Controversial, complicated, stylish and ballsy; Grace Jones is and always has been an artistic force to be reckoned with. This incomparable icon has lived her life in ways that most of us can only dream. Her work history includes everything from singing to modeling; her fashion history reveals a high level of aesthetics understood by few, yet emulated by many. Jones has been in the game for a minute and has influenced an entire generation of eager celebrity performers. But, has the true essence and influence of Jones’ force been as recognized as it should have been? At least, by now?
This is certainly not a new issue in show business: the original artistic source of a “trend”, sound or cultural influence going unacknowledged while current artists make bank from a creation not their own. Rock legends like Elvis, The Beatles, and Led Zeppelin have all been consistently commended for their contributions to mainstream music. But, the true origin of their musical “influences”? Robert Johnson, Bessie Smith, John Lee Hooker; the list could actually go on. And let’s not overlook the fact that they were all Black. While the aforementioned originators are occasionally praised for their influences on Rock music legends, their natural raw talent is not as nearly as hyped and acknowledged.
The same idea applies to Jones.
Way before Miley hosted the VMA’s in skintight plastic, and even before Madonna was like a virgin, there was Grace. Born in Jamaica to a strict religious family, the future provocateur’s adolescent years were filled with the often overwhelming constraints of church and school. Between the lack of expression and being under the authority of a frighteningly moralistic stepfather, Grace liberated herself by doing what she does best, rebelling. She experimented with drugs, people, and toyed with societal norms. Modeling gigs eventually led to movies and music, and by the late 70’s and 80’s, Jones had the Studio 54 scene under her spell. She lived her life for no one else. She thrived on her own terms, and not for validation. Her deep mahogany skin, angular androgynous features, wild performances and Avant Garde style were legendary. Then came the Queen of Pop.
According to Jones, Madonna used to (in the beginning of her career) attend her concerts for inspiration, cleverly sitting near the back. Even today, her confident performances echo the same progressive femme fatale vibe that Grace exudes. But Jones is not impressed.
In Grace Jones’ new book cleverly titled, I’ll Never Write My Memoirs, the star makes a profound declaration:
“Trends come along and people say, ‘Follow that trend. There’s a lot of that around at the moment: ‘Be like Sasha Fierce. Be like Miley Cyrus. Be like Rihanna. Be like Lady Gaga. Be like Rita Ora and Sia. Be like Madonna.’ I cannot be like them — except to the extent that they are already being like me.”
You tell ‘em Madame Jones! How do you follow a trend that you stared in the first place?
I will not deny Madonna’s talent or her title as the reigning Queen of Pop. But it’s funny how she tried to call out Lady Gaga for being reductive (as if her career emerged from complete originality) when Grace basically checked her for the exact same thing.
Let’s make one thing clear; there is nothing wrong with being inspired by other artists. Grace Jones, to some extent, could have likely been influenced by Josephine Baker (whose dance performances in the 1920’s were far too progressive for most American audiences). But, if someone’s success has been cultivated through the appropriation of another person’s self-expression (for the main goal of attaining fame) then it becomes problematic.
Jones’ frustration by the lack of integrity seen in the careers of many entertainers is understandable.
But I’ll say this: while the media is constantly trying to sell us the same crap about Miley or Gaga being the next Madonna, I’m for never going to forget the real HBIC who paved the way for all of them.