Jody Watley On Life, Music, Beauty, Billy B and Being an Icon

When you think of Jody Watley, very specific visuals might come to mind. Sleek hair. Bangin’ brows. Hoop earrings. A matte red lip. When I visualize Jody Watley, I always envision her in an all black ensemble. And for me that’s entirely because Jody Watley was one of my earliest beauty icons. Her Eighties hits like Looking For a New Love, Don’t You Want Me, Real Love, and Friends were in regular rotation on BET when that was my daily diet of TV, and they helped to shape my definition of beauty.

I have always had so much love for Jody Watley as an artist. And now she continues to make amazing music and she also has an incredible style blog — please do yourself a favor and check out JodyWatley.net for a much needed dose of style and glamour from of the best to ever do it!

When I went to the Beautylish Beauty Social last year, Jody greeted me with warmth and kindness, and even made a point to attend the Brown Girl Beauty Uncensored panel I participated in. Honored was NOT the word. I was so absolutely thrilled that she would do something like that!

Jody is as beautiful inside as she is out. We first met at the home of legendary makeup artist Billy B, and they told me all about the video they worked on together for A Beautiful Life. Directed by the insanely handsome and talented Mike Ruiz, with flawless makeup by Billy B, Jody is transformed into myriad looks to display the range of her gorgeousness. And in case you missed Billy’s interview about the amazing experience – click here to read Billy B on makeup, being a legend, and Jody!

 

Must have been A LOT of fun on that shoot! I was lucky enough to catch up with the beautiful and talented Jody Watley, and ask her questions for Afrobella.com. We discuss music, her personal history as an artist, the shoot for A Beautiful Life and her love for Billy, and her beauty and hair favorites! Read on, bellas!

The Afrobella Interview — Jody Watley

Afrobella -   Of course anyone who’s reading this blog would instantly know who you are, but I always love to ask people to define themselves. So for anyone who was born and raised under a rock and doesn’t know, who is Jody Watley?

Jody Watley — I’d just send them to my website and say “It’s all there”  to be honest, LOL! In short-form I’m a Grammy winning artist – Best New Artist of 1987. It’s been written that I’m one of the defining and trendsetting artists of the 80′s at my pinnacle – I’ve learned to really appreciate what that means because thousands of artists release music every year without an impact. My style and music videos it has been written – raised the bar for women in music – not just black artists which I find to be really humbling.

I am also the first artist to blend Pop/R&B and have a Hot 100 Top Five single with a customized 16 bar verse and guest rapper with Eric B. and Rakim – obviously that formula continues to dominate the charts. When Eric B and Rakim and I did “Friends” it was called a ‘duet’, because no one knew how to refer to it. It’s been written in a couple of books already about the history and evolution of Hip-Hop… that’s a little of who I am..I’m also a songwriter of the majority of my songs and not just eye candy, lol (had to say that). So, that’s a little of who I am – as an artist.

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Afrobella -  Fans have watched you grow up right before our eyes, from the days of Shalamar and Soul Train to the Eighties, and right on up to now where you’ve been in control of your musical destiny. When you look back on your career, which three performances are your favorites?

Jody Watley — Thank you! Well, I’ve always been in control of my musical career since I went solo – with God’s grace, strength and wisdom…and of course my freestyle Soul Train days.

My Mom recently asked me if I remember telling her very matter of factly at 4 years old that I had started my own modeling agency, LOL! I’ve always had big dreams. My first stage appearance was with my godfather soul music great Jackie Wilson. It’s impossible to pick a favorite performance – my most recent shows in Japan were awesome – I really try to appreciate being in the moment and feel each opportunity I choose to take is special.

That said, every Arsenio Hall Show performance whether I was doing up-tempo/ jazz or inspirational (Friends, Your Love Keeps Working On Me, After You Who, It All Begins With You, etc). The MTV Awards, The Beacon in NYC, Gibson Amphitheatre some of the footage captured in my ‘Everything’ video..performing with Stevie Wonder for his Skeletons MTV Special, The White House by special invitation, Lifeball (Europe’s biggest AIDS Charity Gala) in Austria a couple of years ago was so fabulous and over the top and the biggest stage I’ve performed on  — so many…being a part of Band Aid..I can go on. God is good and I’m so thankful to have the opportunities I’ve been given.

 

Afrobella -  Would you say you have a signature look? I would say you change the hair but there’s a timeless quality to your look. If you had to describe the look that’s become synonymous with Jody Watley, what would you call it?

Jody Watley – Most people say the jumbo hoop earrings. I went looking for the biggest ones I could find. I wore big hoops in junior high – of course not a big, but the big ones for that time. I’ve also worn an afro off and on since junior high.

