Queen of Divas, and self-proclaimed headmaster of the school of pop Grace Jones has just announced she will be releasing her memoirs, hilariously titled I’ll Never Write My Memoirs. An excerpt was recently published in Time Out, and as you might expect, it’s full of amazing nuggets of wisdom on being an artist in a cut throat industry, as well as plenty of choice criticisms of today’s pop stars – or as she calls them – her pupils.
A stalwart trend setter, who rose to fame as the histrionic mascot for queer culture and the disco scene in New York in the late ’70s and early ’80s, Jones attacks the current trend obsessed state of the music industry.
“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.”
Never one to shy away from taking credit, she’s fast to locate her own influence in the work of these new starlets. More than just claim influence though, Jones is clear in stating that she feels others have gotten rich by stealing her ideas and identity.
“I have been so copied by those people who have made fortunes that people assume I am that rich. But I did things for the excitement, the dare, the fact that it was new, not for the money, and too many times I was the first, not the beneficiary.”
Not satisfied there, Jones went on to dissect the counter intuitive presentation of these stars as outsiders challenging the status quo from the middle of the road.
“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. You are really in Vegas wearing the sparkly full-length gown singing to people who are paying to see you but are not really paying attention. If that is what you want, fine, but it’s a road to nowhere.”
More than just rain shade down on her pupils, the excerpt also sees Jones meditating on her identity as an iconic artist, a problematic status for her as an attention grabbing artist who nevertheless prizes her originality and outsider status.
“I come from the underground. I am never comfortable in the middle of the stream, flowing in the same direction as everyone else. I think people assume that’s where I want to be, famous for being famous, because as part of what I do there is a high level of showing off. But my instinct is always to resist the pull of the obvious. It’s not easy.”
Offering her wisdom up to her “pupils”, the artists that have followed her example, Jones makes her most illuminating statements on fame and celebrity. Having seen countless artists rise and fall, she outlines how if one follows trends down the rabbit hole of fame, it can be hard to get back to where you started.
“This is what I would say to my pupil: you have become only your fame, and left behind most of who you were. How are you going to deal with that? Will you lose that person forever? Have you become someone else, without really knowing it? Do you always have to stay in character for people to like you? Do you know that you are in character?”
The poster child for this loss of character in the piece is “Doris” a pseudonym for a fellow pop star/imitator who Jones references throughout. Seeking to collaborate with the legendary singer, “Doris” was denied, with Jones offering the following as explanation at turning down the opportunity.
“I remember when one of the singers on the list of those who came after me first said that she wanted to work with me. Everyone around me is going: ‘You have to do it, it will be so good for you, it will introduce you to a whole new audience, you will make a lot of money’. No! It will be good for her; she will draw from everything I have built and add it to her brand, and I will get nothing back except for a little temporary attention. No one could believe that I said no, but I am okay on my own. I am okay not worrying about a new audience. If the fuck don’t feel right, don’t fuck it.
“With this one, who I will call Doris, I thought she was trying on other people’s outfits: she’s a baby in a closet full of other people’s clothes, a little girl playing dress-up, putting on shoes that don’t fit. I could see what she wanted to be when I watched her doing something when she started out that was starker and purer. Deep down, she doesn’t want to do all the dressing-up nonsense; she loses herself inside all the play-acting.”
She never comes and says who Doris is, but as Dlisted pointed out the references to Las Vegas would leave only Britney Spears and Suzanne Somers as contenders, and seeing as though Sommers and Jones are “cut from the same original cloth” one can assume Doris is the tragic Opps I Did It Again singer.
While there certainly seems to be an air of bitterness to some of these comments, it’s hard to argue with Jones, who, compared to many of her more successful contemporaries, has managed to remain largely untarnished by the passage of time. It’s hard to think of an artist who has managed to be so influential yet remain challenging and relevant to contemporary audiences.
A Grace Jones show today might not be as well attended as a Madonna tour, but you can be sure that everyone there is there to see Grace be Grace, rather than try and ape the current chart toppers. For Jones, fame is a means to an end and not an end in itself.
“I would say fame is all well and good if you want to take it to another level. If you have some greater purpose. Me, I am just a singer, on one sort of stage or another, who likes to have an audience, but not all the time. Listen to my advice; I have some experience. In a way, it is me being a teacher, which is what I wanted to be. I still feel I could go into teaching. What is teaching but passing on your knowledge to those who are at the beginning? Some people are born with that gift. With me, the teaching side morphed into the performing side. It’s in there. And these are my pupils – Gaga, Madonna, Annie Lennox, Katy Perry, Rihanna, Miley, Kanye West, FKA Twigs and… Doris.”
A lot to take in I know, but when Grace Jones talks, we listen, rapturously and with a smile on our faces. And if you take nothing away from this but one thing, let’s just reflect on this one nugget of wisdom she dropped between diatribes: “If the fuck don’t feel right, don’t fuck it.” If those aren’t word to live by I don’t know what is.
Never change Grace.
‘I’ll Never Write My Memoirs’ by Grace Jones is published by Simon and Schuster on September 24.
Watch: Grace Jones – Corporate Cannibal