Jem and the Holograms: Who Were They Based Upon?

Right now, I think I hit a burnt out point with Path of Exile. But it might be a good segue for me to do something else like focus on blogging on the side. With that in mind, I wanted to write about random topics that occasionally pop into my mind….like Jem and the Holograms. It might be a strange topic but recently I had been watching some 80’s music videos and saw the new She-Ra Netflix cartoon pop up, making me think about the other powerhouse female cartoon in the 80’s.

When you look at Jem and the Holograms, you can feel that they were a mixture of various groups, singers and personalities from the early to mid 80s pop culture. Probably, the most obvious connection to Jem herself is none other than Dale Bozzio. With her dazzling outfits and pinkish sprawling hair, one can immediately see the visual image. Many attribute Dale Bozzio to Lady Gaga’s own radical imagery, but perhaps some of those seeds were planted by Jem herself.

Look no further than Destination Unknown by Missing Persons for some of the escapades of Jem and the Holograms. Her stylish, bubbly, flashy attire certainly is mimicked by the toy’s fashion. Also, you can almost peg drummer and ex-husband Terry Bozzio with his own flamboyant hair and make up as Jem’s lover Rio.

Yet Rio, in the show, was not a musician but simply served as a side love interest. The primary support cast was Jem’s band, the Holograms. Initially, they were a four piece, a diverse cast, including her younger sister. At that point in time, there really weren’t any bands with that level of diversity. However, the idea of the Holograms with their semi-clean surface imagery reminded me strongly of another mega force around that era: The Bangles.

While there were a few other female power house bands in the 80s, none of them struck me as strongly paralleling the Holograms than The Bangles. These ladies weren’t the bad girl rockers like Lita Ford, Joan Jett, etc. Instead, they reminded you of the neighbor girls next door high school band. Simple lyrics, good tunes and just enough glitz in their hair and outfits to stand out a bit.

Perhaps, the thing that honed in the point for me was one particular character within the Bangles: Michael Steele. The clearest aspect to me is the striking red hair that makes me think of Kimber immediately. While Kimber’s will always have the most outrageous red hair, the classic Michael Steele look has a pretty close look. But the real underlying similarity is the behind the scenes stories about Michael Steele.

She was a part of a group called the Runaways and was allegedly fired for refusing the sexual advancements of her manager. That story reminds me a bit of the times when the Misfits’ manager attempted to turn Kimber against her sister. Also, at least in my view, Michael Steele seemed to be the most musical and more edgy. Probably, I’m reading far into Michael Steele’s story but just the fact that she left both the Bangles and the Runaways seem a bit coincidental to Kimber’s own tribulations and turmoil within the Holograms that caused her to run away as well.

Going back to Jem, I wanted to talk about Jerrica. If Jem is the wildly popular, flashy, alter ego of Jerrica, Jerrica is the savvy business lady ready to impact the 90s. To me the biggest musician in that world is none other than Madonna. Personality controversy aside, Madonna is an enterprise unto herself. She’s managed to stay relevant for numerous years and has been able to adapt. Add to her ventures in entertainment and fashion and you can see how a part of that business savvy becomes infused into the intelligent Jerrica character.

For Aja and Shana, these characters are a lot harder to peg. While Japan had its share of idols, there really weren’t many outside of Pink Lady that were exported to the states. And you can’t really call Yoko Ono a person anyone would want to copy as an adolescent idol star.

And in the case of Shana, it’s pretty hard to see what musician she might’ve been modeled after. Certainly, there were a plethora of R&B stars but none really come to mind in this situation. I feel that all the main R&B pop female stars in that era would’ve been one woman shows in themselves like Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson, Tina Turner, etc. If anyone could’ve been the role model, it might’ve been Chaka Khan. I just remember back in 3rd grade how “I Feel for You” was such a huge deal because of the super sharp break dance moves. Also, Chaka Khan and Shana look similar. But that’s all I have.

Before going into the other later members from the Holograms, I wanted to talk about the Misfits. If the Bangles were the girl next door role model girl rock stars that the Holograms were patterned after, then Banarama certainly were the Misfits. I don’t think the Bangles and Banarama had a real rivalry during this period, but you couldn’t deny their importance to pop as all girl bands in this era.

The thing about Banarama that makes me think of them as the Misfits was their bad girl imagery from the video Venus. While the song itself was a remake a Shocking Blue classic, the video updated it into a very visual heavy blaze of sexual innuendo from angelic women transforming into devilish creatures that men lusted after.

By comparison, the Misfits weren’t really of that imagery. However, the idea of a generic bad girl group pretty much solidified Banarama with that video and perhaps gave the cartoon makers a few ideas. In addition, the older version of Banarama was more closely connected with the British punk scene. They had an edgier look to them where they made their own fashion (partly out of necessity, partly because two I believe were former art school students).

Also, in some of their classic videos like “Cruel Summer” or even going back further with “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye”, there was a sense of mischief and playfulness in their imagery and actions. They seemed to like to stick it to the Man in many of their videos to demonstrate that girls don’t like to be trifled. But I think it’s that core rebellious attitude that really make them a keen candidate as a template for the Misfits.