My solo debut my style was more street chic funky trendy and with punk rock edge (lots of black the metal belts with spikes, short studded biker boots, etc) my desire was to create timeless classic images. Mixed with that were high end designers like Gaultier (preceding Madonna), and Issey Miyake and also vintage – I’ve always added vintage since my Soul Train days.

I’m a true chameleon in that I’ve changed so much and adapted to so many styles that I like and have made them my own. The jumbo hoops are still here  – not just for me but I see them on other young singers on the commercial radar, reality stars, in fashion editorials etc..my style has always evolved. Toward the end of the 6 years I was in Shalamar I was heavily into Vivienne Westwood / World’s End. My solo debut was trendy with a rock girl edge..my second album went in a more high fashion direction with Steven Meisel shooting the album cover. David Fincher doing the video for ‘Real Love’ – all of that was a bit of the fashion curve at the time. All of it holds up which was my goal – to have everything from the start be as authentic as possible. “Still a Thrill” in Paris – was funky and chic at the same time. It was all un-choreographed freestyle, which was and is different than most ‘dance’ videos. Other than make-up, I was my own glam squad (no stylist) on the style tip – also very unique to other artists.

My third and fourth albums ‘Affairs of The Heart’ (Tailored suits) and ‘Intimacy’ (Bohemian chic) were more introspective and I really didn’t want the focus so much on the fashion so I took things down a notch but still very me.

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Afrobella - I want to talk hair with you! In your stunningly directed video A Beautiful Life, you go through many hair transformations. Of course my favorite was the big, fabulous afro!! What was your favorite look from the video, and if you don’t mind me asking, how are you wearing your hair now? Any favorite products or recommendations?

Jody Watley – Thank you! ‘A Beautiful Life’ was written as one of two new songs I’d written for my last album in 2006 ‘The Makeover’, which was an ambient electronic covers album. I released it directly to a major retailer and it was #1 for them – really cool on the entrepreneurial side for me. The project had 3 Top Five Dance Singles on Billboard, with one of them, the makeover of the CHIC classic “I Want Your Love” giving me a 13th #1 Dance Single. “A Beautiful Life” was #5 and I wrote it with the thought of writing a song for women or anyone in a bad or unhealthy relationship. “I’d rather be living on my own, then to live in a constant state of misery…because I’m stronger, wiser and feeling beautiful” are a couple of my favorite lines. So, I write what I live or think other’s are living – always have, all of my songs tell a story – old and now. I have to say that, because when you’re not in the Top 40 the average person assumes an artist isn’t doing anything..sometimes that’s true but not for me.

I think that’s what everyone should aim for. Life is too short to settle for less. I’m not talking about money and superficial things in the song.

My favorite is the Philip Treacy cyborg hat. It was a fun day of hair and make-up with Mike Ruiz and Billy B. We were doing a photo session / video.

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As far as products, I have so much stuff, my bathroom can double as a beauty supply. I’m always trying new things. I’m currently big on natural things you can keep in your kitchen, olive, coconut, jojoba and vitamin E oils — they all have natural anti-aging anti-oxidants. I like making my own concoctions. I recently did a coconut milk, coconut oil and avocado mask for my hair – it was fantastic. Fresh cold milk soaked eye pads are great to whiten and depuff the eyes. I recently started using that because I suffer from allergies, which can make my eyes puffy. It works, it’s also soothing. Fresh cold cucumbers work of course as well, but the milk is really something!

I also use a jade roller to ward off wrinkles – although my Mom is in her 70′s and doesn’t really have many wrinkles – so I made get lucky, LOL! But jade is an Eastern tool that’s been around for centuries. It’s also a great de-stressor, very relaxing. We’re all more beautiful with less stress!

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Afrobella – You worked with makeup legend Billy B on that video, and he’s such an inspiration to me. Billy does such amazing work, particularly with women of color in my opinion. Talk to me about working with Billy – what’s it like, and what do you love most about him?

Jody Watley — We first worked together on the artwork for “The Makeover”, including the special effects faux plastic surgery photo’s for the inside booklet, inspired by a layout I’d seen in VOGUE Italia featuring Linda Evangelista photographed by Steven Meisel called “Makeover Madness”. I thought OMgosh, this will work for the album. Getting older in this business of course you see people painfully trying to hang on to their youth with plastic surgery and I wrote a bit on the inside about the unbalanced view we have now on what beautiful is and the lengths people go to erase father time. Anyway – that’s when I met Billy, in NYC for the session with Mike Ruiz. The second was the video for “A Beautiful Life”, and then fabulous “Lifeball” in Vienna, Austria…and a test session we did for ‘Chameleon’ – which I LOVE.

