Legacy

Musicians from Madonna to Janelle Monae credit the influence of David Bowie

The music icon’s death triggered an outpouring of loving and grateful tributes from artists that include Florence Welch, Annie Lennox, Neko Case and others

Florence Welch, of Florence + the Machine, cites David Bowie as a huge creative influence. ([L] Getty Images; [R] Getty Images)

Female rock stars, musicians, and artists paid tribute to the enduring influence of David Bowie this week, after the iconic musician died from liver cancer at the age of 69 on Sunday night. Bowie’s legacy as a theatrical, highly-visual rock star whose persona rivaled his music in importance continues to influence dozens of successful pop and rock stars today, from Madonna to Lady Gaga to Janelle Monae.

As the world woke to news of Bowie’s passing on Monday morning, Madonna — the most successful female artist to build upon Bowie’s costumed, sexually-charged legacy — poured her grief into Twitter and Facebook posts where she detailed his influence on her. “David Bowie changed the course of my life forever,” she wrote. “I never felt like I fit in growing up in Michigan. Like an oddball or a freak. I went to see him in concert at Cobo Arena in Detroit. It was the first concert I’d ever been too. I snuck out of the house with my girlfriend wearing a cape.”

Madonna built a career on frequently reinventing her persona and music throughout her careers and 13 albums, much like Bowie had done before her. After releasing her first album in 1983, she went onto become the second best-selling female artist of all time (behind Barbara Streisand). In her posts on Monday, Madonna said she was inspired by the way Bowie played with gender confusion, exhibiting both masculine and feminine traits, and was able to be both funny and serious, clever and wise. “I saw how he created a persona and used different art forms within the arena of rock and Roll to create entertainment,” she said. “I found him so inspiring and innovative.”

“I owe you a lot,” she wrote to the rocker directly.

But generations of musicians who have come after Madonna also announced this week the enormous influence Bowie had on them.

Lady Gaga, the pop singer who is perhaps the most visually-influenced artist by Bowie’s dramatic fashion style, said in an interview recorded just before Bowie’s death that she remembers clearly when she “fell in love with David Bowie.”

“I always felt that his glamor was something he was using to express a message to people that was very healing for their souls,” Gaga told the Hollywood Reporter. “He is a true, true artist and I don’t know if I ever went, ‘Oh, I’m going to be that way like this,’ or if I arrived upon it slowly, realizing it was my calling and that’s what drew me to him.“

Gaga, whose pop anthems include the outsider-affirmation anthem “Born This Way,” has become of the best-selling musical artists in history in just the first seven years of her career. She has been recognized for both her contributions to music and fashion, as well as for her Born This Way foundation, which seeks to empower youth to embrace their differences.

Gaga said in the interview that she learned from Bowie that you could use the “theater of your imagination” to entertain people and put something inside of that entertainment that “changes the world.”

The R&B star Janelle Monae, who mixes rap, sci-fi, and funk into her high-concept albums, has covered Bowie’s songs, particularly “Heroes,” to great acclaim, and derives much of her “android” alter-ego from Bowie’s influence, saying that androids are the “new Other” that she hopes alienated listeners might connect to. The six-time Grammy Award nominee also told Rolling Stone in 2014 that she was Bowie was “a part of her musical DNA.”

“Bowie knows what’s up,” Monae said. “He’s a fan and I’m a fan of him. The respect is mutual. I hear from his wife Iman that he’s a huge supporter of me, the way I dress and my music. I just hope that we made him proud.”

A slew of other artists from all corners of the musical world, from the indie-pop queens Neko Case and Florence Welch to pop stars Lorde and Leona Lewis, posted tributes to Bowie as the news of his death broke Monday morning.

“Without Bowie, a lot of people’s self confidence expressed in this song wouldn’t exist,” singer-songwriter Case tweeted Monday with a link to the video for her song “Man,” which plays with gender identity in its lyrics and execution.

“Oh this is terrible news,” the rock singer Linda Perry posted. “We lost an extremely important and influential artist. David Bowie has been a huge inspiration and will be missed.”

Florence Welch, of Florence + the Machine, said Monday that Bowie was a “huge influence” on her throughout her life.

Lorde, singer of the hit single, “Royals,” and Leona Lewis, best known for the hit, “Bleeding Love,” have each posted photo tributes to Bowie on their Instagram accounts in the past, with Lewis captioning a photo of her dressed as Bowie, “If I were a boy… I’d be Bowie.”

“At the loss of someone who has impacted and influenced your life, you can hardly begin to measure the shape of what’s left behind,” Annie Lennox, singer for the new-wave band the Eurythmics, wrote on Facebook on Monday. Lennox, who has won both Grammys and an Oscar for her music and built her public image on Bowie-inspired androgyny, praised Bowie’s final album, Blackstar, as leaving her “breathless.”

And while many artists spoke Monday of how Bowie was a true original and an irreplaceable star, Monae perhaps put it best in 2014 when she him and his influence as, simply, “transcendant.”

“Even now, he’s morphed into something that no one else is doing. That’s what I love most about him; he’s transcendent. He’s a true time traveler and I think that that is a part of who I am and the legacy that I want people to remember. I will never expire. Nor will David Bowie. And I say that with humility, but with the utmost confidence, ” she said.

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