HomeEntertainmentOlivia Newton-John: That Headband Was a Crown

Olivia Newton-John: That Headband Was a Crown

We’d’ve simply known as her ONJ now. However a part of the enchantment, I believe, was all of that identify, the attainable royalty of it. No one wished to waste a syllable. Olivia NewtonJohn. Simply saying it would bestow a crown. The remainder of her attract sprang from that classiness: She was neither queen nor first woman of something, but she appeared, in the end, like … a girl. And that was one thing she may have some enjoyable with, a class she may smudge. Ultimately. I imply, this was an individual who, on the heights of funk, disco and glam rock, recorded six country-esque albums, throw pillows in your ears. And most of their singles topped what was as soon as generally known as Billboard’s simple listening chart. (So possibly she was the queen of that.)

By the top of the Seventies, although, she had found out the entire “woman” factor and spent 90 p.c of her first Hollywood film disguised that approach, as a princess. There’s rather a lot occurring in “Grease.” Most of it’s weird and has to do with intercourse and a kind of pure whiteness, notably how, in each instances, Newton-John, who died on Monday at 73, was holding onto hers. Not for John Travolta, per se, however for “You’re the One That I Need,” the duet with Travolta (and a triple-X bass line) that ends the film. The virginal bobby-soxer Newton-John had been taking part in was now in pumps and skintight black pants. Her hair had expanded from Sandra Dee to Sophia Loren. You would see her shoulders.

That transformation unlocked one thing new that shot her to the highest of pop’s Olympus: the vestal vamp. Nothing in regards to the presentation of a four-minute pop music could be the identical. Neither would anyone who sat via a dozen showings of “Grease.” The one cause my 5- and 6- and 10-year-old selves put up with it in any respect was the data that we’d quickly get to the half on the amusement park the place Olivia Newton-John turns into an ONJ.

I didn’t study a lot from Newton-John about intercourse. Solely that its existence was there to be implied and winked at. It’s true that her pelvis was, finally, affixed to Travolta’s close to the top of “Grease” however on a redundant journey known as the Shake Shack. And, yeah, she does spend that zany video for “Bodily” in a disco spa studded with Adonic fitness center rats, however when the tanned, fatless males stroll off hand-in-hand, she gleefully locks arms with one of many spa’s tubbier shoppers. They’re those she needs — and, consequently, those I wished, too.

The movies, the hit songs, her lip-syncing them on “Stable Gold”: I additionally wished Olivia Newton-John. And one in every of my mother and father should have recognized this as a result of there was a replica of her second best hits LP, from 1982, at our home. And realizing what my mother and father weren’t listening to, the one cause it will’ve been there may be for me; I wasn’t even 7. The factor about that album — greater than any I’d ever studied as much as then, apart from Stevie Marvel’s “Hotter Than July” (you would see his shoulders) — is the gatefold, album’s second strongest intoxicant. And this one was simply Newton-John in a horizontal show, head to thigh, hair shortish and characteristically a-feather. White knit high, tight white pants, some gold jewellery. Was she actually on her again or just shot to look that approach? I’d have to attend an entire two months, for the gatefold of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” (not a dissimilar pose however with a tiger cub), to see something as mesmerizingly erotic.

Newton-John revamped herself on the daybreak of the music-video period. She knew the ability of the artwork kind — her Grammy-winning 1982 video album, “Olivia Bodily,” was the “Lemonade” of its day, inspiring a prime-time community TV occasion. She solely needed to toy with going too far. Her actual factor was limitations. She appeared to know what hers have been — as a vocalist, as a dancer, as an actor. And he or she luxuriated in them. There was nothing inherently subversive about her. But she was an ironist — the individual you’d least anticipate to see, say, mounting a fats dude on a therapeutic massage desk and driving him like a mechanical bull. Even when she was straining for eros — the best way she was within the video for “Tied Up,” in a crimson leather-based vest, her mouth seemingly in need of irrigation — you have been watching an angel pursue a grimy face.

That’s the rationale she survived “Xanadu” — the musical belch, from 1980, together with her as a Greek muse on curler skates: an imperviousness to the encircling absurdity. It’s the rationale she got here to embody the modern fantasies of enjoyment, painlessness and revenue of the Nineteen Eighties. Nothing disturbed her. She disturbed nobody. Even that gatefold: She’s totally clothed! The skates and spandex have been a prop and a metaphor. And “Bodily” remained the last decade’s longest-running No. 1 music.

However in some unspecified time in the future, she stopped perking us up. Properly, we stopped letting her. Madonna had come alongside and threatened to place her out of enterprise. I swore she was a parody of Newton-John’s flirty, jolly, heaven-sent persona; of her being staunchly white whereas adjoining to a wealth of Black and Latin music. What wouldn’t it imply to imply it, not simply to get soiled however to be soiled, to combine in a few of that Blackness and brownness? “Like a Virgin,” as an example, is Newton-John however extra ornately ironic, authentically, imaginatively lewd. Although Newton-John’s hit machine was nonetheless going by 1985, she was already changing into a reminiscence of a type of innocence. Which is to say that she was by no means, ever forgotten. She’s a spot pop music has been making an attempt to get again to: the Stacey Q’s and Cathy Dennises, the Carly Rae Jepsens and Dua Lipas; the one and solely Kylie Minogue.

What I like to return to with Olivia Newton-John isn’t her physique in any respect. It’s her singing. There’s at all times extra to it than I bear in mind. I used to be placing it in sundresses and leotards. However, boy, that voice may work a singlet, too: She realized to flex her soprano in order that it bent, barked, yipped and squealed. “Completely Sizzling,” from 1978, sometimes options sounds extra typical for Sea World. But any deficiencies in soulfulness have been repaid in spirit.

She additionally perfected an amazing trick: layering. As a substitute of simply one in every of her, immediately, in a pre-chorus or a chorus-chorus, there was a fleet, of lilting, undulating, rainbowing, billowing, Bee Gee-ing selves, on “Have You By no means Been Mellow,” on “A Little Extra Love,” on “Magic.” She had however one physique, however on a document, she may turn into a mess. The heat of that sound; the wonderful blue-sky of it nonetheless warrants exclamation — like “oh my lord” however alternatively divine. I like “ONJ.”

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