Five pop artists who wouldn’t have existed without David Bowie

People take photographs of a mural of David Bowie in the London district of Brixton, where the British singer was born. Bowie died Sunday at age 69.

People take photographs of a mural of David Bowie in the London district of Brixton, where the British singer was born. Bowie died Sunday at age 69.

(Will Oliver / EPA)
Share via

Among the countless artists paying tribute to David Bowie on social media in the hours following his death at age 69 on Sunday, Lady Gaga retweeted a fan who got right to the heart of the matter.

“In all honesty, Gaga as we know her would not exist without David Bowie,” wrote a Twitter user calling herself Clodagh McGinley.

Lady Gaga isn’t the only one for whom that’s probably true.

A pop star who redefined the very idea of that role – and kept redefining it right up until the day he died – Bowie provided several generations of musicians with example after example of how to look, how to sound, how to be. Here are five artists who took note, along with the songs to prove it.

Lady Gaga

Decades before Gaga was changing her haircut between every single, Bowie was making pop a safe space for serial reinvention. He also made an art of writing about style and celebrity, themes that are hard to avoid in Gaga’s music – especially in songs like “The Fame” and “Fashion!” that borrow his titles.


Kurt Cobain

The Nirvana frontman dealt less directly with the blurriness of persona. But he clearly connected with the pained alienation at the core of so much of Bowie’s music, as you can hear in his parched rendition of “The Man Who Sold the World,” from Nirvana’s 1994 album “MTV Unplugged in New York.”


The Killers

Good-looking guys doing disco-fied rock about outer space? Bowie basically invented that. Here, Brandon Flowers of the Killers takes his admiration one step further with a central lyric – “Are we human, or are we dancer?” – that, like so many of Bowie’s best lines, seems to make no sense at all (at least until it does).


Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs

A heat-seeker by trade, Puff Daddy knew the bouncy hook from Bowie’s “Let’s Dance” would light up hip-hop clubs when he repurposed it for his 1997 hit “Been Around the World,” featuring Mase and the Notorious B.I.G. The two had more in common than ears, though: Like Bowie in the early ’80s, Puffy was a self-made man using slick grooves to sell a success story darker than his shiny suits suggested.


TV on the Radio

This adventurous indie-rock group broke out over a decade ago with a dense yet funky sound deeply informed by Bowie’s pioneering work in the mid- to late ’70s on albums like “Station to Station” and “Low.” TV on the Radio’s music even caught the attention of the man himself: That’s Bowie crooning atop the haunted, churning guitars of “Province,” from the band’s 2006 major-label debut.


Twitter: @mikaelwood


David Bowie: A half-century of music

David Bowie: An unlikely hip-hop icon

Five songs to prove David Bowie is impossible to capture in five songs 

Sasha Frere-Jones: An insider's look at the making of David Bowie's secretive 'Blackstar' album 

From the Robert Hilburn archives: David Bowie spends the '80s convincing us he's just a normal guy