Hasbro was riding high off its successful combinations of toys and animation with its popular early 1980s series, G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, The Transformers and My Little Pony when they moved on to a brand-new concept called Jem, a line of dolls about rival rock bands (Jem and the Holograms and Pizzazz and the Misfits). Popular animation writer Christy Marx was given the responsibility of putting together the storyline behind the series and she delivered with a striking series that mixed fantasy with romance and a hearty helping of rock and roll thrown in there, as well.
Considering that the series followed around two of the biggest rock bands in the world, it is only natural that things would sometimes push the envelopes, as rock and roll tends not to be overly concerned with niceties. Each episode would have a number of songs in them. However, the song lyrics (and the music videos that they would make for each song) would always be notable areas where the show could really push the boundaries of what is acceptable for a kids animated series. Read on to see 15 examples of when Jem and the Holograms snuck by the censors (including one really shocking example).
15. WORKING THAT MIC
One of the most notable ways that Jem would push the envelope in the series was that they would really try to make the music videos that would appear in the episodes as steamy as possible. Sometimes, they would go too far.
A good example is the music video for the song, “There’s a Melody Playing.” The video is a fairly generic Jem and the Holograms video throughout, but then towards the end, Jem starts to treat the microphone stand as if it is the pole in a gentleman’s club and begins to sort of grind against it. It’s a disturbing sight in a kids show to see her ride it and then turn to the camera and give a sort of “come hither” look.
14. GIVING IT SOME PIZZAZZ
A similar example is with the music video for “There Ain’t Nobody Better,” which is performed by the rival band to Jem and the Holograms in the series, Pizzazz and the Misfits. Pizzazz makes sure to shake everything that she has when she tries to prove that she’s better than Jem.
That’s the weird thing, though, as these music videos try to evoke actual music videos of the era; of course, in the end, they are not actual music videos. These are cartoons and thus, there is no such thing as an actual “camera panning down” shot, since there is no actual camera involved. So when the image shows the “camera” panning down to take in all of Pizzazz’s backside, that’s an intentional (and creepy) move by the animators.
13. NO MEANS NO, PIZZAZZ!
Generally speaking, cartoons of this era had a real problem when it came to the idea of “no means no.” This isn’t anything new in cartoons, of course, as the whole point of the Academy Award-winning Pepe Le Pew animated film series was that the skunk star of the series wouldn’t take no for an answer from the cat that he pursued throughout the series.
So one person pushing the issue while the other person keeps saying “no” was a standard trope in cartoons for decades. In Jem, though, Pizzazz is obsessed with Rio, the love interest for Jerrica and Jem in the series. The show has her proposition him so many times that it really ends up getting kind of graphic at times when she is not very subtle about what she wants to do with him.
12. GIVE IT A REST PIZZAZZ
Naturally, one of the driving plots of the series is Pizzazz’s obsession with Jem and how Jem seems to get everything that Pizzazz wants, only Jem does it without breaking all of the rules like Pizzazz does (seriously, the Misfits do some crazy stuff in this series). However, in a way, what the show sort of presents is the duality between someone who is in touch with her sensuality (Pizzazz) and someone who is still naive about hers (Jem).
This is shown through the innuendo-laced song, “Who Is She Anyways?” where Pizzazz and the Misfits bemoan all of the attention given to Jem, but Pizzazz seems to stress certain physical aspects of Jem in the song instead, like repeatedly asking, “What does she have that is better than mine?”
11. THIS AIN’T AGE OF INNOCENCE
Language obviously evolves over the years, so that what would be an appropriate phrase in the past is no longer an appropriate one in the present. A good example is the old time use of the phrase “make love,” which for many years meant “to kiss.” In Edith Wharton’s classic early 20th Century novel, Age of Innocence, there are repeated references to characters “making love” to each other that sound hilarious out of context today.
However, by the 1980s, that phrase had already entered into the lexicon to mean something else entirely, so it was an edgy lyric in the song “Who is He Kissing?” for Jem to sing about her woes about her double identity, “Who is he kissing? Is it me?/Or is he making love to a fantasy?”
10. THE MISFITS ARE EASY
As we have established, the Misfits in Jem and the Holograms are not well people. They aren’t just rivals to the Holograms, they’re straight up criminals. Even calling them “criminals” seems to underestimate how dark they get in the series. At one point, they flat out kidnap Kimber (Jem’s sister) and tie her up in an active volcano! That’s insane!
So when they sing about how they want everything to just come to them easily in the song “Free and Easy,” then you can believe that they really are above the rules. That said, the song also is clearly meant as a double entendre for a certain type of person (someone who is “easy”). As if the Misfits needed to sing a song to let us know that about them.
9. COME ON IN, THE WATER IS FINE
As noted, many Jem songs barely even qualify for double entendres, as the songs are so suggestive that they are practically just outright saying the sort of things that you think that they are trying to get across. One of these songs in the series is called “Come On In, The Water’s Fine.”
In it, Jem sings, “Something big’s been waiting to happen/Ever since you and I met/If you wanna make it happen/You gotta let your feet get wet, baby/So come on, come on, come on/Come on in, the water’s fine.” Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the animation’s depiction of water is a bit thicker than normal, giving it the feel of something else entirely. Gross, Jem, you have it all over your hands!
