A Brief Analysis of David Bowie’s “Lady Stardust”
I cannot ignore a reader request, so I have decided to do an analysis on the lyrics of David Bowie’s “Lady Stardust”. It is from David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, and is also covered in the ChangesBowieNow album. I will analyze the lyrics and content with critical analysis. In this essay, I will focus on subjectivity and gender nonconformity.
The first verse has a reference to T. Rex’s Marc Bolan, who was one of Bowie’s influences. His hairstyle fits the description in the song, and he also wore elaborate make-up. The repeated chorus line of “he was alright” can be that Lady Stardust is alright with the reactions to his look; after all, his audience laughs at his look. The audience can be read as laughing at him, or being in the community space with him. In the next lines of the first verse, a fan jumps up on the stage while Lady Stardust sings songs “Of darkness and disgrace”. Lady Stardust is a man, and the songs allude to the complex emotions that are depicted in his performance. Lady Stardust creates fluidity in gender expression, and references Bowie’s exploration of his gender identity; I think of the album cover for The Man Who Sold the World, where he caused controversy by wearing a dress.
To return ot the refrain of “he was alright”, this line can be a reference to the individual fan or Lady Stardust. Both a fan and a performer would be pleased with a band together (for the sake of the performance), and the everlasting nature of the experience is portrayed as an enjoyable experience. The line “and he was awful nice” could mean that the chorus is in the fan’s view of Lady Stardust, but the perspective can be viewed as either subject. This ambiguity causes me to perceive the chorus as the fan’s perspective, because Lady Stardust’s performance is an experience in which both fan and singer are influenced by the other. In this way, every fan shares memories of the same night from their own perspectives.
Verse two transitions to the first person, and the “femme fatales from the shadows” can be an aspect of the darkness of Lady Stardust’s content. The archetype of a femme fatale is a female seductress, so Lady Stardust subverts this cliche by expressing himself as this persona. Since the performer is a “creature fair”, he is inhuman. As to whether he is superhuman, or viewed as subhuman is within the audience’s authority. The boys on chairs can be standing for or with Lady Stardust; the boys can be interpreted as being in support with his gender non-conformity. Alternatively, the boys on chairs can also be read as part of the commotion caused by his cross-dressing. In this respect, the speaker sadly smiles “for a love I could not obey”; the fan’s love for Lady Stardust’s as an artist, and perhaps, as a gender nonconformist, is inexpressible due to social norms. These social boundaries would also inhibit the speaker’s ability to have an open fan-crush on his idol. The repetition of the “songs of darkness and dismay” are Lady Stardust’s, but they are also relatable to his fans: The speaker must be alright with being unable to express himself if he has feelings towards the singer, but he also feels conflicted about the male subject of his love. This conflict and gender nonconformity are normalized with Lady Stardust’s look, so he speaks to fans’ own feelings, and forces his audience to confront the seeming strangeness of his gender performance.
As such, the chorus mirrors the idea that the song is forever. Gender nonconformists expressing themselves and being privy to particular reactions, or being spectacles, is a harsh reality outside of performing as an artist. The bridge alludes to the idea that Lady Stardust’s actual name is unknown to the subject; this is because the speaker identifies with the singer without actually knowing him, so the personal connection is created on the basis of a stage persona. This can be interpreted as a reference to Bowie’s own career, as he changed his name from David Jones to make a spectacular stage name; his myriad personas demonstrates the theme of changing subjectivity within his own career; “Lady Stardust” could be a fan’s view of these shifts and expression of gender identity. Experimentation with the self and identity are patterns in Bowie’s career. This self-expression is emulated by the character he sings about in this tune. As to whether Lady Stardust is a proxy, and the song a re-imagining of a fan’s personal connection to a gender nonconforming performer is a subject for discussion and inquiry; Bowie would not personally know the fan who is impacted by his expressions and experimentation, and the fan would be unaware of him as his offstage identity. The irony is that the norms of what constitutes identity are changing, as are the people who experiment and express themselves with their art.
The challenge with interpreting Bowie’s songs is that some of them are not meant to be analyzed extensively; although the changing subjectivity of “Lady Stardust” evokes the relationship between a fan and a performer. In particular, there is a commentary about fans relating to gender nonconformity, and to the continual spectacle of performers who embody these personas in their own exploration and expression of the self. Therefore, the crossdressing is not only an exploration of gender identity, but a visible performance against those who would allow such identities to be invisible in society. Even if Lady Stardust is not real, the impact on his audience is, as with the idea that a stage persona can portray truths of the performance and acceptance of particular identities and means of self-expression.