Most influential androgynous music icon: David Bowie or Prince?
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Most influential androgynous music icon: David Bowie or Prince?

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Prince and David Bowie passed away in 2016, but their legacies live on. Both musicians shaped pop music with their androgynous gender and sexual identities. Bowie inspired other artists to defy gender norms. The legendary rockstar effortlessly walked the line between flamboyant glam and more stereotypical masculine attributes. Prince not only pushed the envelope with his ambiguous sexuality and gender fluidity but was an icon for people of color. Which pop icon is more groundbreaking? 🎤

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#TeamBowie
#TeamPrince

2016 was a super rough year for pop music lovers. Bowie passed away from cancer at age 69 on January 10, 2016. We lost Prince from a fentanyl overdose on April 21, 2016—he was just 57 years old.

But like Milk puts it, Bowie and Prince leave behind a legacy that redefined masculinity. Both androgynous icons blended elements of masculinity, femininity and open-ended sexuality into their fashion, music, and overall personal self-expression.

Milk's Chris Thomas wrote:

There has been a flood of statuses on Facebook and Instagram sharing personal stories of how Prince (and, before him, Bowie), touched people’s lives, giving queer youth hope in decades where there was so little of that to go around. I wish I’d discovered these two legends growing up and had them teach me it was okay to break from the normative modes of masculinity, but there’s still time. Just because these two remarkably unique men have passed away doesn’t mean the lessons we can learn will die with them. As the world mourns their deaths, it gives everyone, old and new fans alike, a reason to reevaluate society’s expectations for what it means to be a man. You can be remarkable and life changing without living by the rules.

Bowie and Prince shaped pop music by challenging gender norms, embracing their sexuality and by living in their own overall self-expression. They were at their most creative at the intersection of musical expression and androgynous identity. But who was the most groundbreaking?

Bowie quickly became one of pop music's most innovative performers in the early '70s.

He captured his androgynous identity into a rockstar alter ego—Ziggy Stardust. Ziggy is featured on Bowie's album "The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars" in 1972. Bowie notably channels Ziggy on the hit single "Starman." In the song, the Starman is an extraterrestrial who has his rockstar messenger Ziggy send a message of hope to Earth's youth through the radio.

With his follow-up album, he not only scored a mega hit in the U.K. with "Aladdin Sane," but the album is described as "Ziggy goes to America." Bowie made a huge breakthrough in America with "Aladdin Sane." The album cover features Bowie's in his most iconic look as Ziggy.

Bowie continued to use his alter ego to defy gender norms and challenge masculinity. Bowie blurred the lines of gender and sexuality with Ziggy, and throughout his career. Sometimes, he even embraced a less androgynous look. But Bowie not only embraced masculinity, femininity and queerness before genderqueer became a mainstream term–he proved that gender and sexuality weren't black-and-white binaries. And Bowie did this by appealing to everyone—men and women, gay and straight, and anyone else who didn't fit into those rigid binaries.

Prince definitely created a lot of "controversy" with his sexuality. People questioned his black identity, especially at a time when it was considered taboo for black men to even consider discussing their sexuality in public. The Purple One addressed these issues on the titular single of his fourth studio album, "Controversy." Here are the lyrics, per Genius.

🎶 I just can't believe all the things people say. Controversy. Am I black or white, am I straight or gay? Controversy Do I believe in god, do I believe in me? Controversy Controversy Controversy. I can't understand human curiosity.🎶

Prince often embraced sex in his music, but he also addressed his fluidity in gender on "I Would Die 4 U." Here are the lyrics, per Genius.

🎶I'm not a woman. I'm not a man. I am something that you'll never understand.🎶

Regardless of the controversy, everyone always knew that musically Prince was, simply put, amazing. He explored androgyny with his beautiful voice, which ranged from a high-pitched falsetto to baritone. Prince intermixed his ambiguous look while playing the guitar (as one of the greatest guitarists of all-time), an instrument that carried heavy masculine undertones (it's literally referred to as an ax).

But Prince would often seek out controversy with his ambiguous sexuality, and androgynous fashion. He never avoided it. Some of what Prince did might even be considered "shock value," but Prince was and always will be, one of the most authentic popular musicians of all-time. The Purple One especially taught his fans of color to be weird, unapologetic and to express themselves.

Watch Bowie perform "Starman," and see how he embodies androgyny while singing with deep, raspy, "manly" vocals. 

Watch the music video for "When Doves Cry" below, where Prince shows off his signature, super-sexy "Purple Rain"-era androgynous look. The super-hit wrestled with parental issues and a love affair, like in the semi-autobiographical movie of the same name. This video showcases just how Prince dominated the world with his sexuality and broke down barriers. 

#TeamBowie... because Bowie continued to strike us with arguably his most iconic androgynous look. ⚡

#TeamPrince... because no one else ever oozed sex appeal like the Purple One. 💜

Slate's Christina Cauterucci described Bowie's style:

As Ziggy Stardust and a glam rock pioneer, Bowie—with his throaty voice, high cheekbones, reedy frame, and swaggering carriage—exemplified a meeting of the sexual ideals of both male and female musicians.
In addition to Bowie’s outrageous bodysuits, he sported animal-print blouses, silk scarves, and pantsuits in every color of the rainbow. But there was a softer side to his androgyny and femininity, too. To wit: this incredible 1971 photo of Bowie outside his home, sporting a sensible feathered hairdo and a tea-length dress with princess seams and a floral print, the same dress he wore on the cover of "The Man Who Sold the World." 

Pitchfork's Simon Reynolds described Prince's many looks throughout the '80s:

Prince was right in the thick of all this ambiguous ’80s action. Just check the covers of his records as the decade proceeds. On the back of 1980’s Dirty Mind, he poses languidly in black thigh-high stockings, bikini briefs, and little else: an invitation to the kinkiest of reveries. For the front cover of 1981’s Controversy, he’s fully-clothed this time, but still very much the dainty dandy, sporting eyeliner and blush, and clad in mauve coat, wing-collar, and cravat. On Parade, from 1986, he’s wearing mascara and a stomach-baring top that cuts away just below his nipple line. And by 1988’s Lovesexy cover, Prince appears as an angelic nude hovering amid lush blooms. In a sly, saucy touch, one flower's stamen—close by the singer’s crotch—mimics the arc of an erection.

Listen to Bowie's iconic essentials below via Spotify.

Listen to Prince's classic pop tunes below via Spotify. 

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