"Where Are We Now?" is the first single from David Bowie's 24th studio album, The Next Day. The single was released on iTunes on 8 January 2013, Bowie's 66th birthday, along with a video by Tony Oursler, which was posted on Bowie's website.
Bowie had not released new material since 2003's Reality, or performed live since 2006, and it was generally believed that he had retired. However, on the morning of his sixty-sixth birthday, Where Are We Now? appeared on iTunes, along with information about Bowie's upcoming new album The Next Day. The release was unusual in that it was issued with no promotion, with fans discovering the existence of the single themselves. The news was widely reportedand the single received much radio airplay, quickly topping the iTunes downloads chart and eventually charting at number six on the UK Singles Chart. Despite the media attention surrounding the surprise release, Bowie made no media appearances whatsoever, with producer Tony Visconti instead taking media requests and accepting an interviewer's suggestion that he was Bowie's "voice on earth".
The lyrics are simple and repetitive, an older person reminiscing about time spent and time wasted: "Had to get the train / from Potsdamer Platz / you never knew that / that I could do that / just walking the dead," the last line of which, in the video, produces a grimace in the singer. He grimaces again just after: "A man lost in time near KaDeWe / just walking the dead," which precedes the refrain: "Where are we now / where are we now?" Chris Roberts called it a "spectral, frail yearning without chest-beating, candid in its few, clipped phrases and sighs concerning the heart's filthy lessons."
The music video, directed by Tony Oursler, shows Bowie and an unnamed female companion as conjoined "face in a hole" puppets sitting on a pommel horse, Bowie with the "permanently anxious eyes of the elderly Duke of Windsor," as Robert Everett-Green put it. The woman was later confirmed as artist Jacqueline Humphries, Oursler's wife. Bowie and Oursler reportedly wanted someone who looked like Bowie's PA, Corinne "Coco" Schwab, as she did in the 1970s in Berlin, where she, Bowie and Iggy Pop would hang out together.Bowie and Humphries as conjoined puppets
The video is set in what could be an artists' studio in Berlin, where Bowie lived from 1976, showing moving black-and-white footage of the city from the 1970s on a screen. It opens with a shot of a large diamond and an empty picture frame lying on the floor, before moving into a studio containing a mishmash of items, possibly from Bowie's own life or apartment in Berlin: there are mannequins, bottles, an egg, an eyeball on a shelf, a crystal, a snowflake, and a giant blue ear. Bowie is seen toward the end of the video wearing jeans, and a T-shirt that reads "m/s Song of Norway". Sophie Heawood writes that Song of Norway (1970) was a film (based on the operetta) that Bowie's girlfriend at the time, Hermione Farthingale, left him to appear in.
The footage on the screen and references in the lyrics include the Berlin Wall and mention of the Bösebrücke, the first border crossing that opened when the Wall fell on 9 November 1989; 20,000 East Germans crossed over during the first hour the border was unofficially opened, wondering whether it was safe. The lyrics read: "twenty thousand people / Cross Bösebrücke / Fingers are crossed / just in case." Other reference points in the video and song are theBrandenburg Gate; the Dschungel nightclub; the Fernsehturm, or television tower; KaDeWe, the department store; graffiti from Kunsthaus Tacheles, an art centre; Nürnberger Straße; Potsdamer Platz railway station; the Reichstag, where the Bundestag sits; the Siegessäule, or Victory Column; and the auto repair shop below the apartment in which Bowie lived.
|Bowie in 1976 and 2009|
The single made it to the top of the charts in eight countries on the day of its release. It was no. 1 on the British iTunes chart by 3 pm that day. It was at first deemed ineligible for placement on other British singles charts because, in addition to being sold separately, the song was also free to those who pre-purchasedThe Next Day on iTunes, making the sales difficult to separate. The Official Charts Company resolved the issue, and on 13 January the song entered the UK Singles Chart at no. 6, Bowie's highest charting single there since "Absolute Beginners" reached no. 2 in 1986. It is his first UK top-ten single since "Jump They Say" in 1993. His first top-ten hit was in the UK in 1969 with "Space Oddity."
The Next Day was no. 1 on the iTunes charts in 17 countries on 8 January: Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. It made the top 10 in Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Norway and the United States on the same day.
|Austria (Ö3 Austria Top 40)||40|
|Belgium (Ultratop 50 Flanders)||5|
|Belgium (Ultratop 50 Wallonia)||7|
|Canada (Canadian Hot 100)||59|
|Europe (Euro Digital Songs)||2|
|Germany (Media Control Charts)||47|
|Greece Digital Songs (Billboard)||9|
|Israel (Media Forest)||10|
|Netherlands (Dutch Top 40)||28|
|Scotland (Official Charts Company)||11|
|South Korea International Singles (Gaon)||132|
|Switzerland (Schweizer Hitparade)||53|
|UK Singles (Official Charts Company)||6|