David Bowie’s ‘Where Are We Now?’ was released without promotion or publicity on 8 January 2013, Bowie’s 66th birthday.
Bowie had been mostly out of the public eye since the end of A Reality Tour in 2004, and had not released any new music since the previous year’s Reality. There had been rumours of ill-health and retirement, and expectations of new music were low.
‘Where Are We Now?’ was released without advance publicity at 5am GMT on the morning of 8 January 2013. The video went live on Bowie’s YouTube and VEVO channels, followed by news of the forthcoming album The Next Day.
The video for ‘Where Are We Now?’ was directed by artist Tony Oursler, who had previously worked with Bowie on the ‘Little Wonder’ video and the Earthling tour. Bowie appeared alongside Oursler’s wife, fellow artist Jacqueline Humphries.
‘Where Are We Now?’ came with artwork by Jonathan Barnbrook, who had previously worked with Bowie on Heathen and Reality. It featured a live shot of Bowie taken at New York’s Radio City in 1974, rotated 180°.
Bowie did no promotion for the release, although producer Tony Visconti did give several interviews about the song and The Next Day. Visconti described the sense of anticipation he and Bowie had in the run-up to the release.
I couldn’t sleep. I’d kept a secret for two years, I knew the release date for two months, it was a count- down, 47 days to go… the final day we were e-mailing each other. I’d say, ‘I’m biting all my nails down, it’s 2 hours and 35 minutes’, and he would write back, ‘2 hours and 26 minutes’. Then I saw some posts on Bowie Worldwide just after midnight: ‘Holy shit’, ‘Oh my God…’ Everyone had written him off. The next day he was very happy about how well it had been received. ‘Well, what did you expect?’, I said.
The single received much airplay, and topped the iTunes download chart by 3pm on its day of release. It was initially deemed ineligible for the British singles chart because it was free to advance purchasers of The Next Day, but the Official Charts Company resolved the matter and on 13 January it charted at number six on the UK singles chart. It was Bowie’s biggest UK hit since ‘Absolute Beginners’ in 1986, and his first top ten single since 1993’s ‘Jump They Say’.
On 8 January 2013, the day pre-orders opened, The Next Day topped the iTunes charts in Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the UK. It reached the top 10 in Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Norway and the United States on the same day.
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