Now, the interesting thing about Banarama is that Siobhan Fahey did eventually depart in early 1988 after becoming disillusioned with the band’s direction. Of course, the incident does remind me of the time Stormer left the band, I think it’s more coincidence than anything in terms of timing and events.

Returning to the Holograms, we have the oddball Raya. I’m not really familiar with the character beyond her ethnicity and how she discovered Jem’s true identity. That said, there’s a few 80s Hispanic vocalist that can come to mind in determining her possible connection. But the one that stands out the most for me is Gloria Estefan. She had so many hits that it’s impossible to ignore her. Like Janet Jackson, Tina Turner, etc. Gloria Estefan was a powerhouse on her own accord but perhaps the character was a tribute to Gloria Estefan and her Hispanic heritage.

How about the Stingers? This is a really tough one to nail. I want to say that Sting would’ve been the influence just on name alone but the imagery just doesn’t match. Also, because the vocalist was male and the only prominent character in that band, I can’t match them to Heart since the Wilson sisters are the core identity of the band. From what I read the character is based on Whitesnake’s David Coverdale. Honestly, I would’ve said Michael Bolton but then again there were a lot of prominent hair vocalists back then.

Eric Raymond to me is probably David Geffen. While there are tons of music executives, probably the most memorable name is David Geffen. It’s hard to say if he’s the actual inspiration for Eric Raymond. But to me anyone who’s gotten to the level of a David Geffen had to pull off nefarious deeds that only insiders of the entertainment business would know.

Now, the tragic figure of Jacqui Benton might be a tribute to Karen Carpenter. I know it’s a real stretch but there’s a real sense of melancholy to Jacqui’s character that reminds me of Karen Carpenter. With Karen Carpenter she had a lounge singer’s voice if I could describe her which was what Jacqui Benton had done prior to become a family person. Karen Carpenter’s own tragic marriage seemed to cause her to spiral downward further with her anorexia as she seemed to not be in control of her own life.

I feel like Jacqui Benton’s character was meant to be a more uplifting note for future female singers dealing with their struggles. It didn’t have to be anorexia but the idea of giving up one’s dreams for family is something that was an 80’s convention for career women at the time. While Karen Carpenter wanted the opposite according to various interviews, I think this role reversal is meant to inspire young girls during the 80s to continue following their dreams.

Now, again this last bit about the connection to Karen Carpenter was a real stretch. But I feel that in some ways it’s hard to ignore these major players in the entertainment industry in coming up with a story and a large cast of characters that don’t imitate at some level a person in reality. At least with Jem and the Holograms, the backstory didn’t need to be as tragic so some of the tones could have been inspired from events that constantly surround the music industry, hence why I picked up on a few of these connections.

There are other female bands that might be worth noting while I’m doing my 80s gloss over. For instance, Vixen. Vixen happened a bit late to really say they had any impact on Jem and the Holograms. I recall in 6th grade or so how a friend mentioned that Jem was moving towards a hard rock sound. But Vixen occurred a bit later in terms of popularity. By that point, I believe Jem had aired its finale.

That said, Vixen looked incredibly close in imagery of what Jem and the Holograms could’ve been if they continued. Janet Gardner in particular was Jem manifested as a rocker. If she had pink hair, I would’ve pointed to her as the actual influence because of how exact they appeared, especially in the video “Edge of a Broken Heart.”

Lita Ford and Joan Jett seemed like potential candidates, maybe even being the two ladies from The Stingers. However, I think Lita Ford in particular was too edgy for a young audience at that time. Joan Jett would’ve made a far better candidate as she was more on the pop side than Lita Ford around that period. If anything even hints at a connection, it would be the character Jetta based on attitude, hair color and heck the name alone.

Now, Heart should’ve been in there some where based on their longevity, appeal and number of hits. I think Ann Wilson’s vocals alone deserve their own category. And Nancy Wilson is a legend in her own right with her notable rhythmic guitar playing and high kicks. Not to mention she was such a babe for me in videos like “Never”.

Also, notably absent are the Go-Go’s. They weren’t really around for long in the early 80s, but they did have numerous tracks you’d hear on the radio. Also, Belinda Carlisle was a huge force, belting out numerous top hits like Heaven Is A Place On Earth, Mad About You, I Get Weak, etc. And she had a pretty clean image as far as I could remember.

You also had two memorable artists in Tiffany and Debbie Gibson. Perhaps, they were a bit late to the dance when it came to becoming potential characters for Jem. But Tiffany had a few key hits and was an idol for young girls with her mall image and denim. Like Michael Steele, Tiffany had striking red hair and possibly could’ve been another candidate for Kimber. But I’d like to be believe Kimber was modeled after Steele.

The thing with Tiffany was her controversy with her parents and manager. I think it had a pretty negative impact on her image. That contrasted Debbie Gibson’s more squeaky clean, wholesome image. But Debbie Gibson really didn’t have a mirror in Jem. Again, it could be that she just came out too late to be noteworthy.

I can probably go through a laundry list of other 80s artists but none really made as much of an impact compared to the ones that I listed above with regards to the cartoon. It’s fun going back in time a bit and reflecting on how the things around us influenced the simple things. With Jem and the Holograms, I wish that the movie maker understood the actual driving forces and cultural impact in how these elements influenced the cartoon.

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