SoundTreks | Truly Outrageous: A Tribute to Starlight Records

It’s true: many people – critics and nostalgia junkies alike – are legitimately and unironically looking forward to Jon M. Chu’s film adaptation of Jem and the Holograms, based on Hasbro-mandated 1985 cartoon show. Chu, in case you had forgotten, directed one of the best films of the decade in Step Up 3D (I’m not kidding about that; listen to The B-Movies Podcast commentary track for the film), and Jem and the Holograms – for however crass its nostalgia exploitation – is most certainly a good match for him. 

The TV show was, in case you weren’t a child in 1985, about a young woman named – *ahem* – Jerrica, who was a philanthropist by day, and a rock star named Jem by night. Her Jem persona was facilitated by a pair of high-tech earrings that would mysteriously project a hologram around her body, effectively disguising her. It’s an odd premise. 

Check Out: The B-Movies Podcast Discusses Jem and the Holograms

Being about a pop musician, the show was jam-packed with music, featuring a new song in every one of its 65 episodes, either by Jem and the Holograms, their rival band The Misfits (which is not to be confused with Glenn Danzig’s band), and a tertiary act called Stingers. Fans of the show may recall many of the songs with fondness. 

On Friday, Sony records, in all their wisdom, elected to release a 12-track tribute record devoted entirely to Jem and the Holograms, called Truly Outrageous: A Tribute to Starlight Records, which is available for download at iTunes. This record features a slew of upcoming (read: unfamiliar) sugary supra-pop artists that may only be known by those under the age of 14, all singing new songs, perhaps inspired – or at the very least named after – numbers from the cartoon show. This is a golden opportunity for SoundTreks, as it gives us a legitimate and organic reason to listen to this record and report on our findings. 

Track 1. “Truly Outrageous” – Bean

The first track is, perhaps upsettingly, not a cover of the show’s well-remembered theme song, but a Radio Disney-friendly reworking of the theme as performed by the cute-as-a-button Noelle Bean. It’s a laregly nondescript, but undoubtedly upbeat technobouncy song that makes little reference to the TV show or the movie. The phrase “truly outrageous” was famously repeated in the original theme song, and it’s what most fans latched onto. 

The show was, of course, not at all outrageous. Indeed, Jem and the Holograms is one of the most innocuous TV shows of the ultra-innocuous 1980s, having been based on a line of toys that never really took off (Hasbro wanted to invent a girls’ toy that would compete with Mattel’s Barbie). This song is not outrageous, describes nothing that is outrageous, and doesn’t sound even remotely outrageous. This, however, may be appropriate, as I will explore in future tracks. 

Track 2. “LoveSick” – Chrissi Poland

In the context of the show, The Misfits were a post-punk-ish poppy New Wave band with enormous colored hairdos, and a sound that dwells somewhere in the basement of The Bangles. If I were to personally repurpose The Misfits, I would darken them a few shades, choosing an artist or band that would evoke maybe Siouxsie Sioux, Missing Persons, or even Joan Jett. Chrissi Poland is not that artist. The synthy background does evoke the 1980s, but it sounds like a bittersweet teen ballad, rather than anything with attitude, i.e. something The Misfits might sing

Track 3. “Running Like the Wind” – LACES

I’m figuring out what this record is about. These are not direct covers of the original songs, nor do they make much reference to the original contexts of Jem’s tunes, but are, instead, meant to be spiritual sequels to the original. This is truly a tribute. Fans of the original songs will hear their favorites, but they will be camouflaged under new lyrics, reworked melodies, and super-modern digital production techniques. 

This is not something to be upset about, however, because the original songs were not complex or deep to begin with. They were pop pap invented for an admittedly silly cartoon show about a bland pop artist. It actually makes perfect poetic sense that the songs from Jem and the Holograms should be handled the way they are on this record. They are a previous generation’s disposable pop being transformed into this generations disposable pop. 

LACES’ “Running Like the Wind” has some nice vocals, I suppose.

Track 4. “Destiny” – Barnaby Bright

I don’t remember The Stingers from the original TV show, but some cursory internet research reveals that they were a German pop band that briefly posed a threat to the popularity of Jem and the Holograms. They were also notable in the series for being the only band to feature a male member (a blonde Aryan stud name Riot). The original was a song about, well, destiny and predictions and was a bit spooky.

The Barnaby Bright song is a ballad about being distant and lovesick. I should perhaps mention that I feel like I’m too old for a lot of the pop on this record. It’s sounding very teenager. 

