From her inimitable aesthetic to her slew of badass roles in film, here is our definitive guide to the eternal rebel of our times
Nobody comes close to pop culture’s most outrageous cult figure Grace Jones. From spending the late 70s as a musical dominatrix at gay disco haunt Studio 54, to playing muse for the likes of Jean-Paul Goude and Andy Warhol, taking acid with the Hells’ Angels, slapping chat show hosts live on TV and setting her ex-lovers’ trousers on fire, Jones was the model, singer and actress that eschewed all expectations to become an icon of counter-cultural rebellion. Now, aged 67, she shows no signs of slowing down, having just completed yet another world tour, a ridiculously salacious autobiography and an appearance in the ‘loudest silent movie on earth’. With this in mind, we take a look back at the life of a woman who has always (and still does) live at 100mph.
A IS FOR ANDROGYNY
“I feel feminine when I feel feminine. I feel masculine when I feel masculine. I am a role switcher.” Grace Jones told us in an interview last month, and nobody could have phrased her effortlessly androgynous, queer-before-queer style more perfectly. In 1981 she released a cover of “Demolition Man” by The Police – the lead single on her album Nightclubbing – and visually accompanied her sound with a powerful new androgynous look, fashioned from a flat-top military style hair-cut and directional tuxedo. It would go on to become Jones’ most iconic and career-defining aesthetic and, buttressed by her deep, lilting voice and rejection of gender stereotypes, helped kicked the revolutionary engine into gear.
B IS FOR BOND GIRL
Jones took on the role of henchwoman May Day in the 1985 James Bond classic A View To A Kill but, as befitting her subversive real-life identity, she ripped up the Bond girl rulebook to play a fierce girl-gang leader capable of gravity-defying feats of superhuman strength. In fact, the best part of the entire film is the bit where May Day lifts KGB Klotkoff clean over her head, as if he weighed absolutely nothing. She also takes her sunglasses off, but only for a moment, when ejecting people from airships (see below).
C is for COMPASS POINT STUDIOS
The legendary Bahamian recording den, Compass Point Studios, was set up by Island Records’ mainstay Chris Blackwell in 1977 and throughout the late 70s and 80s played host to some of the biggest names in rock and pop, including The Rolling Stones, David Bowie and AC/DC. Grace Jones recorded a hat-trick of new wave-style albums there with in-house producers Compass Point Allstars; Warm Leatherette (1980), Nightclubbing (1981) and Slave to the Rhythm (1985), culminating with the two-disc anthology Private Life: The Compass Point Sessions, in 1998.
D IS FOR DISCO
Grace Jones is arguably the lifeblood of the disco movement. She released a number of celebrated albums in thrall to the four-on-the-floor beat, most notably her 1978 debut Portfolio, which featured anthems “La Vie En Rose” and “Send in the Clowns”, which she would perform during the early days of seminal New York nightclub Studio 54, when she would entertain the crowds with her hi-NRG, highly-sexed performances. She paints a vivid picture of the disco days in her autobiography: “Lathered in foam and coke, tongued and flailed by drag queens, total strangers and horny hedonists, entertaining the creeps, freaks, strays, and lionized, living the un-American dream.”
E IS FOR EGYPTIAN QUEEN VAMPIRE
Jones is a musical performer with bona fide acting skills. The Grammy-nominee and three-time Saturn Award-winner’s natural theatrical state resides with the strong female lead and in 1986 she donned a schlocking scarlet bob and let Keith Haring lavish her with body paint to metamorphose into blood-sucking seductress Katrina the Egyptian queen vampire for Richard Wenk’s sleaze-filled b-movie Vamp (well, she is the self-styled “man-eating machine,” after all!) Click here to read a run down of all her most badass moments in film.
F IS FOR FASHION MUSE
She’s the muse that launched a thousand works of art. From her most famous photographs and outfits from Jean-Paul Goude, Andy Warhol and Keith Haring, to sartorial greats like Tunisian designer Azzendine Alaia (whose jaw-dropping body-con creations she wore in Vamp) and Yves Saint Laurent, whose sculpted jackets she wore with authority, the presence, energy and aesthetic of Grace Jones has always been a rich source of artistic inspiration.
