March 05, 2021
Mixed race, with braces on her teeth, Poly broke the mould of UK punk. A new documentary explores her struggle to find meaning in the Day-Glo chaos of modern life
Poly Styrenes inspiring sensitivity should be the true legacy of punk
The moment I heard that Marianne Elliott-Said, AKA Poly Styrene, had died, I was at band practice. We put on X-Ray Spex and jumped around, screaming along to Identity, Oh Bondage Up Yours! and Germ Free Adolescents. On that day in 2011 we lost one of punk’s greatest heroes and one of the few who really looked and sounded like me. She broke the mould of UK punk stereotypes. She was brown, chubby, weirdly dressed and had braces on her teeth. Even in an era when quirky, abrasive style was all the rage, she stood out.
Poly Styrene embraced this. She played with the attention her weirdness attracted, making a cartoon of herself. To be an artist is often to feel like a shiny trinket – hip and trendy one moment and disposable the next – and Poly had a fascination with all things garish and throwaway. She knew that through selling her art, she herself would inevitably become the product. Consumer culture overwhelmed and horrified her at times but she poured those thoughts and feelings into surrealist, confrontational art and music.
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