Blackstar, or ★, was David Bowie’s final album and masterpiece. It was released on the singer’s 69th birthday, 8 January 2016, two days before he died.
The single ‘Blackstar’ went on sale as a digital download ahead of the album, on 19 November 2015.
Already by January 8 they’re going to hear ‘Blackstar’, which isn’t typical of the album but it is typical in the sense that Bowie’s changed again. When ‘Where Are We Now?’ came out I knew that people were almost going to have a heart attack because he’s silent for 10 years, then on the morning of January 8 – here’s David Bowie’s new single! That was exciting. So I don’t think we’ll ever reproduce that feeling again. I’ll be thrilled of course, when it comes out on January 8. I’ll be very, very thrilled.
Mojo, January 2016
To coincide with the single release, Bowie’s website began taking orders for the Blackstar album. A clear vinyl edition was limited to 5,000 copies worldwide, and was sold on the website and in the US from Barnes and Noble stores.
The clear vinyl edition was also available from Bowie’s site in two exclusive bundles: with a choice of one of three lithographs; and with all three lithographs. These bundles sold out in days, although the standalone clear vinyl was available for slightly longer. After Bowie’s death, however, they became highly sought after, with prices reaching over £300 on the secondary market.
The second single released ahead of Blackstar was ‘Lazarus’. This was released as a digital download on 17 December 2015, with the promo video following on 7 January 2016. Johan Renck again directed the video, which had a shorter edit of the song and was presented in a square 1:1 aspect ratio.
Bowie’s wishes for privacy were so respected that members of his own record label were unaware of his cancer. Indeed, some in-store promotional posters issued by Sony for Blackstar included the line “Ask here about pre-order – three signed copies to be won”.
Blackstar was released worldwide through ISO, RCA, Columbia, and Sony. In Germany, a special CD edition in a box with a blackstar metal pin badge, was exclusive to Saturn and Media Markt stores.
The album received positive critical reviews upon its release, but was immediately reassessed after news of Bowie’s death broke on 11 January.
The album was already on course to top the UK albums chart before Bowie’s death was announced. It sold 146,000 copies in the UK in the first week of release, becoming his tenth UK number one album and topping the charts for three weeks.
Blackstar sold over 181,000 copies in the US in the first week, becoming Bowie’s first number one album. The album topped the album charts in 24 countries.
The increased public demand took suppliers and retailers by surprise, and Amazon temporarily sold out of CD and vinyl copies. Record collectors who had missed out on pre-orders for the clear vinyl version made efforts to track down the last remaining copies at Barnes and Noble stores in the US.
Blackstar was the best-selling vinyl album in the UK in 2016, and Bowie was the biggest selling artist on the format, with five albums in the end-of-year top 30. The album topped critics’ polls for the best albums of 2016 in the AV Club, Mojo, Newsweek, Paste, Q, Uncut, Village Voice and The Wire, and additionally topped Rolling Stone‘s readers’ poll.
The album won posthumous Grammy awards for Best Alternative Music Album, Best Recording Package, and Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical, and the title track was awarded Best Rock Performance and Best Rock Song. Blackstar was also awarded British Album of the Year at the 2017 Brit Awards.
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