What is Grace Jones talking about?
Grace Jones, the singer, supermodel, and onetime James Bond foe, is finally releasing a memoir entitled "I'll Never Write My Memoirs." She has plenty to recount, including her friendship with Andy Warhol, her childhood in Jamaica, and being a provocative pop culture presence at a time where you could go on "The Tonight Show" and rile people by not seeming down to Earth. Imagine.
But the "Pull Up to the Bumper" songstress is up to some conventional rabble-rousing in newly released excerpts from her autobiography. With barbs aimed at contemporary pop stars, she laments what she considers general contrivance in the music industry.
"Trends come along and people say, 'Follow that trend,'' she said. '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."
Additionally, she singled out Rihanna for mimicking her history of body painting, a style she developed with artist Keith Haring.
“I don’t even know if she knows that what she’s doing comes from me, but I bet you the people styling her know.”
She summarized her feelings with a dismissive comment directed squarely at Miley Cyrus and Nicki Minaj.
"The problem with… the Nicki Minajes and Mileys is that they reach their goal very quickly. There is no long-term vision. They dress up as though they are challenging the status quo, but by now, wearing those clothes, pulling those faces, revealing those tattoos and breasts, singing to those fractured, spastic, melting beats—that is the status quo. You are not off the beaten track, pushing through the thorny undergrowth, finding treasure no one has come across before. You are in the middle of the road."
In conclusion: Grace Jones believes everyone is dull, but they're all copying her. Got it.
I sympathize with Jones' disdain for boring performers. The boring should always be crucified, and I'd have appreciated if Jones zeroed in on the boringness of each individual performer. How did Taylor Swift miss that lineup? And has anyone really uttered "Be like Rita Ora" out loud?
My problem with Jones' rant is how she roundly underestimates the ability of new pop stars to recognize their influences. Lady Gaga has cited Grace Jones numerous times as a muse, touting her androgyny and provocative aggression. Gaga has also cited Madonna, David Bowie, Sinead O'Connor, and Marilyn Manson. No one can deny those influences, and similarly no one can deny that those influences are sublimated into Lady Gaga's one-of-a-kind presence. Everybody is influenced by somebody. Jones herself owes a debt to Bowie. To feign infuriation at such a fact is to deny the appeal of pop music, which is to reflect and advance upon what came before.
Perhaps Nicki Minaj and Miley Cyrus' stunts are self-congratulatory, but isn't that the fun of a stunt? What would you call Jones' topless Hula Hooping during her recent concerts? Not knowingly frivolous? What about sniping at mega-popular "peers" in a memoir? Is that not a middle-of-the-road attempt at scandal and relevance? I admire Jones' frankness, but I just wish she'd include herself in the mix when discussing the shortcomings of pop: It's hard and probably unnecessary to be original when the goal is simply to capture the most people's attention. In an age where social media has supplanted popular entertainment as what defines the times, it's a miracle that Nicki, Miley, Madonna, Katy, or Taylor qualifies as a name worth remembering. You can ding them for producing anodyne music, but you can't pretend their incendiary, occasionally lame antics aren't an essential part of the effort.
Fortunately, Grace Jones has produced great music and irreverent entertainment in her lifetime. It's just strange and disingenuous for her to pretend it's possible to be 100% original, 100% interesting, and overwhelmingly popular at the same time.