The Brits highlights music’s hypocrisy over Bowie

If the music industry really wants to honour Bowie, try signing more mavericks like him, argues Tim Arnold.

David Bowie, set to be "honoured" at the BRITs
Fresh stardust David Bowie's unreleased music is about to be heard for the first time. Image Picture by Mick Rock

The nominations for the BRIT Awards have highlighted just how hypocritical it is of the music industry to “honour” David Bowie at next month’s ceremony.

Exactly who do the BRITs think will be capable of doing justice to Bowie’s work? James Bay or Jess Glynne going anywhere near Bowie’s music is enough to bring anyone out in hives (unless it’s that BBC News reader who named Ground Control as her favourite Bowie song.)

Years & Years could maybe do a passable synthpop reinvention of The Jean Genie.

But it’s more likely those bleeding-edge tastemakers at major record labels will decide it’s a good idea for Calvin Harris to remix one of Bowie’s biggest hits. The results will inevitably send people screaming to the hills, like Fatboy Slim’s mauling of The Rolling Stones’ Sympathy For The Devil.

“If an industry can applaud all Bowie’s qualities, isn’t it time it started supporting artists who actually HAVE those qualities?”

Something every single writer who’s paid tribute to Bowie this week has mentioned is how innovative he was, how he transformed pop music throughout his career. But where is there any sign of anyone who can do that who the record industry has signed in the past five years?

The fact there is a lot less money coming into the music business over the past decade means it’s understandable labels are scared of signing anything other than surefire bland bets like Sam Smith and Emeli Sandé.

But it means that someone as adventurous as Bowie wouldn’t have stood a chance in today’s river of beige.

It’s a problem maverick musician Tim Arnold despairs over. Arnold has made concept albums about Shakespeare and persuaded Benedict Cumberbatch to star in a musical, Sonnet 155. All without any help from the music industry.

Here, Arnold tells Loaded why it’s time the music industry needs to embrace challenging musicians again if it’s to have any longterm hope of saving itself.


Why the music industry needs to look for a new Bowie, not a new boyband – by Tim Arnold

I’m no different from most musicians whose world changed on Monday with the news that David Bowie passed away.

There hasn’t been a single song I’ve written or recorded since I was 15 when I didn’t think “What would Bowie do?” And, since I’ve written a song every day since I was 15, it means Bowie has passed through my thoughts more often than my own family has. I was quite astonished by that when I realised it.

“Here is a real opportunity to honour Bowie’s legacy”

Bowie’s influence on all of us who create music is monumental (and, yes, there should be a statue of him in Trafalgar Square).

But there’s one thing that has shocked me over the last few days that I found to be hypocritical to say the least. People who work in the ‘music industry’ and the ‘media’ who have waxed lyrical about Bowie using these words…

“Innovative”; “Challenging”; “Daring”; “NOT commercially driven”; “Driven by art”; “Unique”; “Non-conformist”; “Unconventional”; “Against the grain”; “Counterculture”; “Never followed the pack”…

These writers explained how Bowie conceived entire albums like potted musicals; melded theatre and rock & roll; how he fused music, dancing and acting. They said Bowie sang in his own voice.

If an industry can applaud all of these qualities, isn’t it about time the industry started supporting artists who actually HAVE those qualities?

Singer-songwriter Tim Arnold
Tim for heroes Tim Arnold says it's time the industry began signing forward-thinking artists like David Bowie again.

Speaking personally, I was born to make and appreciate albums, but the only way I’ve achieved making my albums over the last decade is by doing it myself. I’ve had to totally steer clear of record labels.

What’s that all about? But if you slave over your art and it’s the only thing you do, you can’t slow down by listening to people who only think about demographics, genre and categories. You have to keep going. And you have to try not to acknowledge the mediocre lack of imagination that purveys the music industry today.

Artists are passionate. We can’t breathe without passion. But I feel strongly that passion should also govern more of the business as well.

Shakespearean Cumberbatch Benedict Cumberbatch in Tim Arnold's Sonnet 155 musical

The industry, as it stands, is teaching young artists to learn more about Facebook algorithms to increase your page likes rather than anything to do with deep human connection through music.

And make no mistake, Bowie’s passing has an authentic morphic resonance. This is not an experience we are downloading. It is in our memory and it’s in our DNA, precisely because Bowie communicated honestly with all humanity through his art. With no filter. A freedom of expression.

If the overwhelming outpouring of human emotion we are witnessing on a global scale this week is in part down to the fertile creative ground of the 1970s and its approach to allowing artists to really express themselves, then here… well, here is a REAL opportunity to honour Bowie’s legacy.

People who are leading what’s left of the music industry should finally hang up their formulaic spurs, and start taking both chances AND risks on the qualities of artists like David Bowie that they are now celebrating.

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