The video for ‘Where Are We Now?’ appeared without publicity or promotion on YouTube and Vevo at 5am GMT on the morning of Tuesday 8 January 2013, Bowie’s 66th birthday.
Shortly after the video, the song’s audio was made available on download and streaming services. News followed of Bowie’s forthcoming album The Next Day, and just a few hours later the song and pre-orders for the album had propelled both to the top of the iTunes charts.
You would think that the first single would be a rocker, like if the Stones made a new album, it’s what they would come out with as the lead track. I love ‘Where Are We Now?’ but when he said this was the first single, it did surprise me, but I should know better. He’s always going to do something you don’t expect him to do, even me. When I saw the video, I thought it was literally a work of video art, it was so beautifully done. To see the two-headed doll, the black-and-white footage of Berlin… I cried the first time I saw it. I wasn’t expecting that. Of course, the big message was – Bowie is back!
Bowie’s publicist, Alan Edwards of the Outside Organisation, learnt of the song four days prior to its release. On 7 January he primed a select few members of the UK media, including the BBC’s arts correspondent John Wilson, who in turn contacted the editor of one of the corporation’s flagship news programmes, BBC Radio 4’s Today. This ensured headline news at daybreak the following morning.
Edwards’ team also gave cryptic clues to various other key figures in the media, warning them that a major release was about to drop.
We had pre-warned influencers like Caitlin Moran and Dylan Jones that there was gonna be something interesting popping into their mailbox at 5am the next morning. And from there it just proliferated. They tweeted about it, and it went like wildfire on social media.
Music Moguls, 2016
‘Where Are We Now?’ 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. This made it Bowie’s biggest his since ‘Absolute Beginners’ in 1986, and his first top ten single since 1993’s ‘Jump They Say’. It also meant that Bowie attained top ten hits in five different decades, from the 1960s to the 2010s.
It was a disappointment when ‘Where Are We Now?’ failed to make No 1 in America. It’s a beautiful song and when I first heard it I cried, with all the lyrics and everything. But it’s also the way he did the video – he made himself so vulnerable. It was a really gracious gift on his part, because he really let us in with that song. It’s bittersweet and it’s simple and it’s melancholy as well.
David Bowie: Ultimate Record Collection (Uncut)
The single topped the chart in Portugal, was number two in Denmark, Germany, and Poland, and was a top ten hit in Belgium, France, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Spain, and the United Kingdom. In the US it reached 16 on Billboard‘s Bubbling Under Hot 100 Single chart.
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.