David Bowie’s song ★ (‘Blackstar’) was released as a digital download on 19 November 2015, the same day that the video was released on David Bowie’s YouTube and Vevo channels.
The song had originally been more than 11 minutes long, but was edited to 9:57 after Bowie and Tony Visconti learned that iTunes would not allow tracks for individual sale that lasted longer than 10 minutes.
It’s total bullshit, but David was adamant it be the single, and he didn’t want both an album version and a single version, since that gets confusing.
Rolling Stone, 23 November 2015
The song was a top ten hit in Japan and Portugal, and top 40 in Belgium, Hungary, Italy, and Switzerland. In the UK it peaked at 61 on the official singles chart, and on the US Billboard Hot 100 climbed no higher than 78.
The video was published on the same day that the song was released. It was directed by Johan Renck, whom Bowie had already worked with on the theme for the Sky Atlantic series The Last Panthers.
At the very beginning, he sent me drawings which were great and he kind of left it at that. I took a lot of those drawings and I went with them. Sometimes it’s interesting to work from a completely white paper, but many times if the artist is interested and he has ideas and they’re good, I love working with that because it’s a great starting point.
We had a drawing of [Button Eyes], which was pretty amazing. He had a drawing of a woman kneeling by a man in a spacesuit and he had a few other drawings so they’re clearly represented in the video.
CBC Music, 23 November 2015
The video was screened on 19 November at the Nitehawk Cinema in Brooklyn, with Renck and Tony Visconti in attendance. After the screening Renck took part in an audience Q&A.
When we spoke about when this video is gonna come out and I told him that there’s gonna be interviews and shit like that, I told him, ‘Be aware I’m not doing any of this to get any of your fucking glory or sheen on me, I don’t care about that. I’m doing it to support your music.’ And he said ‘I know you wont do that. The one thing I think is important is to not go into any second guessing or analyzing what these images mean, because they’re between you and me. People are going to go head over heels to try to break it down and figure it down across the spectrum, and there’s no point in even engaging that.’ And I said I totally agree. I’ve never been one to talk analytically about a music video or whatever I do. Because this is what I made, it comes from somewhere. You make of it whatever the fuck you want, I’m not going to push any of my ideas onto you.
Vice, 19 November 2015
Bowie plays three different roles in the video: the tormented and bandaged Button Eyes; a priest figure holding a tattered book bearing the ‘Blackstar’ logo; and a charismatic trickster – “the great I am” – who plays the central Blackstar role.
The character there, we named him Button Eyes, I was there when that character was born. It’s not like, ‘Hmm, what can we do that’s cool and different, that people will be interested in?’ He sent me drawings. He just said, ‘I want a mask with buttons for eyes.’
What I didn’t do is ask ‘what is he?’ Because I’m not interested in that. I’m interested in what comes out of him, and interested in Button Eyes. So in the video there are clearly two characters—there’s Button Eyes, who’s introverted, a sort of tormented blind guy. And then we have this other guy who’s a flamboyant trickster in the middle of it, selling us the message in the other part of the song.
Vice, 19 November 2015
The video was choreographed by Kira Alker and Elke Luyten of Zus Performance, both of whom also cast the dancers. The company’s website states: “The choreography for ‘Blackstar’ was born out of their previous work called Death Drive, taking physical compulsion as an impetus for dance.”
Luyten appeared in the ‘Blackstar’ video as one of the jittering dancers, and again as the girl under the bed in the ‘Lazarus’ video. The other performers were Elisa Lasowski (who played the woman with the tail), Evvie Allison, Anna Azrieli, Ezra Azrieli Holzman, Rachel Berman, David Bowie, Kay Ottinger, Lydia Chrisman, Sebastian Ghita, Sara Gibbons, Stephanie Gibson, Elisa Lasowski, Mickey Mahar, Lindsay Dietz Marchant, Bogdan Olaru, Emi Oshima, Angeli Sion, Cameran Surles, David Thompson, and Diana Vladu.
The ‘Blackstar’ video won the award for Best Art Direction at the 2016 MTV Video Music Awards.
Also on this day...
- 1966: Live: David Bowie and the Buzz, Royal Links Pavilion, Cromer
- 1965: Live: David Bowie and the Lower Third, Marquee Club, London
Want more? Visit the David Bowie history section.