David Bowie releases new single online without fanfare, with album cover reflecting ‘detachment’

Yesterday morning, David Bowie released his new single "Where are We Now?" in a video on his website, without any fanfare or hype: the stark opposite of what other major bands have done when they came back into the spotlight.

"The Next Day" album cover

The single was launched to coincide with Bowie’s 66th birthday, and comes before the launch of new album "The Next Day" on 11 March.

A statement on Bowie’s website read: "Throwing shadows and avoiding the industry treadmill is very David Bowie despite his extraordinary track record."

Designer Jonathan Barnbrook, who created the album cover, said that it too has a low-key feel: “We wanted the cover to be as minimal and undesigned as possible, we felt the most elegant solution was to use the original one from “Heroes” and simply cross out the title of the old album. It has the detachment appropriate for the atmosphere of the new album.”

He added on his blog: “We worked on hundreds of designs using the concept of obscuring this cover but the strongest ones were the simplest – it had to be something that was in direct contrast to the image underneath but that wasn’t too contrived (we know all design is contrived, that is the essence of the word ‘design’). It would have been clearer to many people if we had scribbled all over the cover but that didn’t have the detachment of intent necessary to express the melancholy of the songs on the album. Obscuring Bowie’s image is also reference to his identity, not only in the past when he changed endlessly but that he has been absent from the music scene for the past ten years. Was this an act to hide his identity or that he has simply become more comfortable with it?”

Is this trend in music being released online going to rise? John Oswald, business design lead at design consultancy Fjord, thinks so.

He told The Drum: “We’ve seen seismic shifts in the area of digital distribution of music: the fact that David Bowie’s new song was discovered online and via social media is an indication of how the industry is moving towards access rather than ownership.

“Even long-time critics of online music Metallica have recently put their catalogue on Spotify. Discovering music online is the new normal; services like Spotify prove that people are willing to pay to rent music if they feel they're getting a valuable service.

“The rise of online music means that the industry is now grappling with business models based on subscription and streaming services, and indeed being bypassed completely by artists who can just distribute without the need for a traditional record company. In turn, these services have spawned the beginnings of a 'pay as you go' mentality among content consumers. The David Bowie release plays to the fact that many people now crave access and flexibility to new music – rather than traditional ownership.”

Join us, it's free.

Become a member to get access to:

  • Exclusive Content
  • Daily and specialised newsletters
  • Research and analysis

Join us, it’s free.

Want to read this article and others just like it? All you need to do is become a member of The Drum. Basic membership is quick, free and you will be able to receive daily news updates.