With this year’s release of “The Next Day” – David Bowie’s first album in more than a decade announced on his 66th birthday – it seemed that the singer is what you’d call an elder statesmen of pop music, with all the respect and, yes, coziness that comes with that role. Bowie is no longer the dangerous and unknowable androgynous entity of the 1970s, nor the groundbreaking artist he was hailed as during his 1990s renaissance. Instead, he was simply Bowie, and everyone knew what to expect: Something artsy, melancholy, but essentially safe.
Clearly, something had to change. And, with the removal of the video for Bowie’s “The Next Day” single from YouTube yesterday, something did.
It wasn’t just the removal that managed to refresh Bowie’s reputation as a risk taker – that alone would have seemed unusual but unworthy of comment outside of the hardcore Bowie fan circles. Instead, what makes this particularly newsworthy is the fact that the video was temporarily replaced by a notice that it was violating YouTube’s Terms of Service. When the Bowie video reappeared on the site, it suddenly had a brand new warning suggesting that it was suitable only for viewers above the age of 18.
According to a Google spokesperson, the video was removed in the first place due to an overreaction to the video’s content. “With the massive volume of videos on our site, sometimes we make the wrong call,” she told the Guardian. “When it’s brought to our attention that a video has been removed mistakenly, we act quickly to reinstate it.”
What likely made the video – directed by Italian photographer and filmmaker Floria Sigismondi from a concept and script by Bowie himself – problematic to YouTube was the religious overtones to the short. If you were able to catch a glimpse before the take down, the video featured Bowie as a Messianic figure performing for the crowd along with scenes of priests drinking at a bar and interacting with women who are implied to be prostitutes. Actress Marion Cotillard is also in the vid, appearing to have stigmata-like wounds from which blood spurts, covering those around her.
Whether or not the video’s removal was a simple error that was quickly fixed, or YouTube reversed an original decision in light of the reaction, one thing is clear: The temporary lack of availability to the video didn’t hurt Bowie one bit. Just the opposite, in fact: It may have helped his reputation more than anything else during this latest promotional cycle. Still, we have to wonder what’s going on at the YouTube house of censorship. In March, it allowed Robin Thicke’s unrated music video for “Blurred Lines” to air without an age restriction for days, yet Bowie’s somewhat Safe For Work video gets reprimanded. Looks like things are getting a little erratic in the Google offices.