There's "Heroes" and "Under Pressure" and Blackstar and Labyrinth, but could David Bowie's biggest gift to the world be his five-inch Ziggy Stardust boots?
The flamboyant footwear, fuchsia hair, and pancake makeup were all part of Bowie's look during the early '70s when he led the glam rock pack, with Mick and Elton by his side. But Bowie — who left us last month and was eulogized by his pop child, Lady Gaga, at Sunday's Grammys — chipped away at gender roles in ways that went beyond costumes.
"You got your mother in a whirl," he sang in 1974's "Rebel Rebel." "She's not sure if you're a boy or a girl."
He discussed his same-sex dalliances and declared himself bisexual in 1976, later bristling at the word, Bowie said he felt "bisexual" didn't accurately capture his sexual reality; just as so many millenials now do.
Even in his later years, Bowie broke down gender constructs, cross-dressing as his good friend, actress Tilda Swinton, as she donned his iconic '80s look.
When it was revealed that Gaga would perform a tribute to Bowie at this year's Grammys, there was a collective nod. Bowie is Gaga's idol — she thanked him for his inspiration in The Fame's liner notes and has consistently honored his style and music in her own videos and performances.
Most queer people know the choice of Gaga was even more fitting because both superstars made it their mission to take apart our ideas on gender and sex. While Bowie had Ziggy, bisexual Gaga had Jo Calderone; her meathead alter ego that grabbed his crotch and hit on chicks.
Watching Gaga slay her six-minute Bowie retrospective last night, I realized a male star of today couldn't do what Gaga's doing. Guy singers are rigidly held to specific standards, which require suits and beards, not wigs and high heels. Even gay pop stars like Adam Lambert and Sam Smith can't deviate too far from typical male standards of fashion and style. Men wearing eyeliner is still a headline and a presidential candidate donning Cuban heels is a joke. Male bisexuality is even more verboten; you're either straight or gay. People get confused by anything else, and publicists will tell celebrities to shut up about that gay hookup in college (see: Tom Hardy).
It's strange to think that a successful male artist pulling off a Ziggy Stardust persona would likely still be as controversial now as it was then. We all know Bowie was ahead of his time, but isn't it about time the music world, and the American public, starting catching up? I don't think I'm the only one who would appreciate Bruno Mars singing about hot guys or Drake poorly dancing in a nice pair of chunky heels.
Neal Broverman is the executive editor of The Advocate.