8. WATCH THE HANDS, BUDDY!
In the world of Jem and the Holograms, the main love triangle on the series was Jem, her secret identity Jerrica and Jerrica’s longtime friend (and manager of the Holograms), Rio. It was a whole Superman/Clark Kent/Lois Lane thing going on between them. However, the love triangle didn’t just stop there. As noted before, Pizzazz was always trying to get into Rio’s pants. However, Jem also had a notable suitor in Riot, the lead singer of the band The Stingers.
In one notable episode, it seems like Riot might have succeeded in wooing Jem. He talks directly to the audience about Jem, and when he does so, he makes these super disturbing groping motions with his hands that it is amazing that anyone thought that was a good idea to animate.
7. THAT’S BARELY EVEN SUBTEXT
In the awesome IDW Jem and the Holograms comic book series by Kelly Thompson and Sophie Campbell, there is a romantic relationship between Kimber of the Holograms and Stormer of the Misfits. It’s this cool little Romeo and Juliet thing that they’ve got going on, and it became a popular ship.
Naturally, in the 1980s, you were not going to be allowed to do a lesbian romance plot on a kids cartoon series. However, they got about as far you could possibly go with the early episode, “The Bands Break Up,” where Kimber and Stormer leave their respective bands and form a duo together. Pizzazz, at one point, even tells Stormer (in a song, of course) that Kimber will “break her heart in two.” That isn’t even really subtext, is it?
6. BACKGROUND BANDS HAVE THE ODDEST NAMES
When you watch Jem and the Holograms, it really feels like that the Holograms and the Misfits are not just the two most popular bands in the world, but they are the only two bands in the world. Occasionally the Stingers work in there, as well, of course, but it often seems like popular culture in the world of Jem does not extend beyond these two bands.
That’s not fully true, of course, as they do, in fact, occasionally feature other bands. These other bands, though, are purely afterthoughts, so much so that their names are hilariously ridiculous. One all-female group has a name that almost sounds like a case of a writer saying, “Do you think we could get this on TV?” That band name is the Limp Lizards. It sounds like the “Before” part of a men’s performance medication commercial!
5. ADDING TO THE MISFITS
The original lineup of the Misfits was Pizzazz, Roxy and Stormer. However, as the series went on, they decided to add a new member to the group. The newest member was a saxophone player named Jetta. Originally, Christy Marx wanted the character to be black, in an attempt to add some diversity to the Misfits. However, Hasbro felt uncomfortable having a black villain on the show, so Jetta became a white British woman instead (in the 2015 comic book, she was a black British woman).
In the Misfits song, “I Like Her Style,” Pizzazz is selling her to the group, but it seems unlikely that the show didn’t realize that there could be a whole other meaning to Pizzazz mooning over Jetta in the song. You would almost think that Kimber and Stormer had some company!
4. COYOTE UGLY, JEM-STYLE
Famously, the big trade-off in the world of the Hasbro animated series is that in exchange for the government laying off of Hasbro in its use of cartoons to basically be half hour long ads for their toys, Hasbro would at least throw in some morality plays into their stories. Jem had less overt lessons than some of the other cartoons of the era, but they were still present in the stories.
That is what makes it so amusing, though, that people are constantly drinking in Jem and the Holograms episodes! The drinks are often colored outrageous shades so as to not make it obvious that they’re drinking alcohol but, well, they’re still obviously drinking alcohol! It’s pretty surprising that the show got away with it in an era of such strict “drinking is bad” cartoon morality.
3. PIRATE BOOTY
The Misfits are such jerks that they can’t even allow the foster kids that Jem sponsors to get ahead in life without trying to mess around with them. In the episode, “Treasure Hunt,” Pizzazz is irritated that it looks like the Starlight Girls (the foster kids that Jem sponsors and has live in her mansion with her) are going to win some valuable prize from a rich philanthropist.
So, Pizzazz puts together a team of girls she took off of the street to beat the Starlight Girls in a literary-themed treasure hunt (Pizzazz makes sure to cheat by using an off-site computer to solve the clues). At one point, the Starlight Girls and their chaperone, Jem, get into a pirate boat with a suggestive mermaid at the bow of the ship.
2. NOT MUCH LEFT TO THE IMAGINATION
As noted, Riot had been wooing Jem for some time, but in the episode “The Day the Music Died,” it looks like he finally got his wish (and he was really jerky about it). One of the strangest things about Riot is that he is not just good-looking, but knows he is good-looking and knows how things always work out for him, when Jem agrees to go on a cruise with him.
While on the cruise, they spend a whole lot of romantic time together and the show plays it cool about whether Riot and Jem have separate rooms on this cruise. They certainly imply that Jem and Riot spend the night together on the cruise (while, of course, keeping things just vague enough so the show would not get into trouble).
1. DRAWING THE LINE
In the episode, “The Princess and the Singer,” the Holograms go on tour in the small European country of Morvania, where they then discover that the princess of Morvania is a dead ringer for Kimber! As you would expect, the girls take advantage of this fact by switching places, with the princess getting a chance to live the rock star life of the Holograms and Kimber getting the chance to see what being a princess is like.
At one point in the episode, we see among the Morvanian castle an old school painting on the wall, but the painting is of the era where women in paintings were without clothing. It’s explicitly something that the animators never would have gotten approval for, so they clearly just snuck it in. This takes outrageous to a totally new level!
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