Ladies and Gentlemen – Miss Grace Jones

Roy Ward

Last Summer, during the Queen’s Jubilee Concert, at the very height of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations, there was a point where very few people were thinking about dear old Elizabeth. Most of the UK sat transfixed, watching a six-foot tall Jamaican grandmother the same age as Prince Charles sing and hula-hoop her way around the stage in a red latex leotard. A piss-poor performance from Cheryl Cole, an always unwelcome appearance from Sir Cliff Richard and the ubiquitous wheeling-out of Sir Paul McCartney had all threatened to ensure the concert would be about as enjoyable as a punch in the face. Enter Grace Jones, here to show the UK what a true entertainer looks like, and to save the day. The Internet exploded with praise for a truly stunning performance, and Grace hula-hooped her way into TV history yet again.

None of this was an enormous surprise to me, having already had the immense pleasure of seeing this hip-gyrating sexagenarian do her thing in concert in Manchester back in 2009. The second she appeared on stage, belting out a cover of Iggy Pop’s “Nightclubbing” atop a 15-foot platform, wearing a huge fibre-optic head-dress, I knew this was going to be one hell of a show. She did a costume change between every single song, but every outfit still showed off her absolutely killer legs. If I can look even a fraction as fabulous in my sixties as Grace Jones does, I will be exceedingly happy.

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Born in Spanish Town, Jamaica in 1948, Grace Jones started off as a supermodel on the catwalks of New York and Paris, before securing a record deal in 1977. Her first album Portfolio features her glorious bossa nova/disco cover of Edith Piaf’s “La Vie en Rose”, which is currently enjoying a new lease of life in the advert for Dior’s new perfume, starring Natalie Portman.

The early 80s saw a marked change in both her music and her visuals – she cultivated a fiercely androgynous, angular look, and adapted New Wave music, moving more towards an electronic, semi-experimental sound. How many other artists would have released ‘I’ve Seen That Face Before, a single mashing up a classic Argentinian tango arrangement with a reggae-tinged beat and lyrics about cruising around Parisian nightclubs? Not many.

She gained a reputation for being a wild, unpredictable personality – infamously slapping chat show host Russell Harty live on TV in 1981 because she didn’t think he was paying enough attention to her. She also has a lifetime ban from Walt Disney World after exposing her breasts during a live performance there. When she appeared as a Bond villain alongside Roger Moore in A View To A Kill, she ruined a take of a sex scene by smuggling a black and white polka-dot dildo onto the set with her. Living legend.

She released her most recent studio album, Hurricane, to critical acclaim in 2008. The album effortlessly encompasses trip-hop, reggae, soul and even gospel, featuring as its lead single ‘Corporate Cannibal’, a terrifying spoken-word indictment of greed and capitalism set to a relentless electronic beat. Perhaps not the sort of music most 60-year-old artists would produce, but it’s clear from her long career that Grace Jones is not most artists.

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She fearlessly rocked androgyny years before Annie Lennox donned that black two-piece suit in the video for ‘Sweet Dreams. She wore outlandish costumes on stage before Lady Gaga was Lady Gaga. She was a bad-ass, sex-positive black female performer years ahead of Lil’ Kim, Rihanna, or Azealia Banks. Without Grace Jones to pave the way, we might not have many of the fierce singers, models and actresses we have today.  Any artist who could popularise a song about snorting coke and taking it up the arse is a hero in my eyes- Grace Jones, we salute you.

About Roy Ward

When Roy was 7 a girl tied him to a tree and tried to set him on fire. He now lives in Leeds with his boyfriend. These facts may be connected. Vada's Deputy Editor, he loves pop culture in all its forms, plus feminism; drag queens and Nigella Lawson. Find him on Twitter @badlydrawnroy.