David Bowie's 10 Best Music Videos
After Blackstar's release, let's look back.
"Underground" is a little-loved gospel-blues single from the Labyrinth soundtrack, but its video is top-notch: After encountering some of his alter-egos, he gets sucked into a partially-animated world also filled with creepy Muppets. (In doing so, it both nods to "Labyrinth" and foreshadows Bowie's work on the soundtrack to "Cool World.") Bowie doesn't like it, but he's got nothing to be ashamed of.
2. "The Heart's Filthy Lesson"
The 1995 industrial-opera Outside centers around a character who hunts a serial killer guilty of "art crime," and the deeply disturbing video (helmed by "Smells Like Teen Spirit" director Samuel Bayer) draws lines between the ritualistic nature of both art and "Se7en" style murder (it's no wonder this song runs over the end credits of that movie). It's a non-narrative look at violence and creation that sticks and haunts.
3. "John, I'm Only Dancing"
Bowie's first foray into videos is also one of his finest, as he juxtaposes an off-kilter performance with some acrobats from a Cirque du Soleil nightmare.
4. "Jump They Say"
Directed by Mark Romanek, "Jump They Say" is a mish-mash of film homages—"Alphaville" is in there, and so is "The Trial" and "A Clockwork Orange"—but if you're going to steal, you might as well steal from Goddard, Welles, and Kubrick. Bowie is an excellent actor, and this video may be his best character performance in a music video.
5. "I'm Afraid of Americans"
Bowie did a series of projects with Nine Inch Nails founder Trent Reznor in the mid-'90s, which included a joint tour and some remix work. Though Bowie's 1995 album "Outside" borrowed the most from Reznor's NIN oeuvre, his biggest contribution to Bowie's legacy came on the Reznor remix of "Earthling's" "I'm Afraid of Americans." It's alarmingly simple—Bowie runs from Reznor through the streets of New York—but it purely captures a feeling of pre-millennial paranoia that infused a lot of Bowie's end-of-the-century work.
6. "Absolute Beginners"
"Absolute Beginners: is a flop of a rock musical starring Bowie and directed by Julien Temple ("The Great Rock and Roll Swindle"), but it has a killer Bowie-provided soundtrack. The title track's video (also directed by Temple) does a far better job of expressing the noirish romanticism of Colin MacInnes' far-superior novel. It's even got a great dance-fighting scene at the end!
7. "Ashes to Ashes"
Lots of Bowie's more recent output has been about looking back at the nooks and crannies of his own career, but he has been doing that since the '70s. "Ashes to Ashes" checks in on Major Tom from "Space Oddity" and finds him a strung out mess. Bowie, dressed as a creepy French clown and flanked by faux-clergy, provides Tom with a fitting funeral march.
8. "Life on Mars"
Deceptively simple and unabashedly lovely, "Life on Mars" is fueled by one of Bowie's most deeply effective tools: his alien-like eyes. No wonder he was able to convince people he was a man from the stars.
9. "Little Wonder"
"Earthling," released in 1997, might be the only Bowie album that found him chasing a trend rather than predicting one. Still, even though he was a few years late to the electronica party, his experiments with dance music (particularly his dalliances with drum'n'bass and jungle, two subgenres that were huge in England at the time) are strong and compelling. The first single, "Little Wonder," found Bowie linking the rave drug culture to his own Aladdin Sane period, all with that cool sped-up effect.
10. "Love Is Lost (Hello Steve Reich Mix By James Murphy for the DFA)"
Bowie kickstarted his own career resurrection with the release of 2013's "The Next Day," a shockingly tight collection of songs that looked back without being nostalgic. Unwilling to tour, Bowie relied on videos to get his message out, and he ended up releasing seven clips associated with songs from the album. The best is the short that accompanies former LCD Soundsystem mastermind James Murphy's remix of "Love Is Lost," which opens with a bit of casual phone video of Bowie washing his hands and soon projects his visage onto a faceless, motionless figure. It hits on a lot of the themes that pop up regularly in Bowie videos, like paranoia (pay attention to the old man down the hall, staring blankly), the limits of the human body, and the terrifying nature of both mannequins and clowns.