David Bowie has broken orbit and crash-landed in the molten core of pop culture once again. First his top-secret comeback album crested the charts, hitting No 2 on the U.S. Billboard list (after fellow veteran Jon Bon Jovi’s “What About Now”) and No. 1 in the UK. And now fans are making an unprecedented run on the first international retrospective of the icon in London, his hometown.
Bowie rose to fame in the early 1970s with a flamboyant, androgynous alter ego: Ziggy Stardust. His gift for reinvention has always burned bright, from his Thin White Duke persona to detoxing in West Berlin with Iggy Pop and collaborating with Queen on “Under Pressure.” But Bowie exited the limelight after a heart attack during a 2004 tour. This hiatus made “The Next Day” — stealthily recorded over several years — all the more thrilling.
But the 66-year-old Starman isn’t just moving records and downloads. At London's Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A), an exhibition about his career has pinwheeled into the museum’s fastest-selling event ever. That’s quite a coup, especially since the curators only found out about the “The Next Day” – surprise! – earlier this month, along with the rest of the planet. They’d backed Bowie before Bowie was big again.
The triumphant result, David Bowie Is, runs March 23–August 11, tracing the performer’s creative process through diary entries, fantastical bodysuits, videos and album art ($23, daily 10 a.m.–5:30 p.m. and until 9.30 p.m. on Fridays). Details wonderfully hint at the man behind the razor-blade cheekbones, from a Thierry Mugler suit and kitten heels to the star’s precise, hand-scrawled lighting instructions for his 1976 “Station To Station” tour.
The V&A has already sold 48,000 advance tickets, more than double the museum’s previous record. Even the David Bowie Paper Doll was dancing off the museum store shelves, possibly due to the tagline the "best dress-up fun you'll have with a pair of scissors."
The Man Formerly Known As Ziggy will be in good company soon, as 2013 looks set to be the year of the comeback. Justin Timberlake, Destiny’s Child and indie legends My Bloody Valentine – among others – all announced fresh plans in the wake of Bowie’s breakaway success.
Getting there: The national carrier British Airways flies into London and 23 other destinations.
By Amanda Castleman
Photos: David Bowie, shown performing at the Isle of Wight Festival, last toured in 2004. His new album, ‘The Next Day,’ topped the UK charts this week. (Photo by Jo Hale/Getty Images)
Bowie is known for stylized and often androgynous looks. Here he poses with English model Twiggy for the cover of his 'Pin Ups' album in 1973. (Photo by Justin de Villeneuve/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Bowie and longtime partner, the supermodel Iman, are often seen out and about together. (Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images for DKMS)