All the songs of my life, #2: “Magic Dance” by David Bowie

One evening in December 1988, “Labyrinth” was shown on Singaporean TV. As it was on a bit late for a school night, my mum recorded it so I could watch it the following weekend. And when I did, it turned out that the Goblin King knew just what kind of magic spell to use on me, and a life long obsession was born.

There’s something about David Bowie and breaking the fourth wall. In an earlier decade, when he pointed directly at the viewer singing “I had to call someone so I picked on you!” during a Top of the Pops performance of “Starman”, a generation of young people found their alien superstar hero. By many accounts, a lot of gay and gender non-conforming young boys realised, at that moment, that they were not alone.

In the 80s, it was the turn of the girls to be mesmerized. At least for me that’s what happened, when I was watching the film aged 13, enjoying it perfectly well, and then, this song happened. The moment when Bowie turned to the camera and asked, “what kind of magic spell to use?”, the magic spell was cast on me, irrevocably. It’s safe to say that by the end of this song, I was 100% in love with him. And I know I’m far from the only one for whom “Labyrinth” had this effect.

So here’s “Magic Dance”, a song that changed my life. Is it amongst the very pinnacle of Bowie classics? Possibly not. Is it irredeemably silly with all the goblin singing and baby screeching? Yes, indeed it is. Is it a song that brings joy and fun wherever it is heard? Most certainly, yes.

It’s unlikely that I’m going to embark on an All The Films Of My Life series (though if you want one, dauntless reader, do let me know!) so I will talk a bit about the genius of “Labyrinth” here. It is a film that attracts a lot of scorn from a certain sector of Bowie fans – generally the older male fans who turn up their nose at their hero appearing in a children’s film. What they don’t realise is that they can’t understand “Labyrinth” precisely because they’re not supposed to. It’s a film fully and completely made with young girls in mind. The absolute focus on Sarah’s emotional journey thoughout the film feels like a rare one, as we watch her develop from a selfish, immature teenager to a brave and empowered young woman. How often do we get to see a story that focuses completely on the feelings and experiences of a girl or a woman, without any recourse to wondering how the men in her life may be feeling about it all?

The most incredible thing about this film is how it ends, with Sarah declaring the immortal line to Jareth: “You have no power over me”. It’s why I think this film should be required viewing for all girls between the ages of about 8 and 15, to let us know that no matter how powerful and attractive a man may seem, you can always say no to them. (Although there may be a bit of a fatal flaw in this proposal, as I know that I was not the only teenaged girl who fantastised about an alternate ending of the film where Sarah stayed with Jareth, or even better, where it was me who Jareth kidnapped in the first place).

“Labyrinth” will always and forever be my favourite film of all time. “Magic Dance”, much as I love it, is probably not even in my top 50 David Bowie tunes. However, this blog series is not about my favourite songs, or the ones I think have the most artistic merit or aesthetic worth. This is about the songs that had an impact on me which resonates through the decades to the present day. And on that standing, “Magic Dance” – the song that made me a fan of David Bowie, whose positive influence on my life has been greater than that of almost anyone else – beams brighter than any other.

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