In this unearthed clip from 1983, a young Bowie asks important questions about racial representation in music
David Bowie is famous for pushing boundaries and challenging attitudes, but this did not stop with his gender-bending or eccentric sense of style. He also used his own success as a platform to challenge discrimination of others in the media. Looking peachy in this MTV interview from 1983, Bowie directs an important question towards Mark Goodman (the interviewer): “I’m just flawed by the fact that there are so few black artists featured on it – why is that?”
After Goodman gives a feeble reply, mentioning that MTV “is thinking in terms of narrow casting” Bowie chimes in that “that’s evident”, pointing out that the only black artists that seem to be on MTV are from 2am until around 6am, where viewership is less. It might not be surprising that in the same year, MTV also initially refused to air Michael Jackson’s “Billy Jean” video, which ironically was one of the main hits which helped MTV to break into the mainstream.
Goodman then explains that: “we have to try and do what we think not only New York or Los Angeles would appreciate, but also some towns in the U.S.” Goodman goes on to cringingly exclaim that some towns “would be scared to death by Prince, which we’re playing.” In other words, he thinks that the racists of the less liberal cities and towns wouldn’t like MTV if they display music by black artists, and that MTV is choosing to pander to them. Right.
“That’s very interesting…” Bowie wryly retorts and at one point the camera zooms in to his critical gaze as he says: “it does seem to be rampant through American media. Should it not be a challenge to try and make the media far more integrated?” Unfortunately, it’s a question that still feels just as relevant today.