On January 8, 2013… everything changed. After a decade of lying low, a new David Bowie song hit the web from point zero like a clap of thunder. It was accompanied by an odd video, a handful of photographs and not much else. The artist’s website was re-jigged from its oh-so-dated 1997-2001 feel to something simpler and modern. And then came the aftershock.
Bowie didn’t need to lift a finger, personally. There was to be no tour, no press interviews, and only the scantest of promotion. The promotion, such as it was, was coordinated locally by his various label licensees in their respective territories. Designer Jonathan Barnbrook designed a completely post-modern visual to accompany the album, which was called “The Next Day.” The cover was an altered version of Bowie’s iconic “Heroes” album cover that was more than a little provocative, to say the least. The aftershock then got louder.
With their NDAs now expired, notorious chatterboxes like producer Tony Visconti and guitarist Earl Slick were now able to hold court on their experiences of working on the album over the previous two years. In an age where anything from rough edits to finished masters can leak out onto the net with impunity, David Bowie actually managed to record an album over a two year span with only the participants knowing. Even his labels found out only a few months before the release of the single. One amusing sidebar was that Visconti proclaimed that security was breached only once; by famed Bowie guitarist Robert Fripp on his blog, but Visconti had his wires crossed. Fripp was recounting a dream of recording with Bowie and Eno again. The week after this spurious claim by Visconti, Fripp was giving press interviews proclaiming his innocence. And the Bowie mindshare wave expanded ever larger.
Next came the magazine covers. Every music magazine of note seemed to have a Bowie cover using some stock image. If they got blindsided by the news, the few that were too close to their press date to react properly had a garish snipe added at the last minute in production bleating the news that “New Bowie Album is Coming!!!” Then everyone who had access to the web began blogging or at least commenting on the miraculous Second Coming of Bowie®.
Which was just in time for the March opening of the “David Bowie Is” exhibition at the Victoria & Albert museum in London. The show will run March 23, 2013 through July 28, 2013 before it begins its stately tour around the museums of the world. The museum has already sold over 26,000 advance tickets; making it their most successful show in their history. Visitors will see over 300 artifacts from Bowie’s personal archives. He gave the museum full access to his materials, and though the V&A certainly plans their exhibits years in advance, he certainly got a wallop of synergy when he managed to release his new album in the same month as the show was opening.
Today is March 13, 2013, and the album, “The Next Day,” finally got its US release yesterday. With it, Bowie managed to top the iTunes charts in over 40 countries worldwide. That’s roughly one third of the world’s iTunes stores. When I checked the iTunes US charts yesterday, Bowie was at position one with “The Next Day [deluxe edition]” and at number ten with the standard version of the album. Pretty impressive for a 66 year old guy who last released an album a half a generation ago.
When marketing textbooks of the future are written, there will be a chapter on the David Bowie/The Next Day campaign. Never before had so little material amounted to so many inches of web/column space. It’s an anti-campaign with little in the way of centralized imagery, zero engagement with social media in this social media age, and yet it’s led to enormous mindshare and a chart-topping album for a man whose last brush with the top of the charts came in 1993 with “Black Tie White Noise.”
From January 10th, 2013, there has been a button in the sidebar of this blog as shown at left. If you had clicked it, you were taken to a series of ever-changing links to stories relating to the re-emergence of Bowie. Each of those links will be given below this paragraph, on this blog post.
– 30 –