The news of the death of David Bowie came as a shock to many of us who always saw the pop idol as the chameleon whose transformations could overcome anything. Even death.
Fighting cancer at age 69, however, was too much for him and the world lost one of its most brand-conscious, brilliant music artists.
David Bowie had numerous attractions for those listening to pop music in the 70s and 80s. The music itself was always surprising and each album was different than the one that preceded it.
Even more, his music was surprisingly moving. “Space Oddity” has a melancholy quality that sticks with you, as do the strains of “Life on Mars.” For those who appreciated Bowie, it was that undercurrent of feeling that most moved us.
What David Bowie understood more than most.
David Bowie’s transformations were more than just musical, of course. He was one of the first, if not the most dramatic and maybe the first, to re-invent his persona throughout the years. He even adopted a character, Ziggy Stardust, because he thought it was a better avenue to express his music in the Space Age (and drug age).
It might seem trite at this time to point out that David Bowie was a branding genius. But he was. It wasn’t just that he could adopt a different character each decade. It was that he could tap into a new feeling while also remaining true to himself.
That’s a tough balance, and I don’t know of any pop star who has pulled it off more brilliantly than David Bowie. (Even Madonna’s transformations are sometimes forced.)
Brands should evolve because the ones that don’t usually become irrelevant and obsolete in a matter of a few years.
That wasn’t the case with David Bowie. In fact, part of the reason I was so shocked by his death, was that Bowie had just released a new album last week. “Blackstar” was instantly hailed as a new classic, bringing David Bowie’s unique form of inspiration to a new audience. He was on the cusp of another re-invention and increased relevancy.
I take that back. He is undergoing another re-invention and his relevancy is as strong as ever.