David Bowie has always pushed buttons – even at 66 years of age, he managed to get his video for “The Next Day” banned from YouTube (although, it was reinstated with a content warning). But “Valentine’s Day” is about as far as Bowie could have gone from that inflammatory clip.
Singing about a high school shooter, the neutrally dressed Bowie mimes taking aim, and a close-up of his guitar strings fades into a cross-section of a gun-barrel as a bullet flies through it. The huge pillared building in which Bowie plays is clearly no schoolhouse, but the facility has certainly seen better days – perhaps a ground zero in spirit.
The setting, and video overall, possess a funerary quality. But, as Bowie is apt to do, he presents the tragic with remarkable grace and even a delicate beauty. He appears alone in the video; the teachers and football stars, Teddy and Judy, even Valentine himself all nowhere to found. It’s as if the incident has passed and left only ghosts, invisible to mortal eyes – and Bowie to eulogize.
Arguably, people could be less uptight about religion, sex and debauchery (hence Bowie’s constant pushing), but one would be hard-pressed to say the same of school shootings. Given the lyrical content of “Valentine’s Day”, we see that Bowie’s staid treatment of the song’s video is an artistic choice rather than obsequious back-peddling. Even as the speed of life advances on Bowie, he proves that in 2013, he’s still plenty fearless; he’s just not tactless.