Where I’m from, when someone says “that’s interesting” to you, it means they couldn’t care less about what you’re saying. As write-offs go, it’s a relatively direct one. “That’s interesting” translates: “you are saying something that is strange or beyond me or in some way inapplicable to my life, and I don’t care to think about it anymore” . It doesn’t mean “that’s not interesting” ; it means: “this is *very* interesting. Far too interesting for me to be interested in going out of my way to process to it” .
I find David Bowie to be one of the most interesting artists out there. He’s atypical and flashy and “makes you think”, but nothing he’s ever done has inspired me to actually think about it. Reinvention is interesting. Aliens are interesting. Performative androgyny is interesting. But what any of them suggest other than “the status quo can be easily shaken” is beyond me. I love his music and his visuals, but as far as actual critical thinking go he leaves me cold. Ziggy Stardust is a great album with ten great songs. Ziggy Stardust the character has cool jumpsuits. “Ziggy Stardust the Messianic Narrative” is maybe kind of dumb.
The video for Blackstar, directed by Johan Renck, is the latest entry in Bowie’s oe uvre. It is definitely interesting! There’s a lot going on here: aliens; performative androgyny; reinventions (two or three of them). Also, a girl with both a unibrow and a tail, and a recreation of the Crucifixion, and a book with a black star on it. It’s a lot to take in, but it doesn’t feel necessary for me to actually take in any of it.
Johan Renck’s recent interview with Noi sey about Blackstar is telling. He presents indifferent platitudes more than ambiguous hints at meaning; his first recorded words are: “Most things like this are in the eye of the beholder, you know?”. Later he says: “I’m not looking for an effect, I’m not looking for a reaction”. He claims that the crucifixion scene has nothing to do with the Bible, shrugs his shoulders at Aleister Crowley allusions, and says that the girl has the tail because “it’s kind of sexual”. As a refusal to play into the critical analysis game, this is noble. But it’s also essentially a confession that this is just a bunch of weird shit thrown into ten minutes of 1080p.
I’m not going to complain about Renck’s style, because all things considered he’s produced a decently entertaining video. The visuals are striking and occasionally moving. David Bowie writhing with button eyes is unsettling; the twitchy choreography is nervous-making. These are anxious times, and this is an anxious video. The shot of the girl with the tail bending over the dead astronaut under a massive, violent eclipse speaks to… something. I don’t know what it is, but I know that it’s real and that I can’t really describe it in eight hundred words.
Regardless though, Renck and Bowie’s “whatever” line is frustrating and more than a little dishonest. Ten minutes is a long time to put up with a music video that explicitly refuses to inhabit any sort of meaning. If I’m moved by tail-girl and dead astronaut is because they meet one minute in, and I expect that maybe something will happen between them that has actual legitimate impact. If I was a girl with a tail, I think opening up the helmet of a dead astronaut during an eclipse would be a legitimate life-changing moment for me, not just the start of a long string of weirdly choreographed dance circles. But that’s all that kind-of-sexual tail-girl gets. And in the end, that’s all I get from Blackstar. Like so many other absurdist videos, it strips legitimately loaded images of their meaning and reduces everything to randomness – to the point of making a very obvious allusion to one of the most alluded to events in Western civilization into an arbitrary chance.
I don’t want to suggest anything that diminishes the role that Five Years has played in my life, or the transcendental beauty of Low, or the annual pleasure of the Bowie/Crosby Little Drummer Boy duet. And I don’t mean to say that the visuals and personas that have accompanied those things aren’t entertaining and, in their time, politically important. I even think that Blackstar is a pretty good song and that it s video fits it nicely. But I’d really like to push anyone who thinks that this sort of thing is legitimately interesting to demonstrate why they think so. By “interesting” I actually mean *interesting*: something that does more than shake the already-shaken status quo. But maybe that more isn’t necessary. Sometimes “interesting” is all there is to say. And maybe that’s all the credit that Blackstar needs or wants.