'I like being the one with a little bit more of an edge, a little bit more evil'
Warning: Spoilers from the film’s conclusion lie ahead!
The live-action update of the 1980s neon-pop cartoon Jem and the Holograms, in theaters Friday, follows a young musician through the ups and downs of stardom. Jerrica Benton (Nashville’s Aubrey Peeples) takes on the alter ego “Jem” and performs with her sisters Kimber (Stefanie Scott), Shana (Aurora Perrineau), and Aja (Hayley Kiyoko).
The latest in a slew of nostalgia-driven ’80s remakes, Jem and the Holograms, helmed by Jon M. Chu (Justin Bieber: Never Say Never) aims to please long-time fans as well as a new generation of music-loving moviegoers. But when the film’s first trailer was released, its contemporary twist on the ’80s cartoon was criticized by some for venturing too far from the source material. Then the second trailer came out and introduced Synergy, Jerrica’s holographic computer that projected her stage persona onto her body in the animated series. That quieted some of the haters, but rival band The Misfits was still noticeably missing.
Missing no more, The Misfits will appear at the end of the film, with pop star Kesha in the role of the band’s green-haired leader, Pizazz, backed by Eliza Gonzalez as Jetta, Hana Mae Lee as Roxy, and Katie Findlay as Stormer.
Read on for the “Tik Tok” singer’s thoughts on playing the bad girl, how she relates to the story of Jem more broadly, and the possibility of a sequel. (Plus, she talks about the status of her music.)
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: It was a very pleasant surprise, seeing you as the leader of the bad-girl band at the end of the film. How did this project come about for you?
KESHA: Jem and the Holograms is, in my opinion, one of the most badass cartoons ever made because it’s all about girl power and feuding pop stars. I always idolized Jem and the hair and the makeup and thought it was so cool growing up. People would comment about how my makeup looked like Jem and the Holograms, or [asked if I’d] ever seen Jem and the Holograms because it seems like my hair was inspired by it.
When I heard they were making it into a movie I told my manager, “Get me in there, I want to get in there.” And when I got the role I was like “Oh, this is perfect.” I couldn’t have picked a better first movie role for me. My dream role was Pizazz. Jem is great but she’s the nice one. I like being the one with a little bit more of an edge, a little bit more evil and fun. I wanted it to be a surprise. I wanted people to see it and be like ‘Wait, is that Kesha?’
The film incorporates a lot of core elements from the cartoon, but it’s also been updated for a new generation. What are your thoughts on the ways the film has strayed from its source material?
The cartoon was so of the moment when it came out, and I think the film is very of the moment too, because it addresses what it’s like being a part of the music industry now. It’s really different than it was in the ’80s, so it addresses social media, and how it really does all play out, and how the record industry, you can’t trust everybody. There are shady parts, and you really have to keep your fold close and good people around you.
It really touched on a lot of things that I thought were pretty accurate to the way that the music industry actually works. It’s not exactly like the cartoon, but I don’t think it should have been exactly like it, because then there’s no element of surprise. I was at a screening of it a couple days ago and had no idea what to expect. I was super surprised that they made it as current as they did, but I thought it was really cool because it makes a cartoon that’s however many years old super relevant today.
You’re known first and foremost as a musician. How do you relate to the story of Jem?
The first time I saw the trailer, I literally cried because I was like, “Oh my god, that’s so true.” You grow up having this dream and it’s like this far-fetched fantasy that you want for yourself so, so badly. All I ever wanted was to do what I do. You work so hard and then once you get into the industry side of it, people start to try to change you and pull you apart and redress you and put crazy things on your body that you maybe don’t feel comfortable in. [They] tell you what to wear and tell you what to say and tell you how to look, and all of the sudden, your world is kind of turned upside down, and your reality is totally skewed.
It really does come down to keeping yourself grounded and keeping good people around you, or else you can lose your head and have people just tear you apart in this industry. People try to trick you, and [in the scene where Starlight Music records executive Erica Raymond (Juliette Lewis) offers Jem a solo contract] I wanted to be like, “Jem, get a lawyer! Don’t sign that!” I just really felt for her, because when you’re young and naive, all you want to do is make music and do what you love, because you’re passionate about it. It’s unfortunate that people in the industry take advantage of that, but the lesson is that you need to keep the people that you trust and love around you and close — that’s really important.
The film ends with Erica approaching The Misfits to team up to take down Jem, setting the film up for a sequel. If there is one, will you and your bandmates be involved?
F— yeah. I really hope there is [a sequel], because first of all, that neon green hair is by far my favorite hair color I’ve ever had, but also, I so much enjoyed being on the set of the movie. It was so different, and I was so nervous and out of my element — I just loved it. It’s super infectious. I’m used to doing my songs and my music, so to channel that into an acting role was super exciting for me. I’d love the opportunity to do a sequel, and I would love to have badass girl fights with Jem.
On a similar note, you appeared on Jane the Virgin this week as Jane’s rocking neighbor Annabelle. Is acting something you’re looking to pursue further? Are there any other artistic outlets you’re exploring right now?
Yeah, I am [pursuing acting]. It’s fun to explore different art mediums and right now my [music] career is kind of on hold. I’m finding other ways to express myself and have outlets and connect with my fans. I’m [also] kind of open to all of it. Creatively, my brain’s been exploding. I’ve been painting and redecorating and reupholstering — I’m all over the place and literally creatively exploding all over my life. Some of it’s horrible, but some of it’s good. I think the most important thing when you’re an artist is you can’t ever let your artistic creative fire be stifled. You have to get it out somehow.
What are you working on musically, and how is it sounding? Are there any updates on the timeline for when something might be released?
I’m dying to put out music, I’m like dying, literally. But while I can’t, I’m just gathering ideas and just praying for the day to come soon that I can put out music. It’s all over the place. I have no idea what it’s going to sound like. All I know is I have a lot to write about. There’s so much to say right now. Nothing to speak of for sure yet, but just pray for it.
Back to Jem, do you have any lingering thoughts about this first feature role of yours?
I’m super grateful for the opportunity, that Jon went out on a limb and had me in this movie. I just really hope people connect to this film. It’s whimsical in certain ways, but then there are also parts of it that were realistic in terms of the fact that you can achieve your dreams. I think that’s really important for young people to see that you really can. If you’re driven and talented and you want something, there is a way to make it happen, so don’t ever give up on that — and also, just get a good lawyer.