Welcome the next installment of my year-long look back at the decade that was ruled by big hair and bigger egos. Every other week I’ll be covering pop culture tidbits from the 1980s, sharing memories, choking on the ridiculousness, and maybe offering an insight or two into what made the 1980s so great/bad/silly. Serving as my inspiration are two lists from Buzzfeed, and I’ll include links to the original list items in each post. So throw on your neon windbreaker, lace up your hi-tops, and adjust your Wayfarers, because this DeLorean is taking off! (Ugh. Did I really just type that? Gag me with spoon, seriously.)
List item #4 from 53 Things Only 80s Girls Can Understand
You knew being a rock star with a secret identity was the best job ever!
With the recent announcement that a Jem and the Holgrams movie is in the works, it only seems appropriate that I cover it here. Also…c’mon…it’s JEM!
While Jem has a ways to go before reaching the levels of revitalization of My Little Pony, she was king of a small big deal when I was a kid. I say “small” because, at least in my neck of the woods, Jem dolls were never quite as popular as Barbie and the Cabbage Patch Kids. But all of my friends then them, at least one. I had one — Pizzazz, the leader of the “bad girls” band and rival of the Holograms, the Misfits (no relation). And she ruled over the Barbies in my house, with her single knee sock and electric green hair.
The story of Jem was simple and relatable one that made complete and total sense. Though I am not usually at a loss for words, in this case, I think it’s best to cite another source, such as the almighty and all-knowing Wikipedia. The following bit is from its Jem (TV Series) page:
The series revolves around Jem, the mysterious lead singer and front-woman of the rock group “Jem and the Holograms.” Her real name is Jerrica Benton, and under this name she is the owner and manager of Starlight Music. Jerrica adopts this persona with the help of a holographic computer, known as Synergy, which was built by Jerrica’s father to be “the ultimate audio-visual entertainment synthesizer” and is bequeathed to her after his death. Jerrica is able to command Synergy to project “the Jem hologram” over herself by means of the remote micro-projectors in her earrings, thus disguising her features and clothing enabling her to assume the Jem persona. While disguised as Jem, Jerrica is able to move freely without restrictions and on several occasions other people have been in direct physical contact with her without disrupting the holographic projection. Jem, through the use of her earrings, is also able to project holograms around her and uses this ability throughout the series to avoid danger and provide special effects for the performances of her group.
See what I mean, not convoluted or crazy in any way, shape, or form. Completely sensible. As long as you’re wearing your 80s shutter frames, that is. (But seriously, that’s a pretty good summation there, so kudos to the editor. Also, it sounds a helluva lot better than I think the show actually was.)
Though Jem had something of a slow start, it was a cult-y juggernaut by the end of its run. Jem merchandise couldn’t be escaped — from the toy department to housewares, by the end of the 80s, Jem’s face graced many a thing that could be created for use by humans.
But I didn’t care much about Jem and her relationships with her cartoon friend, lovers, and rivals. I didn’t peel her “records” off the backs of cereal boxes. (Okay, maybe I did…once.) I didn’t want to rock a stage under a “glam” name. But I liked…really liked…Jem’s style. The glitz, the glam, the big hair and crazy make-up. And a lot of it, well, it was asymmetrical. And that was cool.
Apologies if things get a little weird and stream-of-concious-y, because they might.
Now, it’s not that I don’t like symmetry. I prefer it regularly in things like interior and industrial design. Nowadays, I have a fairly symmetrical, “normal” if you will, style. But back then, asymmetry in fashion was in. If you’ve seen the likes of artists and performers from the 80s (Madonna and Cyndi Lauper first come to mind), then you know what I mean. Asymmetry practically defined a large chunk of the clothing market of the 80s — one-sleeved tops, single gloves, tights with different colored legs, skirts with angled hems, hair clips pushing your updo to one side of your head or the other. Hell, even earrings were sold in discordant sets. Peace signs and crosses! Feathers and studs! Dogs and cats, living together! MASS HYSTERIA!
Haha. Okay, not really, but bright, wacky, asymmetrical fashions were really popular for a time, and what we, as kids, saw in Jem only heightened the appeal. I also imagine that it helped, to a certain degree, make the “strange” clothes more acceptable to a mainstream audience, a trend that was certainly started by your Madonnas and Laupers. After all, Jem wasn’t a trouble maker…she was a an upstanding trouble-solver (with a great voice), so what did it matter that she just happened to prefer a mismatched dress or a single forearm cuff. I mean, Cheetara did it so well.
I think Jem, more so that any real singer, inspired me to become interested in fashion. Even though I was a perpetual wallflower, I enjoyed the idea of becoming someone else by simply changing you clothes (holographic capabilities notwithstanding. Like, really not.) At its height, my interest caused me to beg my mother to let me subscribe to a fashion magazine, any fashion magazine. Yeah, that went over like a lead balloon at first. But after awhile she relented with the caveat that I had to pay for the subscription. With my allowance pennies counted, I chose Elle, and off I soon went to a world of glamor shots and collages.
Once the show ended in 1988, Jem quickly became a memory, but I wore its shroud of influence for a long time after. A happy bout of high self-esteem in high school brought about a distinct change in my wardrobe. Oh, I didn’t go full-Jem or anything, but I rested comfortably knowing that I could if I wanted to. And that I’d look (ridiculously) spectacular.