On a warm Saturday night in Brooklyn, New York, the legendary Grace Jones hit the AfroPunk festival stage with theatrics bold enough to make Lady Gaga take a step back. In one performance, the Jamaican icon brought the idea of alternative blackness full circle and encouraged weirdos to get even weirder. It was everything.
“Ladies and gentlemen, Ms. Grace Jones,” said a robotic voice over as Jones appeared atop an elevated stage and the dub bass-heavy “Nightclubbing” blared from a full band and two background singers. Dressed in a billowing black cloak over white body paint in a Keith Haring design, a bikini bottom, towering heels and a gold metal skull mask with a halo of pointy sun rays encircling it, to say Miss Grace made an entrance would be a gross understatement. Writhing slowly to the thick piano chords, Jones ended the opening performance in a stoic pose for the cameras. Screams of “Yass bitch” arose from the crowd.
“This is nice,” she said before jumping into the drum-popping “This Is Life.”
“I shouldn’t have taken that [inaudible] before getting on stage... but I’m a creature of habit so I’ll do it again!” she said during a quick costume change off stage, the first of ten. “I can’t even remember my name after that shit! I’m sorry I’m swearing, there kids here… but that would mean I’m gonna stop.”
She didn’t, much to the delight of the sea of hipsters, hippies, fashion kids and parents cradling their sleeping infants. Miss Grace was clearly in good spirits as she rolled into “Private Life” with a new metal mask and a brown, grassy strap-on tail. The Keith Haring body paint and bikini bottoms remained throughout the night as a wardrobe base.
“I have a new track I want to perform just for you,” she said, casually from wings during her third costume switch. “I haven’t finished it enough to release it but I finished it enough to perform it.”
Debuting a grass headdress this time with a matching skirt and a pom pom of sorts, Miss Grace rocked a song that may be called “Shenanigans” that floated along a reggae two-step. Two similarly painted background dancers joined her—one was a pole artist that ascended and descended his stick while executing various tricks, and the other waved two giant flags stamped with Miss Grace’s face. It was a sight to behold and nearly too much well-choreographed performance art to absorb. Most of the audience either screamed in ecstasy because they knew what to expect or stood with their mouths agape, shocked at the over-the-top showmanship. Afropunk was simultaneously prepared and completely bewildered, and it was wonderful.
By the time the first steel drum tings of “My Jamaican Guy”—the sample base for LL Cool J’s “Doin’ It”—echoed into the night, Miss Grace had climbed back onto her elevated stage platform. Sporting a tan coat with with a grass fringe on the collar, sleeves and trim and teetering heels, she gave a shout out to her countrymen who are “everywhere” before giving her celebrated bared teeth pose amid adoring hollers. It was a live fashion shoot.
As she carefully stepped back onto the main stage, she joked that she was going to fall at some point because she could barely see, “but don’t worry because I’ve fallen before!”
“I’ve Seen That Face Before (Libertango),” “Walking In The Rain,” “Slave to the Rhythm” and ”Love Is The Drug” followed, complete with new headdresses and her trademark glittering bowler hat. Her popular 1981 hit “Pull Up To My Bumper” was next but it deserved a special wardrobe shift.
“I guess I’ll take all my clothes off,” she said, laughing, painted breasts out for the world to see.
The guitars strummed and snapped as the drums kept pace, the background dancers returned as Miss Grace pretended to take one from behind and bubbles swirled around the stage. Suddenly, it was like what Studio 54 must’ve felt like: carefree and coked up in a Mad Max-esque feather head piece with a strap-on tail. It was fabulous.
Despite every previous year being free, Afropunk’s organizers charged patrons $75-250 for entry this time. Many grumbled about whether the fee was worth watching acts like Kelis, Lauryn Hill, Lenny Kravitz, Thundercat, Kaytranada, Raury, SZA and Gary Clark Jr. and more— but it was. To see a sea of black people ambling around with hair in shades of purple, pink, blue or green (or all of those colors at once), a battered pair of Doc Martens and a daishiki in droves was a sight to behold and something Brooklynites have come to expect, annually. AfroPunk is the chance to pay homage to trail blazing, charismatic weirdos like Miss Grace Jones who paved the way for the rest of us to be as black and strange as we want to be.
Contact the author at Hillary@jezebel.com.
Image via AP.