I adore that Billy is a southern gentleman. One would expect him to be a prima donna or full of attitude.  He knows his craft is so down to earth in a genuine way. Billy is collaborative yet very honest.  I remember him telling someone it’s not about the bag – it’s what’s IN the bag – and of course how to use it when giving advice to up and coming artists. That’s Billy. He also turned me on the fried olives, which I’d never heard of, lol. We had them at lunch once at one of his favorite Italian restaurants. No one does lashes on me like Billy – I want to say!

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Afrobella – What’s your philosophy about beauty?

Jody Watley — I recently came across an article with me in my late teen’s from my Shalamar days and I was talking about the importance on taking care of yourself and to be happy and wanting to age well. It made me smile to see the younger me was already on the right path. I still agree with that – it’s from the inside – out. It’s how I raised my daughter – using your intellect and brains is beautiful. I made sure she knew her brown skin was beautiful. Much of what we feel about ourselves comes from our home environments and so parents must be mindful and diligent as teachers, role models and cheerleaders of our own children.

We are beautiful – in all of our diversity of hues, features, hair textures, personalities, shapes and sizes and so on. Growing up I had pics of a range of women I looked up to in addition to my own Mom – from Beverly Johnson, Diana Ross Judy Pace, Diahann Carroll,Nina Simone, activist Angela Davis – as well as Janice Dickinson and Twiggy. You can have a pretty face and be ugly – because of your actions or character. If you are miserable – it will show..so inside – out. A smile and a pleasant face can be beautiful. A positive attitude is beautiful.

It’s a blessing to grow older but it can be tough in that women are said to become more invisible the older we get. For me as I get older, it’s about doing it with grace. You can still be fly and fabulous but it’s about finding what works – wherever you are today.

Everyone has to define beauty for themselves, though I do think we are often too hard on ourselves, and the media doesn’t help. So it’s important to learn to love and appreciates ourselves; while always leaving room for improvement but not beating ourselves up about it. This sounds cliché but it’s true. Validate yourself and all that is distinctly you.

The title song of my forthcoming album is ‘Chameleon’ and the title song is about us as women, mothers, wives/ex-wives, daughters, etc – and all that we do and the changes we go through and not just our appearance – our journey.

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Afrobella -  What are your favorite products right now? Skincare, makeup, perfume?

Jody Watley – I’ve been a longtime products fanatic – my bathroom is like a beauty supply store, LOL! I try new things all the time. Obviously, I’ve become very focused over the last 15 years on anti-aging treatments and creams. Retinol, etc. I answered this one above when speaking about how I use olive oil, etc…

I don’t wear much perfume I’m more of a scented cream or oils person but though I like Annick Goutal Petite Cherie, it’s very light. The coconut oil mixed with a touch of vanilla oil always seems to get a great reaction when I put that together. I like the soft scent of fresh roses. Monoi Tiare Tahiti Oil is yummy. When I wear my curly fro’ I really like what ‘Curls’ Coconut Sublime Conditioner does.

Make-up is a combination of Chanel, MAC, Kett, NARS and on and on! I love false eyelashes, and crazy about the range of choice in nail polish available now. My favorite lip colors at the moment are NARS Falbala and Clinique Chubby Stick 07 Super Strawberry – for a more natural mouth.

Rosebud Salve is one of my must-have at all times products. I keep it in my car and purse. It’s multi-purpose for quick fix dry skin (hands), lips (an instant gloss), hair (sheen), and it of course smells divine.

Also for dry hair — I love Moroccan Argan Oil.

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Afrobella -   Tell me about A Beautiful Life – what message do you want your fans to get from the track?

Jody Watley — Aspire to be in a healthy, uplifting and empowering environment – personally and professionally. We all deserve it – believe that and don’t let anyone make you think / believe otherwise about your self worth and value. If you’re in an abusive environment – get out and don’t look back other than to remember the lessons you’ve learned.

Afrobella -  What new and exciting musical projects are you working on?

Jody Watley — My thoughts on releasing more albums continues to shift though I remain immersed in creativity of all forms – music remains a passion but I’m realistic in today’s sales climate – especially for established veteran artists. My last album in 2006 was an exclusive with the Virgin Megastore chain directly through continued entrepreneurial side. ‘The Makeover’ was #1 for them as they worked to bring consumers back to the brick and mortar retail experience. The album which is available at iTunes debuted at #3 Top Electronic Albums which was cool.

“Chameleon”, will be my 10th full length and touches in part on my early Disco/Funk influences which of course is also full circle for me as my career started back then first as a dancer on Soul Train and then as a member of the group Shalamar. Additionally, the music oozes with soulful dance and electronic music my genre since 1999.  I plan on releasing a summer single titled ‘Nightlife’ which is inspired by my love of 70′s disco funk.

