Bowie at the Brits

Professor John Street explains the significance of David Bowie’s intervention in the Scottish independence debate at the Brit Awards.

David Bowie’s award of the prize for ‘Best British Male’ at the Brits has garnered a lot of attention. Not just because he is the oldest winner, but because, through his representative on earth, Kate Moss, he urged the Scots to vote ‘no’ in the forthcoming independence referendum.

Bowie is not known as a celebrity politician. He is not often seen in the company of Bono, Bob Geldof and Chris Martin. Indeed, like another celebrity in the independence debate, Sean Connery, he is not often seen in the UK either. And, for some, his most famous previous dalliance with politics prior to this was his apparent suggestion that the UK needed some firm-handed fascism.  This momentary aberration is often taken as one of the catalysts of Rock Against Racism in the late 1970s.

The Brits, however, have played their own very modest part in the history of British politics. Back in 1985, when Labour was failing dismally to impress the British electorate, Neil Kinnock appeared at the ceremony to hand out an award. Other political leaders followed his example, but only Kinnock had the additional honour of having appeared in a pop video – for Tracey Ullman’s ‘My Guy’ (unless we count Nick Clegg’s ‘I’m Sorry’).

Appearing at the Brits is not a guarantee of political success, as John Prescott found when he was doused with water at the 1998 awards by the band Chumbawamba.

There is, though, something striking about this very minor storm in a very small teacup. Bowie’s intervention is in stark contrast to the reaction of other bands and performers. Pressed by a BBC reporter to say what they thought about Scottish independence, the usually feisty Arctic Monkeys and their fellow performers offered a very diplomatic ‘no comment’ – thinking, perhaps, of sales and streaming north of the border. But in their silence, they were typical. Most musicians spend most of their time not engaging with mainstream politics. The late Pete Seeger was the exception, not the rule.

John Street is a professor of politics in the School of Political, Social and International Studies.

photo credit: ilfattoquotidiano

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