Kojima says Bowie song holds the key to understanding Metal Gear Solid V
Hideo Kojima recently made a small digression about Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain, which is interesting in its own right as the creator of the series is more open about the games of recent years – immediately after the Konami split, Kojima did not talk much about Metal Gear. Before we go any further: spoilers, obviously.
The opening of MGSV features the music of David Bowie’s The Man Who Sold the World, specifically a cover version by Scottish artist Midge Ure. Adding in the second tweet: “What is Bowie’s backstory on this song, and why is it a cover? All answers are clearly stated from the very beginning.
1/2At the start of MGSV in a hospital in Cyprus, “THE MAN WHO SOLD THE WORLD,” a cover of the famous David Bowie song performed by Midge Ure, plays. If you listen carefully to the texts here, you will be able to understand the structure of MGSV. pic.twitter.com/wQks4gCmgGMarch 2, 2022
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The “answers” Kojima refers to are the game’s important questions related to the identity and relationship between Venom Snake and Big Boss. For those who haven’t played the game, you’re essentially building an army as Venom Snake, who you think is Big Boss and everyone else thinks is Big Boss, and in the end, you find out you’re not him. You were used as bait, creating a legend about a real person; your own identity was smeared and lost in the process.
So: not that I consider this to be an answer, but a few notes about the song. Bowie wrote it in the pre-Ziggy Stardust era, and its ambiguous lyrics oscillate between the singer and the titular figure, who are both supposed to be the same person. Lyrically, the song is about maintaining control over one’s identity, and the “sold the world” element can be interpreted as referring more to the inner self than to materialism: Bowie may feel this, having achieved such huge success with songs about his fears and weaknesses. , he “sold” that part of his inner life. Of course, this could mean the exact opposite!
What is interesting about this song, which is now one of the most iconic in the artist’s work, is that its fame may belong to other artists. Although it was the title track from Bowie’s own album, it did not become a hit until four years later when Lulu recorded a version (she later said she had no idea what the lyrics mean, which is reassuring). The version of Midge Ure featured in the game was recorded in the 1980s and then revived in the 90s by Nirvana on the MTV Unplugged album. Of all these versions, Ure’s version is the most obscure, despite being a remarkably dreamlike synthetic take that fits the themes to the core.
(Metal Gear trivia: Kojima was no doubt also attracted to Ure’s version because he was part of Magnavox, a group Kojima loved so much that he called the boss in Metal Gear 2 Solid Snake Magnavox.)
The song plays when Venom wakes up in a hospital bed, and again at the end of the game when Venom looks into the mirror while the set pieces change and change. What Venom sees in the mirror is, of course, a phantom personality that has replaced his own: the world he lost and what he was replaced with. It is noteworthy that this is somewhat similar to how the song was “highlighted” by covers of other artists (Bowie would later return to it and re-record new versions himself, starting in the 90s).
Ah, we’re going down the mines of Kojima’s knowledge again. If this material is not enough for you, I recommend the video below, which is several years old, but I remember that it is a great analysis that echoes most of the points made by Kojima.
That’s one of the reasons people love Metal Gear: you could talk about it all day. The series is built around clones, doppelgangers, and different people operating under the same names: and it ends with a man who wants to control the world creating his own “clone” to create a new identity and legend before ultimately betraying him. Anyway: a great tune and great cover.