Jem

Jem

“Look out, Barbie, there’s a new chick on the block and she’s come to knock you off that pedestal.”

Many a doll maker have attempted to take a swipe at the iconic Barbie over the years. Most have failed, but in the case of Jem, she proved she had a few tricks up her sleeve and managed to hold her own, thanks to a revolution that was changing the entertainment world, a force known as MTV.

While the world was being serenaded for the first time by videos of The Buggles, Duran Duran and Loverboy, Hasbro Toys was trying to figure out a way to use this new phenomenon to promote a doll that might finally give Barbie a run for her money. After toying with a few ideas, they settled upon Jem, a flashy and fashionable vixen who borrowed a few secret identity pointers from Clark Kent.

See, by day, she was Jerrica Benton, a high-powered corporate exec in the music industry and President of Starlight Records. When the sun went down and the spotlight went on, however, she would transform herself, via a special set of earrings and a supercomputer (of course) into the truly outrageous, pink-haired rocker, Jem.

Jem was the lead vocalist of The Holograms, an all-girl super band, similar to the Go Go’s or The Bangles, but with a wardrobe more suited for Madonna. Rounding out the band were Kimber (Jem’s little sister) on keyboards; Aja Leith, Chinese lead guitarist extraordinaire; Shana Elmsford, the African-American bass player of the group; and finally, Carmen Raya Alonso banging on the synth drums. Both Aja and Shana were recipients of Jem’s charitable nature, having come from Starlight House, the foster home Jem set up for orphaned girls.

Of course, any girl band worth their weight in salt must have an evil rival to contend with and in the case of Jem and the girls, they faced off against The Misfits, a decidedly edgier punk bank led by spoiled rich girl, Pizzazz. Along with Roxy, Stormer, Jetta, and their sinister manager, Eric, The Misfits were the bad girls on the block, dressed to the nines in ripped fluorescent outfits, touting lightning bolt-styled makeup and carrying an angry chip on their shoulders. Their attempts at taking over Starlight Records were frequent yet never successful for, try as they might, they could never win the … you guessed it … Battle of the Bands.

Now, It might seem unusual for this amount of backstory to accompany a toy doll. But, Jem was also living out her life in animated form – in a popular cartoon series that was created to help sell more Jem dolls. The show offered a glimpse into the world of an MTV rock star and also gave everyone a chance to see and hear the band perform in their very own … are you ready? … music videos! That’s right, Jem had the music video ace up her sleeve and Barbie was never going to know what hit her.

That wasn’t the only difference, of course. Jem and her collection of friends and foes were larger than Barbie and had some of the most fashionable wardrobes around. They also carried a higher price tag, however, and parents weren’t enamored with paying more money for clothes and accessories that weren’t even compatible with Barbie products.

Still, girls did get a bang for their buck – along with cooler wardrobe choices, there were also the nifty LED-powered earrings, and a groovy cassette tape included with every doll (of which each character from the series was represented) that gave girls a chance to rock out with all their favorite Jem tunes. And if you wanted to have that special Jem look, an official satin concert jacket, complete with MTV logo, was only a mere mail-order warehouse away.

When it came to accessories, Jem was well-provided for. She had her sleek roadster to hit travel around town and a stage, complete with built-in cassette player. When she decided to head out on her “Dream Tour”, her and the band were in mighty good company, thanks to a provided cassette tape that included music from The Fixx, Loverboy, The Thompson Twins and Toto.

It might have seemed as if nothing could go wrong for Jem, but the truth was, her fifteen minutes of fame were seemingly winding down and by 1988, she lived only in the memories of her adoring fans who, if nothing else, surely had an E True Hollywood story to look forward to somewhere down the line.

But, not so fast. It turns out we probably have not heard the last of Jem. In 2012, a new set of four dolls was released by Integrity Toys, each for the lofty price of about $120. Since then, over 25 different dolls have been released. Even better for Jem fans, production of a new live-action film is now underway. A movie and a new set of dolls probably isn’t enough to wobble the invincible Barbie’s pedestal all that much, but it is nice to see Jem getting the comeback she deserves.

If you were the proud owner of a Jem doll in the 80s, maybe even faithfully watched her cartoon adventures, we hope you’ll share all your memories in our comments section below.

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