When David Bowie Confronted MTV on Its Stance Toward Black Artists
“Bowie was a great advocate for black music and black musicians.”
David Bowie’s death at the age of 69 Monday has triggered a worldwide outpouring of grief—but also some very thoughtful reflections on the musician’s immense contributions to the world. Sure, he wrote (and sang) remarkable music, but did you know that Bowie was a tech visionary, who launched his own internet service provider in 1998?
Bowie also took a stand against racism in 1983, in an interview with MTV veejay Mark Goodman that resurfaced this week:
“It occurred to me, having watched MTV over the last few months, that’s it’s a solid enterprise … I’m just floored by the fact that there are so few black artists featured on it,” Bowie said. “Why is that?”
“[W]e have to try and do what we think not only New York and Los Angles will appreciate, but also Poughkeepsie or Midwest—pick some town in the Midwest—that would be scared to death by Prince, which we’re playing, or a string of other black faces and black music,” Goodman said.
“That’s very interesting. Isn’t that interesting?” Bowie said, clearly unconvinced.
“Among the many other significant accomplishments in his life, Bowie was a great advocate for black music and black musicians,” Rob Tannenbaum, co-author of I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution, told The Washington Post. “This confrontation with Mark Goodman isn’t an outlier in Bowie’s career. It’s something he did pretty often.”
A number of black artists also loudly and emphatically protested MTV’s lineup of mostly white faces, but Bowie’s critique—particularly because his music videos so often showed up on TV—proved particularly devastating to the channel.
Bowie’s advocacy alone, however, was not enough to alter MTV. The channel needed the unadulterated poppy power of Michael Jackson’s enormous hit song “Billie Jean” to change its mind on the power of amazing black artists and their value to the channel.