Jheri Curl June: Madonna’s “Lucky Star”

Look, I know we called this final week of Jh3ri Curl Jun3 White Boys’ Week, but I think we would be remiss to talk about jheri curl music’s appropriators without a shoutout to the anointed queen of all swagger-jackers: Madonna. Almost a decade before she brought a sanitized version of Harlem drag ball culture to Middle America with her 1990 smash “Vogue,” the future Material Girl was attempting to crack the R&B charts with her debut single, 1982’s “Everybody”–which, in a brazen act of reverse racial passing, released with a 12″ cover designed by Lou Beach, featuring contemporary “urban” signifiers like brownstone buildings, graffiti, a police officer, a few anonymous children of color…and Madonna’s white ass nowhere to be seen.

© Sire Records
© Sire Records

The ruse didn’t last long, of course; when a music video for “Everybody” was released in early 1983, it became evident that the newcomer who’d been burning up the “Black” charts was as white as the driven snow (I mean, those dance moves alone). But even later that year, when she released her self-titled debut album sporting her now-iconic peroxide-blonde New Wave Marilyn Monroe look, it was easy to hear why so many early listeners had her pegged as an African American artist. Just listen to “Lucky Star,” the album’s fourth and highest-charting single. All the ingredients for jheri curl music we described in our video back at the beginning of the month are present and accounted for: from the crisp, clean-sounding guitar and bass to the Oberheim OB-X synthesizer and Linn drum machine–two tools of the trade that should sound very familiar to fans of Madonna’s 1980s dance-pop peer, Prince.

So yes, Madonna did jheri curl, and she did it well. But like many a swagger-jacker before and after her, it didn’t take long for her to move on; by her next album, 1984’s Nile Rodgers-produced Like a Virgin, she was taking her sound in a more self-consciously pop-oriented direction. But I have to admit, I still have a soft spot for Madonna’s short-lived jheri curl era–and for the days when the words “Madonna” and “Black” didn’t produce an instant wince of second-hand embarrassment. Go ahead, white girl. You really were the luckiest by far.

Spotify and YouTube playlists below:





2 responses to “Jheri Curl June: Madonna’s “Lucky Star””

  1. dunderbeck1980 Avatar

    Always found it interesting that MTV and the big music promoters of the early 80’s wanted to foster the image of Madonna being black. Motown did that internally several years earlier when Teena Marie first came out. It would seem that in both cases when the truth came out in both cases,each artist went onto very different career focuses. Lady T was totally embraced by the black community while Madonna became the darling of white middle class adolescent American in the 1980’s.

    1. Zach Avatar

      Yes, it’s a really interesting contrast! Just the level of segregation in the music industry pre-Thriller is really fascinating to me in general; it’s crazy that the labels considered this level of subterfuge necessary, especially in retrospect when you see how Black music became so dominant by the end of the ’80s. Also surreal to think Madonna of all people started out being marketed as a “Black” artist; like you said, her fanbase was so incredibly white once she took off.

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