David Bowie’s “I’m Afraid of Americans” Lyrics Meaning

David Bowie, the late English musician, was not literally “afraid of Americans”. Rather this piece serves as an anti-American song. And what he is particularly criticizing is not the people per se but rather the ideologies which govern the society as personified by the subject Johnny. For instance, it seems pretty obvious that the singer envisions the prototypical American as being a vain person, i.e. obsessed with consumption, materialism and pleasure. And he also speaks to the powerful cultural influence the United States has over the world, i.e. “God is an American”. 

You can view the lyrics, alternate interprations and sheet music for David Bowie's I'm Afraid of Americans at Lyrics.org.

In fact of all things, what actually spurred Bowie to pen this tune was a McDonald’s opening in a relatively-remote part of the world he was visiting. He perceived this event as being akin to a ‘homogenized cultural invasion’. Indeed the way he views American influence is as one which espouses uniformity at the price of indigenous lifestyles and free modes of thinking. 

So again, it can be said that he doesn’t have any issues with Americans per se. Rather the singer more or less identifies there national mode of operation as a threat to the cultural diversity and well-being of the planet.

Facts about “I’m Afraid of Americans”

This song was written circa 1995 by David Bowie (1947-2016) alongside Brian Eno, with the singer also producing the track. And an early version was featured on the soundtrack of Showgirls, the infamous film that came out that year starring Elizabeth Berkley.  However, it was not officially released until Virgin Records did so on 14 October 1997. Upon its release, it became the fifth single from David’s album “Earthling”.

“I’m Afraid of Americans” proved to be a mild hit, charting in the United States, Canada and Lithuania. In fact it was the last of David Bowie’s songs to actually make it onto the Billboard Hot 100 during his lifetime. And its success was in large part due to a remix of the tune by Trent Reznor of the Nine Inch Nails, who had a personal relationship with Bowie.

And the track did go on to establish a lasting presence in pop media. For instance, it was prominently featured on the 2016 film The Purge: Election Year.

Another remix of the song features gangsta rapper / Hollywood actor Ice Cube.

The music video to I’m Afraid of Americans was directed by the pair of Dom & Nic (Dominic Hawley and Nic Goffey). The clip went on to receive a nomination for an MTV VMA and actually featured the aforementioned Reznor portraying the role of Johnny.

3 Responses

  1. AmandaLondon says:

    It’s anything but an ‘Anti-American’ song, and that’s what the music video shows you. It shows his idea of what Americans are vs reality. David Bowie has even explained this in the past. He doesn’t like the idea of Americans, but at the same time, still likes Americans.

  2. GT says:

    I think he comments on the dangerous nature of US govt & military; that they “act” maliciously and as a threat to much of the world to acquire what “it” wants, be it oil or other resources…much the same as Russia does. US was happy to blow up Iraq to get their oil, just as Russia is happy to blow up Ukraine for the same reason (in Ukraine’s instance, it is the enormous natural gas fields in the East). Basically, these “big” governments have no scruples to get what they want.

  3. LP says:

    Dear GT, you’re so wrong. Do not simplify David Bowie’s mind. He really knew what he wanted to say in this song. For sure he didn’t hate the American people, he lived in the US, but the lyrics of the songs finishes with these words: “God is an American”. So: who wants to play God?

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