascist/occult imagery on stage.
  • Led to suspicions his fascination was not just artistic provocation.
  • Seemed to confirm bizarre obsessions beyond just creative shock value.

Perception He Exploited and Appropriated From Other Cultures

Bowie has faced allegations that he insensitively appropriated and exploited aspects of various cultures over the course of his career. In the 1970s, he was accused of pilfering ideas and styles from pioneering black musicians to take R&B mainstream. His use of Japanese fashion, imagery and musical elements has been criticized as exotification of Asian culture.

Bowie also faced backlash for his fascination with Berlin’s Turkish immigrant community, with charges he colonized these outside cultures to feed his art.

Critics say he took aesthetics and styles from marginalized communities without proper attribution, context or representation. To them, Bowie represents white artists cherry-picking “cool” elements from non-white cultures while ignoring struggle.

Appropriation of Black Music Culture in the 1970s

  • Early Bowie drew heavily from African-American R&B, funk, and soul.
  • Mainstreamed black music styles without recognition of origins.
  • Seen as white musician colonizing black culture for profit and acclaim.
  • Failed to bring black collaborators into the spotlight.

Incorporation of Japanese and Berlin Turkish Culture

  • Adopted Japanese fashion trends and Eastern musical sounds.
  • Fascinated by Turkish immigrants while living in Berlin.
  • Both seen as exoticization and appropriation for commercial gain.
  • Did not provide representation or shine light on real cultural issues.

Questionable Behavior Related to Underage Groupies

One of the darkest aspects of Bowie’s legacy involves allegations around his sexual relationships with teenage girls during the 1970s. Tabloids at the time reported Bowie engaging in relationships with girls as young as 13-14 years old when he was in his 20s.

Though not illegal at the time, many have reassessed such behavior as predatory given the huge age gap and power imbalance.

Biographers have painted Bowie during this period as reckless and fueled by massive fame and cocaine addiction. While never proven, stories of his entanglement with young groupies have cast a troubling pall on his reputation in modern times.

Views of what was permissible in rock culture have rightfully shifted. But for critics, this remains a deeply problematic aspect of the Bowie mythology.

Tabloid Reports of Sex With Underage Groupies

  • British tabloids reported Bowie’s relations with girls as young as 13-14.
  • Bowie was in his 20s during incidents – massive age gap.
  • Even if legal then, seen as morally troubling abuse of fame today.
  • Part of larger narrative of reckless behavior on cocaine in the 1970s.

Reflects Problematic Rock Star Excess and Permissiveness

  • Illustrates how rock stars often got away with inappropriate behavior.
  • Modern reassessment rejects idea groupie relations were permissible.
  • Troubling legacy that rocks Bowie’s credibility as enlightened figure.
  • As norms evolve, past toleration of such behavior looks damaging.

Tables Comparing Bowie’s Major Phases and Style Shifts

Musical Style Evolution

EraGenreRepresentative Albums
Hippie Folky PhaseFolk rock, acousticDavid Bowie (1967), Space Oddity (1969)
Glam Rock PhaseGlam rockHunky Dory (1971), Ziggy Stardust (1972)
Plastic Soul PhaseFunk, soul, R&BYoung Americans (1975), Station to Station (1976)
Berlin Trilogy PhaseArt rock, electronic, krautrockLow (1977), Heroes (1977), Lodger (1979)
Commercial Pop PhasePop, dance rockLet’s Dance (1983), Tonight (1984)

Alter Ego and Style Transformations

PersonaStyle and LookTime Period
Mod trend followerSharply tailored suits, bowl haircuts1964-1967
Space folky cosmonautWhimsical, futuristic costumes1969-1970
Ziggy StardustBrightly colored suits, bold makeup, wild hair1972-1973
Aladdin SaneBold red hair, face paint, exaggerated costumes1973-1974
Thin White DukeSevere suits, slicked back hair, mannered style1975-1976
Clean-cut gentlemanClassic tailored suits, conventional hair1983-1989

Conclusion: Why Bowie Remains Polarizing

David Bowie’s immense cultural influence and nonconformist persona inspired intense fandom for decades from listeners drawn to his fearless originality.

However, that same rule-breaking attitude generated significant backlash from mainstream society as well as the music establishment. Bowie’s constant reinvention, avant-garde style and flouting of norms challenged social convention and could feel threatening.

While some saw Bowie as an iconoclast opening doors, others perceived a cultural opportunist chasing attention and headlines. Bowie’s ability to grow and adapt artistically over time impressed fans of his creativity. But that chameleon-like shifting between genres and identities was taken as evidence of inauthenticity by critics.

Ultimately Bowie’s refusal to fit neatly in any box left him hard to define – was he serious artist or shameless provocateur? Visionary pioneer or derivative poser? His complexities and contradictions make simple appraisal impossible.

But the passions Bowie stirred, both of love and scorn, affirmed his monumental impact on music and culture. David Bowie rattled cages across generations precisely because he refused to be bound by expectations or conventions of what a rock star should be.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why did Bowie’s constant reinvention turn off some fans and critics?

Bowie’s tendency to completely reinvent his sound and style with each album confused and frustrated some fans wanting consistency.

Critics also saw it as prioritizing spectacle over artistic substance, making him seem more opportunist than innovator. The rapid shifts were taken as a sign of inauthenticity.

How did Bowie’s provocative lyrics land him in hot water?

Songs like “Rebel Rebel” and “China Girl” were controversial for their sexual and racial references. Bowie was among the first mainstream artists to push boundaries writing explicitly about topics like sex, drugs and gender identity. While some praised this as bold, others found it gratuitous and irresponsible.

Why was the Let’s Dance era viewed as Bowie selling out?

After years as an avant-garde pioneer, 1983’s Let’s Dance saw Bowie shift to a mainstream pop/rock sound and achieve global superstardom.

To fans of his edgy early work, the slick production and simple hooks represented a “sell out” chasing commercial success over art. It damaged his credibility as an innovator.

What fuelled accusations of Bowie appropriating from other cultures?

Critics accused Bowie of pilfering musical and fashion elements from African-American, Asian and Turkish cultures without properly acknowledging his influences or representing those communities. This selective borrowing without context was viewed as exploitative cultural appropriation.

How did Bowie’s bizarre behavior in the 70s impact his reputation?

Bowie’s heavy cocaine use and odd public statements during the Thin White Duke era fueled troubling media narratives. His flirtation with fascist symbols and praise of Hitler made people question his true sympathies. The drugs and erratic conduct reinforced the darkest rumours and perceptions around him.

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