Jem, which first appeared on TV and in toy stores during the ’80s, centered on Jerrica Benton, a young music executive by day who moonlighted as a rock star. This year, the franchise is making a comeback with new toys, a live-action movie, and even a Jem-inspired album, Truly Outrageous: A Jem and the Holograms Tribute, from Hasbro Studios and Sony Music/Legacy Recordings. The new album features songs from the animated series, Jem, which aired on TV for 65 episodes, covered by modern artists and featuring contemporary musical sensibilities.
Truly Outrageous: A Jem and the Holograms Tribute is presumably intended for Jem fans both young and old. However, the extent to which somebody in their mid-to-late-30s—who would have watched the show’s original run when they were a kid—will enjoy it probably depends on how much he or she enjoys modern-day alternative pop music. Perusing the track list, the recording artists include Bean, Chrissi Poland, and Laces, who might be more familiar to a younger demographic (not to date myself age-wise, but I’ve never heard of any of them). The music itself has a very contemporary production style, which might surprise listeners expecting songs that sound exactly like a 30-year-old cartoon show.
Having said all that, it might be best to view Truly Outrageous through the same lens as the live-action film, Jem and the Holograms, coming to theaters later this year. Judging from the previews, it isn’t a direct translation of the original TV series (unless there turns out to be considerably greater use of holograms than hinted at), but it does share certain themes including private versus public persona, the difficulties of living under a media spotlight, and the importance of friendship.
Similarly, Truly Outrageous takes its inspiration from the music of the animated series, but filters it for a modern audience. The album offers songs about dreaming big (“We can be anything we want to be/And on top of it all/You’re here with me,” as sung on the title track), youthful longing (“Lovesick,” “Abracadabra”), and defiance (“I’m Okay,” “Running Like the Wind”).
While the majority of tracks have the same tempo and synthesized production style, the songs centered on pushing back in the face of adversity are the most interesting. For example, Laces’ “Running Like the Wind” has a steady beat that marches along confidently, grows quiet, and then rises up again and plows forward, backed by the lyrics, “But don’t surrender/I won’t surrender.”
Much like the impending movie, Truly Outrageous: A Jem and the Holograms Tribute is less a straight-from-the-screen translation than a classic reinvented. But it does succeed where the best cover songs in music succeed: The various recording artists start with original source material, but eventually make it their own. And that’s a testament to the universality of Jem itself.