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MUSI260 Special Topic David Bowie

This multidisciplinary paper on David Bowie's career will be taught by one of the world's leading authorities on the subject, Dr Ian Chapman. MUSI 260 will focus on of one of the most important figures in the history of popular music from the perspectives of music, gender studies, film and media studies, theatre, performing arts, and fashion. Throughout the paper, every decade of Bowie's music, image and performance style will be discussed and analysed, with Dr Chapman going in-depth on Bowie’s music, lyrics, album covers, and stage performances…and more.

Paper title Special Topic David Bowie
Paper code MUSI260
Subject Music
EFTS 0.1500
Points 18 points
Teaching period Not offered in 2020
Domestic Tuition Fees (NZD) $1,080.30
International Tuition Fees (NZD) $4,555.35

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18 100-level points
Schedule C
Arts and Music

You need to have completed a first-year paper to do this paper and have the ability to write an essay. Ability to read music is not required.


Dr Ian Chapman
+64 3 479 5012

Teaching staff

Dr Ian Chapman

Paper Structure

Weeks 1-2: Beginnings

  1. An introduction to David Bowie, including an overview of how he is viewed in popular musicology, the media, and popular culture
  2. Biographical background plus early-career performance experiences, achievements, influences
  3. The first three albums: musical, lyrical and iconographical analysis. Study songs: 'Rubber Band', 'Space Oddity', 'The Man Who Sold the World'
  4. Viewing: Love You Till Tuesday and Pierrot in Turquoise or The Looking Glass Murders

Weeks 3-4: The Rise and Rise of David Bowie

  1. Musical, lyrical and iconographical analysis of Hunky Dory (1971) and The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1972). Study songs: 'Oh You Pretty Things', 'Five Years', 'Star'
  2. Glam rock's brightest star continues (1973-74). Musical, lyrical and iconographical analysis of Aladdin Sane, Pin Ups, Diamond Dogs. Study songs: 'Aladdin Sane', 'Rebel Rebel'
  3. Shape-shifting (1975-79). Musical, lyrical and iconographical analysis of Young Americans, Station to Station, and the Berlin trilogy albums. Study songs: 'Young Americans', 'TVC15', 'Warszawa'
  4. Musical, lyrical and iconographical analysis of Scary Monsters (1980) and an investigation into Bowie's employment of self-referencing

Weeks 5-6: Bowie and Film

  1. Introduction to film analysis - why analyse films? Introduction to film terminology. Overview of David Bowie on film
  2. Key film text: The Man Who Fell to Earth (Dir. Nicolas Roeg, 1976). Historical context. Literary background, plot and production, plus reception
  3. The music videos - brief history of the music video. Bowie as video artist, pre-MTV, Bowie and the 'cinematic music video', analysis of key videos: 'Space Oddity', 'Life On Mars' and 'John, I'm Only Dancing'
  4. Class test #1

Weeks 7-8: Gender and Theatre

  1. Introduction to gender. Gender as performance. Postmodern fluid sexual identity. Bowie's key album covers, press interviews, television appearances
  2. Bringing it all together: critical/cultural analysis of gender and sexuality in a media text. Key text: Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars (1973)
  3. Bowie through a performance artist lens
  4. "So I felt like an actor" Bowie, Brecht, breaking down the fourth wall

Weeks 9-10: Theatre continued and Fashion

  1. Unpacking Bowie's creation of Mise-en-scènes upon the rock stage
  2. Bowie's use of fashion in the visual construction of alienation ('the other'), including his adoption of Japanese influences
  3. Bowie's ongoing influence upon contemporary fashion
  4. Viewing: Cracked Actor or Five Years

Weeks 11-12: Mid-Late Career

  1. Bowie through the 1980s and 1990s: to the mainstream and back to the fringe
  2. Post-millennium Bowie: resurgence and come-back triumph
  3. Summary of the paper
  4. Class test #2

Week 13: Revision and Discussion

Assessment: 100 percent internal assessment, comprising two class tests (week 3 and week 6) weighted at 25% each and one major essay of 2,500 words weighted at 50%.


Ian Chapman. Experiencing David Bowie: A Listener's Guide. Scarecrow Press, Rowman & Littlefield Publishers Inc, US, 2015.

This is not compulsory to purchase but will be strongly recommended reading for students. Further texts will be included in the paper profile.

Graduate Attributes Emphasised

Interdisciplinary perspective, Scholarship, Communication, Critical thinking, Research, Information literacy.
View more information about Otago's graduate attributes.

Learning Outcomes

By the end of this paper, students will demonstrate an ability to analyse and discuss how and why David Bowie made such an impact upon the popular culture of the twentieth century. While they will be able to do this within each of the specific disciplines of music, theatre, film, fashion and gender studies, they will also demonstrate knowledge of the fact that it is precisely this interdisciplinary amalgam that has made the artist unique. The skill-set they will develop through undertaking this study is necessarily broad and far-reaching. They will demonstrate a commitment to intellectual openness and curiosity and an awareness of the limits of current knowledge and of the links amongst disciplines.

The paper also requires a methodological flexibility. They will develop critical thinking skills across disciplines, thereby aligning their learning process to the following graduate attribute: the ability to analyse issues logically, to challenge conventional assumptions, to consider different options and viewpoints, make informed decisions and act with flexibility, adaptability and creativity.

Particularly during the preparation of their major (summative) essay - designed to draw together the interdisciplinary threads of knowledge accrued during the paper into an overview (2,500 words and a 50% weighting) - students will further develop their skills in research because they will need to discern what is valuable to their task: to be able to pick and choose relevant information, filtering out that which is unnecessary. By doing this they will develop the ability to conduct research by recognising when information is needed and by locating, retrieving, evaluating and using it effectively.

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Not offered in 2020

Teaching method
This paper is taught On Campus
Learning management system