David Bowie: a voice that spoke to the outsider in everyone

Freddie SayersEditor-in-Chief of YouGov
January 11, 2016, 1:46 PM GMT+0

A YouGov Profiles analysis of David Bowie’s fanbase goes to the heart of his appeal

You can learn a lot about an artist by looking at what kind of people respond most strongly to them. We’ve taken a look at data on over 13,500 fans of David Bowie to see if we could understand what lay at the heart of his unique appeal.

The first noticeable thing is the huge breadth in his popularity. He was the 12th most popular music artist from our all-time database of almost 6,000, with fans not only coming from the people who grew up in the 1970s but even down to the youngest generation. Looking at the 18-24 year old bracket, 77% of those with an opinion like David Bowie, surpassing contemporary artists such as Ed Sheeran (72%), Adele (68%), Taylor Swift (65%) and Sam Smith (59%).

But what is striking is that, despite this demographic breadth, Bowie appealed to a very particular type of personality. As part of their profile, all YouGov members choose adjectives to describe their character traits; using a statistical technique we can analyse which character traits are disproportionately popular among David Bowie fans compared to the general population. The results speak for themselves:

Evidently, people who think of themselves as somehow different - alternative, independently minded, irreverent, kooky, idiosyncratic, individualistic – are especially likely to be attracted by Bowies original voice.

Within David Bowie’s exceptionally broad fanbase there are people of every age and mindset. But the concentration of people who think of themselves as somehow alternative – set apart from the mainstream – suggests that at the heart of his special appeal was an ability to speak to the outsider in everyone.

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