Bowie On The Evolution Of Audience-Artist Relationships

In a 1999 BBC interview, David Bowie is asked if he’d be a musician if he was just starting out. Bowie explains why he wouldn’t. And he frames it within the context of the emerging impact of the internet. 

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how our environment and how it evolves. Bowie, seeing and explaining this in terms of relationships, really blew my mind.

Think about this: There’s the environment you are born into. The environment you come of age in. And then the environment you’re a mid-lifer in. 

Bowie has the unique ability to take his mid-life environment and see it through a person coming-of-age’s eyes. 

What was a subversive decision inviting reactions like, “You’re in rock and roll?!” years ago, was becoming “A career opportunity” with the birth of the internet in the late ‘90s. 

It’s like the distribution bottleneck was shifting into more powerful bottlenecks (plural!). User generated content and who you could reach was totally different and never going back. Art, and the expression of it, was evolving to something new, something more fragmented. 

Less big art. More viable but much smaller art. Not better, just different. 

Instead of artists leading audiences, he said artists would start accommodating audiences. The creative process wasn’t different, but the mediums of distribution were. And that would change the relationships between audiences and artists in a way that didn’t interest him as much, hence his answer. 

I wonder what he would say about where we are now. Is the success of Taylor Swift and Beyoncé’s 2023 tours a sign of artists starting to lead audiences again? Is the Tik-Tokification of music an even more fragmented version of audience accommodation, where everyone is the artist now, meming along? 

I can’t tell, but it feels like we’re in the midst of another shift. I wonder if he’d want to be a musician now. 

Thanks to Andrew for sending this link. It’s worth your 6ish minutes. What do you think? How does the audience-artist relationship evolve next and why?