Throwback Thursday: Pop Arts Revisits…Jem and the Holograms!

Another Thursday, another throwback. This week I take a fond look at the neon-covered, 80s glamour and pop-goodness-filled magic that was Jem and the Holograms.

Where do we even start with the wonderousness that is Jem and the Holograms? It was a TV show that began in 1985, inspired by a line of dolls – yes, that’s right; dolls – using the same business model as had previously created G.I Joe and Transformers. I guess Hasbro (the people who made the dolls) thought it was time to get in on the girl market as well.

Christy Marx was named series creator and set to work making a fun-filled, 65 episode series, spanning three years that was full of great pop music, ridiculous outfits, implausible plots and enough fabulousness to last a lifetime. According to Wikipedia, Marx is also responsible for the love triangle aspect of the show, my opinion of which can be seen below…

Exactly Lucille, exactly.

The basic premise of Jem for the uninitiated (where have you been?) is that Jerrica Benton (not a typo), upon her father’s death, gets access to his record company AND to the amazing holographic machine Synergy that he built in his spare time (I don’t know, I think he’s supposed to be some sort of genius, it’s never really explained). Oh, and Mr Benton also ran a foster home for girls that Jerrica and her sister Kimber (who gets nothing!) take over. The guy seems to be some sort of kind, business-smart, technological genius with a heart of gold. See? Amazingness already!

Mr Benton has terrible taste in business partners however, choosing to work with the treacherous Eric Raymond at Starlight Music. Jerrica doesn’t like the way he runs the business and using the incredible Synergy and some usefully talented friends, sets up her own band to rival his main act: The Misfits. This escalates into a Battle of the Bands (just The Misfits and Jem and the Holograms, actually) that decides ownership of Starlight Music. The deciding factor is a Clap-o-meter (AMAZING). Eric is thoroughly evil and constantly trying to steal things away from Jerrica/Jem and kidnap people and blackmail and all kinds of nasty shit. He is basically the worst.

Synergy, Mr Benton’s ultimate creation, is A.I and the “ultimate audio-visual entertainment synthesizer”. She can create very realistic holograms and change the appearance of things. And stuff. She changes Jerrica’s appearance to ‘Jem’ and allows Jerrica to run her very own Clark Kent/Superman double life via some cool, spiky earrings

These earrings connect directly back to Synergy (look, I don’t know how, ok?) and can be used to project holograms at any time (which is all the time). All Jerrica/Jem has to do is utter ‘Showtime Synergy!’ and Synergy will magically sort out whatever hologram-fixable problem is occurring at that time. They never tell her what to do, she just knows. (Again: AMAZING).
The Holograms are made up of Jerrica’s sister Kimber (keys) and friends Aja (guitar) and Shana (drums) otherwise known as basically the coolest chicks ever.

Clockwise, l-r: Kimber, Aja, the band, Shana

Jerrica becomes Jem, the front-woman and singer, complete with incredible pink hair and rockin’ outfits. Honestly, it’s never explained why Jerrica must become Jem. Like, at all. I thought maybe it was because I watched as a kid and I just missed that information, but I re-watched the show recently as an adult and nope, no explanation given. The dual identity bit drives much of the plot and is a cool trick, which really is enough of a reason for me. It does however, mean that there is a very tiresome ‘love triangle’ between Jerrica, her boyfriend Rio and Jem. Who is actually Jerrica. Rio is constantly feeling guilty for being attracted to Jem while he’s Jerrica’s boyfriend, which is ridiculous, because they are THE SAME PERSON. This story wastes valuable singing time and is always incredibly frustrating. Also, letting poor Rio feel terrible, when he’s attracted to THE SAME PERSON, just with different hair, seems very mean.

The main rivals for Jem and the Holograms are the awesome Misfits. I love the Misfits – even when I was a kid, I liked them as much as the Holograms, despite them technically being the bad guys. They have incredible names, for a start: Pizzazz, Roxy and Stormer.

L-R: Stormer, Roxy & Pizzazz

(I’m ignoring Jetta because that’s further than I saw as a kid. I’m also ignoring The Stingers for the same reason. I only watched those episodes as an adult, so the resonance for me is not the same).

Anyway, back to the Misfits. They were so deliciously badly behaved and tough. Pizzazz was the sneering, petty one, with huge ambitions. Roxy was mindlessly destructive and never gave a crap about anything. Stormer was a bit dumb and always did what the others told her, but basically nice and good-hearted.

For me, the enduring legacy (yeah, I used that word) of Jem is the music. Oh my God, the music. It’s SO GOOD, you guys. It’s the purest form of pop music; each song is under two minutes long, has its own music video and is ridiculously catchy. I swear I’m still going to be able to sing all the words to ‘Like a Dream’ ‘Only the Beginning’ and ‘Twilight in Paris’ when I’m in my 80s. This is partly because I heard them so many times and partly because they are the catchiest damn songs of all time. Britta Philips (the singing voice of Jem) is a professional musician and still makes music now; check her out. The best thing was that all the bands got given great songs. The Misfits had as many memorable ‘hits’ as the Holograms – ‘Winning is Everything’ being a great example.

In a show that’s only 20 minutes long, set in a world where pastel coloured hair is normal and face-graffiti obligatory, you’re going to get some strange episodes. Some of my favourites include the one where Aja gets locked in a bus and Jem is framed for theft , the one where the Holograms and Misfits have a ski race, the one where Kimber and Stormer form a duo and the one with a desert island. I mean, seriously, who would not want to watch this show? So much amazingness.

My cousin (who is six years older than me) bestowed the great gift of her Jem video, a compilation of the first five episodes, on me sometime in the early 90s, when I was four or five. I was immediately obsessed. I watched it at every opportunity, dazzled by the technology (Lasers! Holograms! Clap-o-meters!), the clothes and the music. Jem and the Holograms opened up this cool new world of awesome girl bands to my pre-school brain and I am absolutely certain that’s part of what drew me to bands like Eternal, the Spice Girls and Destiny’s Child in later life. While Jem/Jerrica is – annoyingly – constantly in peril and being rescued (usually by Rio), mostly the show is about these kick-ass girl musicians taking over the world, looking after foster children and being super boss at life. The Holograms and the Misfits are independent, feisty, talented and totally the focus of the show. The Holograms were also ethnically diverse; Aja was Asian-American, Shana African-American and later member Raya Mexican-American. It was an engaging and positive girl-power-y message to put out to the young women watching the show.

Jem has been all over the internet lately as a live-action adaptation is mooted. While I’m on the fence about whether a live-action film is advisable (it’s so, well…zany, I’m not sure it works outside of cartoon form), it’s a testament to its original popularity and the fondness people still have for the show that it’s been such a big story (the only thing most of my friends know about Jem is that I love it, and they all heard about it).

I love the show for all it’s crazy nonsense, over the top costumes and above all, the awesome pop music it provided. I’m excited for Jem to have a renaissance and to be Truly Outrageous once again.

C’mon, I had to!



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