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'Truly Outrageous' Dolls Sing Triple-Platinum Tune

August 22, 1987|WILLIAM K. KNOEDELSEDER Jr. | Times Staff Writer

Who's the hottest female act in pop music--Madonna? Whitney Houston? Heart? Suzanne Vega? Add to the list Jem and the Holograms, an all-girl group whose song "Truly Outrageous" has sold more than 3 million copies to date.

You won't see the group on MTV, however, or find "Truly Outrageous" listed on Billboard magazine's chart of best-selling records and tapes. That's because Jem and the Holograms are not real-life performers--they are TV cartoon characters based on a line of dolls put out by Hasbro Industries of Pawtucket, R.I.

Each doll (priced from $10 to $15) comes with a cassette containing "Truly Outrageous," the Jem theme song, and two other original songs performed either by the Holograms or the Misfits--the punked-out, bad-girl band that does battle with Jem every Sunday morning.

According to Al Corosi, Hasbro's vice president of marketing, the company has sold more than 3 million of the dolls since they were introduced in February, 1986. That makes "Truly Outrageous"--in record-industry parlance--"triple platinum."

Jem the doll, of course, has some fierce competition in Barbie and the Rockers, Mattel's rock version of the 27-year-old Barbie doll. While sales of Rocker Barbie reportedly far exceed sales of Jem, the success of Jem seems to be on television--where Barbie does not have her own show.

The half-hour animated TV show, titled simply "Jem," is seen by 2.5 million youngsters each week, making it the third most-watched children's program in syndication, according to Carole Weitzman, vice president of New York-based Sunbow Productions, which produces the show. When "Jem" begins airing five days a week next month, the audience is expected to reach 3.5 million, Weitzman said.

The new daily show presents a creative challenge for Sunbow, since each of the season's 65 segments will contain three original pieces of music. That's 195 songs that have to be written, orchestrated and recorded. Along with the 75 or so songs that already have been performed on the show, "That makes for a rather large music library," said Weitzman.

To handle the task, Sunbow employs a full staff of professional musicians and songwriters. Ford Kinder and Anne Bryant write the music, Barry Harmon provides the lyrics and a group of singers from New York add the vocals. Britta Phillips is the voice of Jem and Ellen Bernfeld sings for Pizzazz, the jealous, conniving leader of the rival Misfits.

Despite Jem's success, Hasbro's Corosi said the company has not been approached by any record companies and has resisted the temptation to try to market the music independently. "We're in the toy business," he said. "We don't want the doll's success to be hurt by an album that doesn't sell well. After all, the record business is even more volatile than the toy business."

Are the major record companies missing something here? Absolutely, says Capitol Records President Joe Smith. "No question about it, there's a market there in preteens that we're not tapping," he said. Noting the current absence of preteen idols on the music scene--the Fabians, Bobby Shermans and Shaun Cassidys of the 1980s--Smith attributed it to recent economic changes in the record industry.

"I think it's due to the decline of the singles market in general," he said. Historically, preteens have tended to purchase singles rather than the more expensive albums or cassettes. "And singles have become unprofitable for the record companies," he said. When told that preteen Jem fans, or their parents, so far had plunked down something like $30 million to $45 million for the doll and cassette packages, Smith responded with a chuckle, "What time is this show on?"

DR, Los Angeles Times

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