G IS FOR GOUDE
Jean-Paul Goude was Grace Jones’ former partner in crime, creativity and life. The French art director first met Jones in NYC during the heady days of the Downtown scene and was apparently hypnotised by her straight away. He began consulting her on her image and her live shows, famously nurturing her iconic, androgynous aesthetic and their relationship blossomed into a long-lasting romance. Although they are no longer romantically involved, the pair have a child together called Paulo.
H IS FOR HITTING CHAT SHOW HOSTS
Everyone’s heard about the time Grace Jones slapped chat show host Russell Harty – it’s one of the most talked about chapters in her life story. The fact that she did it live on camera in 1981 was brilliant, (do that today and you would probably break the Internet) but the fact that she’s since chalked it up to a combination of “bad coke, pigeon shit and hallucinations,” is just incredible.
I IS FOR ISLAND RECORDS
Island Records wouldn’t be the same without its flagship artist Grace Jones. She signed with the label in 1977 and has enjoyed a long-standing relationship with them, releasing ten albums in total which affected her smooth transition from disco queen to new wave provocateur, marking the latter with acclaimed records like Warm Leatherette and Nightclubbing.
J IS FOR JAMAICA
Grace Jones was born in Spanish Town, Jamaica and raised by her ultra-religious grandmother and step-grandfather in the Pentecostal faith. She hated her step-grandfather – a cruel, violent, cultural philistine who banned music in the home – so she fled Jamaica aged 13 and joined her parents in Syracuse, New York, before moving to New York City aged 18. Although Jones quickly became an NYC native, she often brings her Caribbean roots to the fore via her music; the reggae-flavoured “My Jamaican Guy” or her dub-filled Hurricane LP of 2008 are prime examples of this.
K IS FOR KEITH HARING
Jones was a living canvas to pop art trailblazer Keith Haring. The pair had been introduced to each other through Andy Warhol in the mid-80s and Haring would go on to transform Jones into striking and intricate fleshy works of art, most notably parodying a masai warrior for the iconic Robert Mapplethorpe photo shoot. In the video for her 1986 track “I’m Not Perfect (But I’m perfect for you)” Haring draws her an incredible 60ft dress in his trademark graffiti-inspired print.
L IS FOR LSD
“Use, don’t abuse,” is the mantra by which Jones has always lived her life. Having confidently extolled the artistic virtues of the drug’s mind-expanding properties, Jones has never been backwards about coming forwards for lysergic bliss; “LSD gave me a lot of insight and sensitivity about what is happening 360 degrees around me. I plugged into all of it. I’m not sure if it’s just the LSD, but it gave me a sixth sense of awareness,” she recently told Dazed.
M IS FOR MODEL
On moving to New York City aged 18, Jones signed up with the Wilhelmina Models but found little success so moved to Paris. There, she became one of the first black women in the industry, modelling for designers like Kenzo and Yves Saint Laurent, making friends with Karl Lagerfeld and Giorgio Armani and going on to appear on the cover of practically every major fashion mag, from Vogue to Elle. She eventually quit to pursue music and acting, proclaiming: “I spent half my life staring at thousands of perfect reflections. It got to a stage where I was losing all sense of reality.”
N IS FOR NINETEEN YEARS
In 2008, Jones came hurtling back into the world of music-making after nineteen years with Hurricane – a record in thrall to her Jamaican dancehall and reggae roots, weaving them through gospel dub. Featuring guest appearances from Brian Eno, Tricky, and even her beloved mum Marjorie, she brought the album to life on stage with an impressive routine of hula-hooped choreography.
O IS FOR "ORIGINAL BEAST"
She may not have put out an album in nearly two decades, but during that time Grace Jones never stopped singing. In “Original Beast” (below), her contribution to last year's The Hunger Games soundtrack, she growls "I'm a different animal, a different kind of animal" making her musical presence known.
P IS FOR "PULL UP TO THE BUMPER"
Originally recorded for 1980’s Warm Leatherette, but released as a single in 1981, this post-disco boogie earworm would eventually make even bigger waves when it appeared on the 1985 reissue of Nightclubbing. It's since been sampled by Coolio, covered by LCD Soundsystem and The Gossip and is arguably one of the best hits of the 80s, let alone of Jones' own back catalogue.
