David Bowie, the man who made it normal to be weird, still has the ability to shock 30 years after his heyday

ON 8 January this year, David Bowie marked his 66th birthday with a surprise new single. Silently uploaded onto the internet in the middle of the night, Where Are We Now? was released with no accompanying fanfare. There was no publicity campaign and no one saw it coming. The quietness that characterised its arrival was soon interrupted by the raptures of impressed critics clambering over each other to praise the single. The public agreed: it reached number six in the charts – his first top ten for twenty years. But Where Are We Now? was only the beginning. Bowie had a whole album, The Next Day, ready for release in March. The news flabbergasted the music press. How, in the days of the internet and social media, could one of the most famous and respected recording artists in the world spend two years making an album without a single soul finding out? It was a clever move: Bowie tripled the impact of the release by denying an information hungry, media-saturated world its fix. No publicity, it seems, can be the best publicity. Not many aging rockstars retain the ability to surprise. It is testament to his continuing relevance that his career is the subject of a major retrospective opening at the Victoria and Albert museum on 23 March. Throughout his career, Bowie broke ground in a variety of art forms. The exhibition, entitled David Bowie Is, will honour Bowie the musician, performer and cultural icon. It will explore his collaborations with artists and designers in the fields of fashion, sound, graphics, theatre, art and film. Performing on Top the Pops he projected the avant-garde into teatime living rooms. The essential predecessor to Lady Gaga, it was Bowie who made it normal to be weird.