The art-funk visionary delivers career-spanning hit at L.A.'s annual music festival

By Eve Barlow
Updated August 29, 2016 at 03:42 PM EDT
Credit: Paul R. Giunta/FilmMagic

If watching Grace Jones with her bare body painted, nipples out, wearing a white horse’s mane as a headdress while getting a piggyback from a member of security during her signature hit “Pull Up To The Bumper” isn’t enough of a sensory overload, imagine witnessing all that with the added euphoria of realizing that Robyn is standing next to you. Indeed, the blonde Swedish dance queen was at the front of the Jamaican visionary’s Sunday evening set at Los Angeles’ FYF Festival – and she completely lost her cool, just like the rest of the crowd. After all, she was watching a legendary disco innovator, one who simultaneously charms, terrifies, and wows the audience. Robyn’s attendance was but one sign of just how much influence Jones, an alien goddess, has had on pop culture, art, and fashion.

Though at the same time in New York, the MTV VMAs were taking place, boasting appearances by Beyoncé, Rihanna, and Kanye West, Jones, however, showed L.A. that she was the original showstopper. She name checked Rihanna and West in her astounding autobiography, I’ll Never Write My Memoirs, released last year, in which she attests they’re all her copycats. (She also called out one pop star she names “Doris,” though some believed the moniker to be one for Beyoncé). “There is no long-term vision,” she wrote. Jones’ vision to continue to represent the most extreme of outsiders continues to reign supreme. Moments before she took the stage, ANOHNI was across the site completing her prejudice-defying set as a transgender artist. It seemed appropriate that everyone rushed from her show to watch Jones – the original challenger of heteronormative ideals, an atomic bomb of a woman who continues to defy concepts of gender and age appropriate behavior. Before launching into “Private Life” she took a pop at LAX. “Boy, they really like to frisk you in the airport here! I don’t know what they’re looking for, but whatever it is I’ve already taken it.”

Insisting she was going to take “Hell-A” on a quick journey, she contorted her body through a set spanning just over an hour, bolstered by murderous disco beats (“Nightclubbing”), tantric funky bass lines (“My Jamaican Guy”), animalistic rock guitar (“Williams’ Blood”), and her own psychotic version of “Amazing Grace.” That last cover was perhaps the most surprising, her voice sounding more alarming than thunder and also somehow tender.

Jones appeared in a white and black jumpsuit, the Aztec prints of which are customized to suit the white warpaint on her head, neck, limbs, and chest. Her headgear alternated throughout the set from black trilby on “My Jamaican Guy” to silver glittering Studio 54-style top hat on her cover of Roxy Music’s “Love Is The Drug” via a nun’s habit on “I’ve Seen That Face Before.” She still moves like a gazelle in a wrestling ring, on her knees shaking her head from side-to-side, writhing against a stripper’s pole or flinging her back over a ballet barre.

Jones’ unintentional humor sizzled beyond anything. After “My Jamaican Guy,” she continued to ad lib the chorus like she was singing in the shower, while changing her outfit in the wings. She introduced “Warm Leatherette” by commenting, “I think they’ve just released this again, I’ve got no idea…” The song features the lyric “Let’s make love before we die,” which she delivered while smashing together two large cymbals, a noise sure to scare most mates off. Before “Williams’ Blood” she demanded, “We’re going TO CHURCH!” and explained how she wrote the modern hit during “the last earthquake” – who knows where, when, or what she was referring to. That’s just how Jones operates.

In her book Jones insisted she doesn’t know how old she is. Time, space, dimensions are not part of her wheelhouse. So, as she closed her set with her traditional hula-hooping rendition of 1985’s “Slave To The Rhythm” (with a black bag over her head, no less), hollering the line “Never stop the action! Keep it up! Keep it up!” you know that she means it. She’ll be twirling around many of today’s “Dorises” long after their 15 minutes are over.