Q IS FOR QUEEN OF THE GAY DISCOS
Grace Jones was a regular fixture in the late 70s club circuit in New York City and established a name for herself as one of disco's leading lights during the heady days of Studio 54 and Paradise Garage, where she would reguarly perform and party. In fact, her synonymy with disco was so powerful, and her presence at these clubs so regular, that she quickly gained the nickname "Queen of the Gay Discos" amongst her peers at the time.
R IS FOR RIDER
Tour riders often reflect artists’ inflated egos, so with the likes of Mary J Blige requiring a brand new toilet seat for every new dressing room she graces while on the road, you'd more than expect Grace Jones to follow suit and have a few diva requests of her own. She features an example of her rider in I'll Never Write My Memoirs but it's really rather modest. Apart from the six bottles of Cristal, of course.
S IS FOR "SLAVE TO THE RHYTHM"
Grace Jones' 1985 track “Slave to the Rhythm” (below) is so good, she decided to record it 8 times. Testament to her experimental nature and in thrall to the avant-garde, the fruits of her labour were packaged into an 8-track concept album and produced by the impenetrable Trevor Horn. The video, which largely consists of excerpts from previously released music videos, narrowly missed out on an MTV Video Music Award (losing to Whitney Houston's "How Will I Know"), but has since become one of the most iconic videos to grace the 1980s.
T IS FOR TOM MOULTON
As legend has it, renowned disco producer and ‘father of the remix’ Tom Moulton, originally heard Grace Jones sing and thought she sounded like Dracula actor Bela Lugosi. That was in 1976, and the pair would strike up a creative partnership which would go on to bear three incredible albums – Portfolio (1977) Fame (1978) and Muse (1979). These early disco classics helped Jones’ musical career rise in leaps and bounds.
U IS FOR THE ULTIMATE COLLECTION
Released in 2006, The Ultimate Collection features newly remastered tracks from Jones’s disco era of 1977-1979. Although there are a number of Grace Jones compilations, this is her most iconic and best known, encapsulating the singer at her most ferocious, when she was "Queen of the Gay Discos" riding high with Tom Moulton. “I Need a Man”, “Love is the Drug”, “Do or Die”, “La Vie En Rose”, “Slave to the Rhythm”,“My Jamaican Guy" – all the big-hitters are there.
V IS FOR VOCAL RANGE
Grace Jones boasts an impressive vocal range which spans two-and-a-half octaves. She can effortlessly switch from contralto to soprano, which, in layman’s terms, means she can hit both the highs and the lows.
W IS FOR WALT DISNEY WORLD
Grace Jones just loves to bare her breasts. Some of her more risqué live performances have been met with disgust and alarm but none so much as the time she dared to bare at Florida’s Walt Disney World in 1998, which notoriously earned a place on their banned-for-life list ever since.
X IS FOR X-RATED
Whether she's wearing her birthday suit in Playboy magazine, hula-hooping completely topless throughout the entirety of “Slave to the Rhythm”, advising us to stick cocaine up our bums or telling us all about the soundtrack to her sex life (she likes Barry White in the bedroom, in case you were wondering) Grace Jones is no prude, and likes to keep her work and words forever raunchy and never boring.
Y IS FOR YEEZY BEEF
Jones has slammed everyone from Miley Cyrus to Lady Gaga and Kim Kardashian for their inability to challenge the status quo or do anything that she has not done already. However her beef with Kanye West extends past the ubiquitous Twitter insult; she’s threatened him with *actual* violence. Speaking to The New York Times last month, Jones claims the rapper stole her idea for a music video: “When I see him, honestly, I’m going to get in his face.” Be afraid.
Z IS FOR ZULA
Richard Fleischer’s 1984 beefcake fantasy adventure film, Conan the Destroyer – starring a ridiculously ripped Arnold Schwarzenegger – may look a little cheesy in the harsh light of 2015 but Jones’ uncompromising performance as bandit warrior Zula is timeless. “How do you attract a man…what do you do to get him?” she is asked in one scene, to which Zula replies: “YOU GRAB HIM AND YOU TAKE HIM.”
Read our most recent interview with Grace Jones here