Poly Styrene was one of the first female punk icons and by far one of the least conventional frontwoman (or frontman for that matter) in punk/rock history. She released her first demo when she was just 17, and after watching the Sex Pistols decided that anyone could do what they were doing. She then placed an ad in the paper for musicians and started a band. This was the birth of X-Ray Spex.
For those of you that haven’t heard of them, X-Ray Spex were a highly energetic, crazy, colourful, punk band, led by Poly Styrene’s angry cries against the problems she saw in society.
One of the things I love about Poly Styrene the most was that she never tried to conform or sexualise herself to gain an advantage as a woman in the music industry. Her dental braces, eccentric wardrobe and wild hairstyle made her stand out from the typical sex object female of the 1970s music industry. Coming from a time where ‘mixed race’ meant ‘mixed up’, Poly’s racial background was an ongoing battle for her, yet she was always proud of her heritage and avoided all racial stereotypes. If anything, her struggles only made her more determined to establish her identity in the mainstream.
She was exciting and controversial. She made an audience sceptical of a female frontperson fall in love with her, show after show. Poly sang about her stances on advertising, teenage identity crisis and consumerism, making her one of the most interesting songwriters of her time.
I love Poly Styrene because she dared to be different. She sang about what she wanted to, presented herself as she wished, and introduced colour, vibrancy and fun into the punk scene. Her angry and rebellious attitude, combined with her seemingly unlimited energy, is what made Poly such a punk icon. She expressed herself freely and never took herself too seriously. Poly had determination, and after running away from home at 15 to immerse herself in the rock scene, she was able to turn her dreams of fame and adventure into reality. She was more terrified of living a normal life than of failure, or even surviving London alone as a teenage girl, and it is this ambition that I believe made her a truly remarkable and inspiring woman – a force to be reckoned with!
Words: Abi Prendergast
Image: Natalie Adkins