Synopsis of Toy

"Look at me, in a different role,
Trying out a brand new part,
But don't you worry baby,
I know I'll never have a change of heart,
It's truly, truly outrageous,
Truly, truly, truly outrageous (a fantasy),
Bein' anyone I wanna be,
And on top of it all,
You're here with me oh, oh..."

The classiest, sexiest, most fashionable rock star the world has ever known is not Madonna, Cher, or even Britney. No, that honor goes to the girl with the pink hair, and flashing star earrings, the girl behind real girl power, Jem. The truly outrageous gal and her pals, the Holograms, were the best girl band since the Go-Gos took us on vacation, and the hippest dolls since Barbie made her debut.

Hasbro toys wanted to produce a rock n’ roll doll to coincide with the media frenzy of MTV, and after a few transformations, a pink haired ‘M’ doll and her backup band of three guys were made over into Jem and the all-girl Holograms. Determined to strip Barbie of her title, Hasbro approached animation producers Sunbow to create a cartoon starring the doll characters. The beloved cartoon was a marketing effort to popularize Hasbro’s dolls, and Jem soon became a superstar in the animation world.

The Jem and company dolls were certainly no Barbies: They were larger, way more fashionable (Barbie is Macy’s, Jem is Gaultier), but also to its detriment, more expensive. All the cartoon’s characters made an appearance as a doll, each with a cool fashion outfit and accessories like Jem’s flashing star earrings that glowed with an LED light, and each doll came with a cassette tape of the grooviest tunes with the latest Jem hits. The dolls became secondary to the adoration of the cartoon, but Hasbro found moderate (and cult-like) success in the dolls.

Jem brought Eurochic to the US, seducing girls with radical fashions and day-glo makeup. Clothes were sassy and flashy, looking more Madonna than Malibu, and the rival band, the Misfits, were as punk as a 10-year-old girl’s adoration could understand. (Some even claimed that the Misfits dolls were slow sellers because they looked ‘scary’).

Like Superman’s Clark Kent, Jem was the alter-ego of Jerrica Benton, the blonde and business-savvy president of Starlight Music. Jerrica transformed into pink haired Jem through the supercomputer Synergy and a pair of special earrings designed by her deceased father. Jem lived two lives, and her wardrobe needed to go from high-powered business executive to flashy stage star in a snap. Most outfits were reversible, or could go from work to wow with the addition of some accessories, the removal of jacket to show off a smashing dress, or pants traded in for a miniskirt. Madonna and Cyndi Lauper times infinity gave us Jem and the Holograms, the über-cool girl power group of the 80’s.

The evil to Jem’s good were the flashy, trashy Misfits, ruled by Pizzazz. Punk chicks with a mean streak, the Misfits were a rival band that always played second fiddle to the Holograms and Jem. Jem and friends loved sassy pastels, but the Misfits preferred neon and bold patterns with clashing colors. These girls were brats, and their music was loud, mean and angry—everything bad girls were, and the Misfits were the worst.

Headed up by green-haired Pizzazz, Roxy, Stormer, Jetta and groupie Clash gave punk a bad name. Dressed as Betsy Johnson meets Flash Gordon, the Misfits wore ripped fluorescent clothes, liked lightning-bolt-style makeup streaked across their face, and dyed their hair bold purple, green and blue. Their partners in crime, Eric Raymond and Techrat, tried to take over Starlight, but as everyone knows, good always wins over evil, and the Misfits always lost the battle of the bands.

Like all good fashion plates, Jem and her friends had a revolving array of stylish costumes, all sold separately. Danse, the choregrapher, borrowed her clothes from the dancer’s closet, and her Stevie-Nicks-style gypsy hair was like a pastel rainbow of pink and blue and blonde. Jem’s sister, red-headed Kimber, was often matched with her foster sisters: blue-haired Aja and Nubian princess Shana, with glorious lavender afro. And don’t forget Rio, Jerrica’s boyfriend and Jem’s road manager, or Video, their video director. Special dolls, like Glitter ‘n Gold and Flash ‘n Sizzle, rivaled any rock star’s wardrobe.

The girls were tied to MTV (their cartoon segments had videos with song captions like real MTV), and Jem and her friends had special mail-order black satin concert jackets with the MTV logo on the back. Jem’s music was half of the attraction, as Jem sang about important matters (doing the right thing, being a good friend, self-confidence, and so on). But these were no cheesy songs—each arrangement was catchy, pulsating with a great beat and truthful lyrics.

Jealous of Barbie and her camper? Jem had a Rolls Royce styled Roadster, and forget about a dream home—being a rock star meant life on the road, and a stage was the only home you needed. The cool thing about Jem is that all of the playsets weren’t just for looks, but like the double-duty of Transformers robots, each toy was more than meets the eye! Each came prepared to spread the sound of music: the roadster had a working FM radio, the stage doubled as a cassette player, and the back stage dressing room became a speaker. Beat that, Barbie!

Before there was Lollapollooza or Lilith Fair, Jem got together some of the hottest bands around for the ‘Dream Tour’, an audio cassette with songs by the Fixx, Loverboy, Thompson Twins, Toto and more. Even with all of these enticing extras, Jem’s shelf-life was limited. Parents that held the purse strings didn’t like having to buy a more expensive doll that couldn’t borrow clothes from Barbie, no matter how much cooler she looked. And so the dolls piled up on the shelves, finding a home with collectors and die-hards.

Hasbro tried to revitalize the dying product by replacing Jem with a smaller doll named “Maxie,” a high school girl and her friends, and replacing the ‘scary’ Misfits with a less extreme group, the Stingers. They even released a few dolls of the Starlight Girls, but to little success. Hasbro put up a good fight, but they didn’t count on the loyalty to Barbie: girls wanted a new friend for their Barbies, wanted to share clothes and shoes and campers (but never boyfriends!), but Jem was bigger and didn’t quite belong in the Barbie world.

Hasbro struck platinum with the rock star dolls and the accompanying cartoon, but audiences are fickle both at MTV and Toys ‘R Us. Jem’s 15 minutes of fame had long run out, and by 1988, the new year’s line of dolls and fashions never even made it to the shelves. The dolls and playsets are a hot collector’s item, and a support group is dedicated to re-releasing Jem for the new millennium. Jem cultivated fanatics of girls and women that can’t let go of how outrageous they felt for a brief, glorious moment, when being a rock star seemed almost within their reach.

Release History of Toy

1985 - Flash and Sizzle Jem/Jerrica
The Holograms: Aja, Kimber, Shana,
Video, Danse, Rio, Synergy
The Misfits: Pizzazz, Roxy, Stormer, Clash
Rock 'n Curl Jem/Jerrica
Jetta, Raya

1987 - Glitter & Gold Jem/Jerrica, (with articulated limbs)
Glitter & Gold Rio
Starlight girls: Banee, Ashley, Krissie
Kjem radio station playset, folds to become a guitar
New Wave waterbed-becomes electric piano
Video playsets that simulated a music video: Welcome to the Jungle, Love is Here

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