I’ve also done two fun guest vocal appearances with Canadian Electro-Pop band “French Horn Rebellion” as well as Stones Throw’s international modern funk artist Dam-Funk which I believe will be out this summer.

I’ve been doing select live dates to preview my new music, celebrate the 25th anniversary of my solo debut..and all of the other great music I’ve been known for the past few decades.

I have  literary aspirations in books that can translate to TV and film. I’ve loved writing since I was a child. I started writing poetry and short stories, which evolved into novels at 12 – which turned into songwriting. So, I’m looking forward to that next chapter – writing more. My children aren’t children anymore and so I have more freedom now. My #1 goal, in the midst of having a successful career was to be a great Mom and give my children a great foundation – and for the time I was married to be a great wife.

With my longtime associated with style and fashion I’m working on line of figure flattering pants for full figured women in particular – inspired by the creator of Spanx!

Basically, I’m adding to my goals and dreams and looking forward to the next chapters of my life and career.

I also maintain my own Style and Beauty Blog, which was in part inspired by Afrobella :-)

Afrobella -  For anyone who has looked to your career as an inspiration and wanted to be like you…what’s your advice?

Jody Watley  — Be the best YOU, everyone else is already taken!

 

Seeing as we lost a legend yesterday, I had to ask Jody for a statement on the loss of Donna Summer. Jody has weighed on on her blog and you can read her post here. She shared this with me:

“Not simply “Disco” Donna Summer also ruled “Pop” Music radio and charts. Her double albums were/are unparalleled concept albums, few did them better male or female in any genre – her releases for me were events.  I couldn’t wait to see the cover art, read the liner notes and listen to the music, much of which she helped write.

Donna Summer also brought elements into the mainstream fusing Rock (Hot Stuff) with dance – one of her Grammy’s was in Rock..she really worked all genres and was such an inspiration to me in dance/pop. I also understood when she reached a point of not wanting to be put into a box and that she continued to work and create good music up through her last release a couple of years ago.

When I signed my solo deal with MCA, the executive who signed had worked with Donna Summer during her Casablanca years – which made it easier for him to understand and trust me..and to galvanize the company to market and promote me out of the box.

The current dominance of dance music that young artists have jumped on is rooted in disco .. electro, techno is simply another extension and so I hope they know she’s another artist whose shoulders they stand on.”

Bellas do yourself a favor and check out Jody’s blog right here. You can also follow her on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter.

Thank you for being so amazing, so inspiring, and so accessible, Jody!

What’s your favorite Jody Watley song, bellas?

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Comments

  1. LisaLisa (@lisalis1913) says:

    Jody Watley is cool but I would kill to know about Nia Long’s favorite beauty products.

  2. Great interview. Oh, the memories. I still rock Jody Watley songs on my ipod actually, I still rock all my 80′s favorites and my children know them also. She is right about associating big ole hoop earrings with her style. That’s alright I love the earrings and still rock big earrings myself well, not that big. haha. I have to say Real Love is my fave song. Oh, back in the day we all loved BET and running home to watch videos. So, sad times have changed and BET too.

  3. Sharon J says:

    Still looking beautiful Jody. It’s great to read that she has such a positive, sweet spirit. I especially like the advice she gives to mothers about letting their children know how beautiful they are.

  4. Every single time I think of Jody Watley, my mind plays “I’m Looking for a New Love” (baby, a new love… yeah, yeah, yeah!). Real love was definitely another favorite. Nice interview. :)

  5. Shalimar’s “Dead Giveaway” was one of the first 45′s I bought as a little girl and Jody Watley was such a huge style inspiration to me in the 80′s. She had this London vibe about her which now totally explains the Vivienne Westwood connection. I would LOVE to see you do a follow up post with Jody and Billy B. Dream panel!

  6. She seems different everyday. Sometimes her hair is straight and sometimes it’s curly. Sometimes wavy. I really like her that’s why I am here. It’s good to hear that Jody greeted you with warmth and kindness, It proves that she doesn’t have any ego-problem and she is kind.

  7. She is gorgeous!! A timeless beauty. I am definitely feeling the curly fro on her too. How fab is Billy B?! He is definitely one of the great makeup gurus. Really enjoyed this post.

    Thanks for sharing XOXO

  8. wow she’s beautiful!

  9. Jodi strangely reminds me of Whitney Houston in quite a few of her pictures. I miss Whitney. Jodi too is classy!!

  10. Regina Pollard says:

    Another positive sister,her music did not let us down,nor her positive messages she has always portrayed in and out of the media!Keep it up sister Jody!

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