Written by: David Bowie, Reeves Gabrels, Alex Grant
Recorded: 1998; February-June 1999
Producers: David Bowie, Reeves Gabrels
Engineer: Kevin Paul
Released: 4 October 1999
David Bowie: vocals
Reeves Gabrels: guitar
Mark Plati: bass guitar
Mike Levesque: drums
Alex Grant, Larry Tressler: vocals
‘What’s Really Happening?’ was a song co-written by David Bowie, Reeves Gabrels, and fan Alex Grant. It appears on Bowie’s 21st studio album ‘hours…’.
In October 1998 Bowie’s website announced a songwriting contest in which fans were invited to submit lyrics for a new piece of music, titled ‘What’s Really Happening?’. Although Bowie wrote his own lyrics for the song, they have never been made public.
The prizes included a $15,000 contract with publishing company Bug Music, a trip to New York to attend the recording session, a one-year subscription to BowieNet, Bowie’s complete back catalogue, $500 worth of music from CDNow, and a three-year subscription to Rolling Stone.
‘WHAT’S REALLY HAPPENING’ WITH DAVID BOWIE
SONGWRITING CONTEST, IN WHICH WINNER CO-WRITES NEW SONG WITH DAVID AND BOWIENET MEMBERS TO CREATE COVER ART, PACKAGING GRAPHICS AND LINER NOTES FOR FIRST VIRTUAL CD
DAVID BOWIE has announced that he is hosting a songwriting contest, whereby contestants compete to become co-writer on one of his new songs, titled ‘WHAT’S REALLY HAPPENING.’ BOWIE has written the music and chorus for the song and participants are asked to submit three verses.
BOWIE will pick the winner (from a list of finalists chosen by the public), who will not only receive co-writer credit, but a $15,000 publishing contract compliments of international music publisher Bug Music, a trip to New York to be present when the song is recorded and a three-year subscription to Rolling Stone, along with gift certificates from CDNow and BarnesandNoble.com The grand prize winner will also receive a free one-year subscription to BowieNet, the music industry’s newest Internet Service Provider. Contest voters are eligible to win daily prizes awarded for their participation. The contest, which begins November 2 and is open to anyone world wide with access to an internet connection, can be found on www.davidbowie.com. Click on button for “cybersong contest,” where you will be able to hear the song and submit your verses.
The melody and chorus were made available on davidbowie.com. The contest opened on 2 November 1998 and was open to everyone from established musicians to amateur songwriters. The 80,000 entrants included members of The Cure. Other submissions included a rewrite of ‘The Laughing Gnome’, and an unaltered ‘Wind Beneath My Wings’.
The winner, however, was 20-year-old Alex Grant from Ohio. On 24 May 1999, Grant attended a recording session at New York’s Looking Glass Studios where the vocals were recorded; the music had previously been recorded in Bermuda.
Also in attendance was Grant’s friend Larry Tressler. Both men added backing vocals to the track.
That was a fun session. Alex was great. He was there with a friend, and they seemed a bit numb just being in New York and in a recording studio, especially that particular session. There were lights, cameras, journalists, and catering (I actually wore pants as opposed to bike shorts, which left David and Reeves a bit numb). But Alex was fine with David, and a good sport. He and his friend ended up singing background vocals on the track. Still, he seemed to be in a state of disbelief the entire session.
Strange Fascination, David Buckley
What's Really Happening. One of my favorite songs on the album… I had been upset when DB announced he wanted to hold a website competition for writing the first verse. (continued…) #TimsTwitterListeningParty #hourswithreeves
— reeves gabrels (@reevesgabrels) September 4, 2020
What's Really Happening. (cont. from prior) As it turned out, Alex Grant's lyrics are excellent. (Maybe better than DB's second verse…) 😎 #TimsTwitterListeningParty #hourswithreeves
— reeves gabrels (@reevesgabrels) September 4, 2020
The session was webcast live on davidbowie.com, rollingstone.com, and lucent.com, and was reportedly the first ever to use a Lucent Technology 360° camera.
I was drawn to the idea of launching BowieNet in part because it serves as a forum for the exchange of ideas among people with common interests. Opening my initial thoughts on ‘What’s Really Happening’ for input on the web was a unique songwriting experience. Now, I am looking forward to the next step where I share the final formation of the cyber song with my co-writer, Alex Grant, and the web-at-large in a 360-degree interactive adventure.
davidbowie.com, 18 May 1999
The ‘hours…’ album was announced in June 1999, ahead of its October release. Although ‘What’s Really Happening?’ was originally intended to be a BowieNet exclusive, it was mentioned in the first press release for the album.
DAVID BOWIE TO INCLUDE “WHAT’S REALLY HAPPENING,” THE TRACK WRITTEN IN THE CYBER-SONG BOWIENET CONTEST, ON FORTHCOMING ALBUM TITLED ‘hours…’ DUE OUT OCTOBER 5 ON VIRGIN RECORDS
DAVID BOWIE has just finished recording hours… his forthcoming album due out October 5 on Virgin Records. Produced by Bowie and longtime collaborator/guitarist Reeves Gabrels, the album will contain such songs as ‘Thursday’s Child’, ‘Survive’ and ‘The Dreamers’, as well as ‘What’s Really Happening’, the song co-written by Alex Grant, winner of the BowieNet cybersong contest.
‘What’s Really Happening’, regarded as the first true cyber-song, was the result of collaborative efforts between Bowie and co-writer Alex Grant, who was one of 80,000 people who submitted lyrics online to the Bug Music-sponsored BowieNet cyber-song contest. Last month, fans around the world were able to watch a live webcast of the recording session on BowieNet, Tunes.com/RollingStone.com and the Lucent Technologies FullView web site, as Bowie laid down the song tracks with Grant and his friend singing background. This event marked the first-ever public webcast using the 360-degree FullView camera, invented at Bell Labs, the research and development arm of Lucent Technologies (NYSE: LU). According to Bowie, “The most gratifying part of the evening for me was being able to encourage Alex and his pal Larry to sing on the song that he, Alex, had written. It was a cool way to finish the session off.”
The mysteriously titled “hours…” features: Bowie, vocals, keyboard and 12-string acoustic guitar; Reeves Gabrels, electric and acoustic guitars, keyboard and programming; Mark Plati, bass, acoustic and electric 12-string guitar, keyboard and drum programming; and Mike Levesque (Dave Navarro Band), drums. The album was mixed by Bowie, Gabrels and Plati. Other details about the album and its first single/video are TBA.
Although Bowie was an early adopter of the internet for distributing music and facilitating communication between musicians and fans, he never repeated the idea of having members of the public contribute to his music.
‘What’s Really Happening?’ was one of four songs on ‘hours…’ never to be performed live by Bowie. The others were ‘New Angels of Promise’, ‘Brilliant Adventure’, and ‘The Dreamers’.