Track 5. “Gimme Gimme” – LACES

The Misfits, functionally being the villains of the TV show, often sang about being selfish, greedy, and avaricious. In the original “Gimme Gimme,” the band ate hamburgers, and openly confessed their covetousness. It’s a wicked and fun song that someone had a great time writing, and that vocalists clearly had a great time singing. I would have handed this one off to a ska band. 

LACES transformed the song into a “Gimme Gimme your attention” love song. I wish I knew more about the behind-the-scenes production of this record. I imagine that the new artists were asked to deliberately avoid the original cartoon songs, and were instead required to wring songs based only on the titles. I’ll take The Misfits’ version anyday. 

Track 6. “Like a Dream” – Madi Diaz

We’re into track 6, and I desperately need some texture. I admit that I am an old man who prefers dirty punk classics over modern electro-pop, so I may not have a fine enough ear (at least not yet) to trace to subtle distinctions between these particular artists, but too many of the songs on this record sound frustratingly alike. I noted that I had a similar problem with the modern hits on the soundtrack for Paper Towns, but that record was a masterpiece of diversity in comparison. Madi Diaz could be replaced by LACES, and I would not have noticed. The Jem original is also not very good, but it’s more memorable. 

Track 7. “All in the Style” – Ben Thornewill

The original was another one by The Stingers, and it was, as you can guess, all about style. It was specifically about the band’s own style, and how visually commanding they are in public. Ben Thornewill turned it into, you guessed it, another love song, now declaring the superiority of the style of the object of his affection. I like to think that Thornewill is essentially singing the same song from the opposite perspective. He just saw Riot, and this was his soulful and honest reaction to such a handsome dude. 

Track 8. “Abracadabra” – Meiko

I apologize, but this record is getting boring, and it’s proven, by track eight, to be a complete disappointment. 

I don’t have much to say about the musical importance or talents of Jem and the Holograms or of The Misfits or of The Stingers, but there was a note of variety from each of them. In the show, the bands sounded different, they sang about subject matter that was specific to their individual characters, and, while perhaps not written well, seemed to have a somewhat legitimate rivalry. 

This record does nothing to capture the spirit of the show, nor the spirits of the bands on the show. “Abracadabra” was another Misfits song, but you wouldn’t know it listening to Meiko here. 

Track 9. “Glitter & Gold” – Suzanna Chofel

Suzanna Chofel has a nice character to her voice. Also, when set next to the original, it actually feels a bit deeper and more meaningful. Sadly, that’s only faint praise. 

Track 10. “I’m Okay” – Skyes

Ah. Finally. Some muscle. Skyes are the only band on this record that can actually rock out, and their da-da-da lyrics are perfectly evocative of the era they are playing tribute to. The original was an everybody-hurts ballad about weeping through the tough times, as sung by Kimber and Stormer, the two Holograms sans Jem. Skyes turned into an empowering and driving rock-ish song about, ostensibly, not giving a crap. This is my favorite track on the record. 

Track 11. “The Real Me” – Amanda Brown

Listening to the original and comparing it to Amanda Brown’s version, I realize what I miss on this record: bass. There are, perhaps predictably, no live instruments on this record at all, using instead remixed computer tech to create their sound. I don’t eschew all electronic dance music out of hand- if I did, I wouldn’t be able to listen to any new music at all – but having one solid bass sound underneath the music instead of a bass-like drone would improve things considerably. 

This is a song about longing. The original has more attitude. 

I also realize that Jem and the Holograms themselves are woefully underrepresented on this record. 

Track 12. “Beat This” – Alice Lee

Sorry, Alice Lee, but I’m lost. You’re the same as all the others. You are beaten by the original

Which is Better: The Soundtrack or the TV Show?


This is a tough choice. The original songs were rather fun, but have nothing of real musical significance to offer the pop music world other than to be an enjoyable kiddie curio; if Jem and the Holograms were a real band, I would probably not buy any of their records. I might own one of The Misfits, but only if I found it in the dollar bin. I would most certainly not own any Stingers albums, and would likely mock the lead singer for his goofy hair. 

But when compared to the bland pop tribute, I find that the songwriting was weirdly diverse. The new songs are listenable background noise that only occasionally gasps forward as something with anything resembling breath or life. 

There may be a definite poetry to a bland pop record that is a tribute to earlier bland pop, but that poetry is eclipsed by the planetary body of Missed Opportunity. There was a chance to gussy up and celebrate the music of the original TV show. To explore nostalgia while trying to find the real musicality behind Jem and the Holograms. There was, perhaps, a great way to record some of the original songs, and this record elected not to do that. What a pity. 


Witney Seibold is a contributor to CraveOnline and co-host of The B-Movies Podcast. You can follow him on “Twitter” at @WitneySeibold, where he is slowly losing his mind.