The Marquee Blog

The Throwback: Jem is back!

"Showtime, Synergy!"

Perhaps we should be saying, "Showtime, Hub!" instead. This week, the Hub network began airing reruns of '80s cartoon "Jem" in all its "truly outrageous" glory.

While it may be grammatically incorrect to use a noun to describe a noun (unless you're talking about CatDog), the theme song does just that (adjectives be damned!). Also, "the music's contagious" and our heroine is not just "truly outrageous," she is "truly, truly, truly outrageous." A triple threat if there ever was one.

"Jem" originally aired between 1985 and 1988 and maintains a devoted fan base to this day. The series centered around Jerrica Benton (Jem's top-secret alter-ego) who, upon the death of her father, inherited a record company and a foster home. He posthumously left Jerrica a final gift - Synergy, a holographic computer that helped Jerrica and her friends turn into the girl band Jem and the Holograms. As Jem, Jerrica fought to keep the Starlight Foundation open despite efforts of rival bad girl band "The Misfits."

Also of note: Jerrica's long term boyfriend, Rio, simultaneously dated Jem, blissfully unaware of her identity. Basically, Rio was the Lois Lane to Jem's Superman and Jerrica's Clark Kent. Jerrica apparently didn't mind.

CNN spoke to Britta Phillips, the singing voice of Jem.

CNN: The show ran for three seasons... Did you record the music all at once or was it spread out over three years?

Britta Phillips: It was spread out. When the episodes were written, we'd do the music first and then they would animate to that. I think it was the same as the speaking voice. I did the singing voice and the music in New York and they did the speaking voice in L.A. and then they would send it to be animated.

CNN: Did you coordinate with the actress who did Jem's dialogue?

BP: No. We never spoke to them and I just met Samantha Newark (the actress who voiced Jem's dialogue) for the first time a couple of months ago. There was no communication. Of course we knew about the stories and the characters from seeing the show after it aired but that was it.

CNN: You're a professional musician. How realistic a portrayal of the music industry was "Jem," and would the Holograms have made it today?

BP: Well, the industry as it was then hardly exists now. Then it was about huge CD sales - well, actually huge CD sales didn't start until about six years after that, but that was the beginning of it - and now it's all about downloading. [Celebrities] just aren't as huge as they used to be. Now, obviously, there are some exceptions, we still have a few stars, but it's different. As for whether they would've made it, well...I would say, I guess so. It would depend on their representation (laughs).

CNN: From a musician's standpoint, which of the three groups do you think was the best - The Holograms, The Misfits or The Stingers?

BP: I really liked The Misfits (laughs). It's really song-by-song. I'm not as familiar with The Stingers' stuff but I really loved a lot of the Jem stuff too, though. Some of it was pretty sophisticated. But I loved the "bad girl" attitude of The Misfits.

CNN: How many times during your career have you touched your ear and said, "Synergy"?

BP: The first time was at the JemCon I went to and maybe once at a gay bar (laughs).

CNN: Wait! There's a JemCon?

BP: I think there are a few. I've been hearing about them for a couple of years and then they had one that was sort of near me. I live in New York and it was in New Hampshire and I was able to go to that one. There were people from all over the world. There were people from Holland and England and Italy and Mexico. It was pretty wild.

CNN: What was the deal with Rio's hair? Don't you find it strange that he was dating both Jerrica and Jem, even though he didn’t know they were the same person?

BP: As for the hair, it was the '80s. And in the '80s I had green and pink and different colors in my hair, so... You know sometimes TV and movies ask you to swallow something that's a little hard to believe, but it was a cartoon. He probably should have known that they were the same person but one of them was very glamorous and... I don't know, it was weird (laughs).

CNN: Have you ever run into fans of the show that recognized your voice?

BP: No, but usually people find out it's me and come to a show. I play with my husband - we call ourselves Dean & Britta - and they've found out about us online and will tell me at the show.

CNN: What questions do "Jem" fans always ask you?

BP: They always ask me what my favorite song was. It's always a different answer. And they ask me to sing the theme song.

CNN: Do you have a Jem doll?

BP: I have one from way back then and someone gave me a custom one at the JemCon.

CNN: The series actually had a finale where the three bands declared a truce. Were you sad when it ended and what do you think the show's legacy is?

BP: I was sad when it ended but I was busy doing some acting at the time so I think I would've been sadder if I hadn’t been busy doing something else. I was kind of surprised it ended because I had heard the show was quite successful, but then I was informed that it was really canceled because the dolls weren't selling well. And, I guess, the show was created to sell the dolls.

Of course, they were too big to fit into Barbie clothes, so that might've been part of the problem (laughs). As for the legacy, it's a great time capsule of the '80s. It's the only animated show with MTV band videos in it. And it was kind of an adult show for kids that had some unusual things in it.

What about you? What are your favorite "Jem"-ories?