Kyle Johnson

What Cadillac Gets Wrong About Bowie’s “Fame” in “Evolution of Indulgence”

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Evolution of Indulgence

Cadillac’s “Evolution of Indulgence” ad: yep, that’s David Bowie! No, you shouldn’t pay attention to the lyrics!

As far as iconic voices go, there are few more resonant than David Bowie. One of the greatest performers of any generation, Bowie has contributed heavily to the soundtrack of countless lives and brought the world both Ziggy Stardust and Jareth the Goblin King. He is a legend and an icon in every sense of the terms, and it’s only natural that Cadillac would hope to capture some of that mojo in its latest TV ad for the 2015 Escalade, entitled “Evolution of Indulgence.”

But Cadillac’s Bowie song of choice? Eh, not so sure.

I get the hook here. “Fame,” on its face, is a song that should sing the praises of, well, fame. But it’s not, you see. Not even close. Just get a look at the excerpted lyrics from the commercial:

“Fame, makes a man take things over/Fame, makes him loose, hard to swallow/Fame, puts you there where things are hollow.”

Doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement of fame, now does it?

In Strange Fascination: David Bowie: The Definitive Story, David Buckley calls the song “an anatomy of the perils of rock superstardom.” Buckly considers it the cynical antithesis of “Star,” which approaches the role of rock ‘n’ roll superstar as an inviting and transformative one.

But it just doesn’t quite have the beat of “Fame,” which is likely why Cadillac chose it for musical accompaniment. Why it chose to include the lyrics pertaining to fame leaving someone in a place where everything is insubstantial, we may never know. Maybe it’s just because they’re the first lines in the song. Maybe it’s because lyrics like “To bind your time, it drives you to crime” or “Fame, what you get is no tomorrow/Fame, what you need you have to borrow” aren’t any better about casting the concept of fame in a gilded light.

Then again, it’s possible that Cadillac just wanted Carlos Alomar’s iconic walking guitar sound against Dennis Davis’ marching drums and figured getting some Bowie/Lennon vocals was just an added recognition bonus (fun fact: yeah, that’s John Lennon singing the word “fame” in the background of the song, of which he is also listed as a co-writer). And it works! It’s catchy and it’ll prick your ears up and grab your attention whenever it comes on TV. Still, it doesn’t make much sense.

The decision to use a song that is so critical of fame as a means to promote luxury was probably something as arbitrary as slapping an easily recognized song by a living legend into a 30-second TV spot. Perhaps it was a verdict rendered in a place where things are hollow.

Other than this somewhat idiosyncratic choice, the rest of “Evolution of Indulgence” is a pretty run-of-the-mill TV spot that compares the 2015 Escalade to everything from a horse-drawn carriage used to transport nobility in Britain to…

Evolution of Indulgence

Yes, those are slaves.

…a giant golden litter carried by slaves in ancient Egypt.

Oh, Cadillac. Never change.