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.
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: