Wonderland.

Debbie Harry

Insects. Phantoms. Insane imaginations.
Studio 54. All of the above helped to build Blondie’s newest album Pollinator. 40 years after the band’s eponymous debut LP, Debbie Harry is still the girl you want to be.

Jacket PRADA, t-shirt SUSPEL and tights SAINT LAURENT PARIS.

Jacket PRADA, t-shirt SUSPEL and tights SAINT LAURENT PARIS.

GOOGLE DEFINES the botanical term “pollinator” as: “An agent that moves pollen from the male anthers of a flower to accomplish ‘syngamy’ of the female gametes.” So when Debbie Harry used the word for the title of Blondie’s forthcoming LP, was she talking about female empowerment? A ball of phlegm hurled in the direction of the fascistic face-palm we now call the US President? This is, after all, the same Debbie who, when photographed one night in the 80s, raised a newspaper cover to her face that read: “WOMEN ARE JUST SLAVES.” Is it a nod to the world’s impending bee extinction? The expanding human population?

She laughed when I suggested it might even be about sex — “Sex! Ha ha! How fun!”— but Debbie is far more imaginative than that. “Remember the mechanical insects in The Day The Earth Stood Still? They came down to devour everything on the planet.” The singer has always escaped into music in this way. It’s a fantasy for 71-year-old Debbie; a weapon with which to fend off the hard knocks of downtown life. Cult science fiction novels like China Mieville’s Embassytown line her bookshelf and Fellini’s joyfully spectral film Juliet of the Spirits is an all-time favourite. She appeared as an electroclash lioness in the artwork for Blondie’s 1982 album The Hunter, and on Pollinator, sings of “phantoms and insane imaginations” in the Johnny Marr-penned “My Monster.”

“Music does take me to another place, I believe,” she says with an evocatively sooty New York timbre. “It lifts me up — it is a wonderful experience that we all share. Chris [Stein, the longest-standing continual member of Blondie and Debbie’s ex-partner] said something curious about musical wavelengths, and whether it triggers something different in the brain, the endorphins. The brain is such a mystery to us still, isn’t it?”

We talk about last year, and the need we all have to be able to escape. I mention Trump. “Don’t say that word. Do. Not. Say. That. Word. He’s an awful human.” Suddenly, her softly-softly interview voice has stiffened and her head is cocked at 60 degrees. “I wish that some of the women around him would actually speak their minds — but maybe he paid them to shut up.”

Despite the odd creak in her singing voice these days, Debbie is as captivating as she’s ever been. Fluff up her gelled peroxide hair and she’s the young woman glaring glacially into the camera lens in the “Heart of Glass” video; as seductive as she was playing a sadomasochistic shrink in David Cronenberg’s 1983 masterpiece, Videodrome. In the death-stare disco of Pollinator, she sounds fun-loving, outspoken and untethered. “I guess I’d like to recapture some of the essence or spirit of when Blondie was starting,” she tells me. “The sort of danger that was involved then. I know my
life is much more settled now, but I would like to feel that way about my creativity.”

“I guess I’d like to recapture some of the essence or spirit of when Blondie was starting. The sort of danger that was involved then. I know my
life is much more settled now, but I would like to feel that way about my creativity.”

Pollinator features contributions from some of modern pop music’s most significant artists. Sia composed the standout “Best Day Ever”, a chorus-bursting hit of synth-y euphoria, while Devonté “Dev” Hynes wrote the lusciously melodic “Long Time”, a song about a relationship in a constant state of boom and bust. It was the last album to be recorded at the legendary Magic Shop studios on Crosby Street, just months after David Bowie put the finishing touches to Blackstar there. “It’s very old fashioned and funky,” Debbie says of the secretive bunker where Sonic Youth recorded 1992’s seminal Dirty. “But because we were all packed in there’s a great buzz to it, great energy.” You can hear it in opening track “Doom or Destiny”, where buzzsaw axes battle Debbie’s acid washed intonations. It’s “Atomic” with a breezy, contemporary drone-pop bite.

But is her private life nearly as exciting as it sounds in Pollinator? Certainly we both agree that when it comes to clubs, the dingier the better. She cites William Friedkins’ seedy nightlife noir Cruising as the quintessential portrayal of a long lost New York. It stars Al Pacino as a cop who goes undercover to lure a serial killer targeting the city’s leather bar fetish crowds. When she describes “Fun” — the funked-out jam TV On The Radio’s David Sitek wrote for the album — as “a little bit Studio 54”, I know she’s speaking from experience. She spent the best part of the 70s circumnavigating Manhattan’s halogen-lit discotheques and in later years was found in luminary punk venues like CBGBs, The Mudd Club and Danceteria. “Bring it back!” She says, when I comment on London’s similarly sabotaged club scene.

Two days before we spoke, Debbie was on a big night out at the Q Awards in Camden. The T-shirt she wore, made by designer friends Vin and Omi, read: “Stop Fucking The Planet.” She spends most of her Wonderland shoot running around with old friend and fashion stalwart Pam Hogg, trying on Vetements boots and Twin Peaks-themed tees. “I think everyone loves the idea of fashion, but you have to actually go out and find it. I love going to [charity shops], but the best stuff is hard to find. Look at the jacket you’re wearing [points to my oversized leather coat. I explain that I’m trying to look like a struggling 90s actor]. The history of second hand fashion is fascinating to me. Where do these clothes come from?”

Last December marked the 40th anniversary of Blondie, the band’s debut LP. The world may have changed around Debbie since then — especially in her beloved city — but she remains the gritty, urban, hedonistic incendiary we need her to be. Live, the band still pack heat. She compares shows to military operations, and locks into a kind of meditative focus onstage. It’s comparable, she says, to the mindset Marina Abramović explores when she’s performing. “The intensity is the same, it’s completely draining, but her thing is about being in a marathon. Ours is more like the 100 ft dash.” And what does she do backstage, to prep? “You know what? I just love to dance,” she says as we gather our bags. “You can dance to most things.” You can take the Debbie Harry out of New York, but you can’t take the New York out of Debbie Harry.

(LEFT): Jacket PRADA and t-shirt SUNSPEL
(RIGHT): Jacket VETEMENTS, t-shirt GUCCI, boots MANOLO BLAHNIK for VETEMENTS and tights SAINT LAURENT PARIS.

: Jacket PRADA and t-shirt SUNSPEL
: Jacket VETEMENTS, t-shirt GUCCI, boots MANOLO BLAHNIK for VETEMENTS and tights SAINT LAURENT PARIS.
: Jacket PRADA and t-shirt SUNSPEL

(LEFT): Debbie wears shirt PAM HOGG, jeans FRAME DENIM and shoes MANOLO BLAHNIK for BALENCIAGA. Pam wears shirt PAM HOGG and jeans, boots and jewellery PAM’S OWN.
(MIDDLE) Coat MIU MIU, t-shirt STYLIST’S OWN and tights SAINT LAURENT PARIS.
(RIGHT) Jacket BALENCIAGA and shirt PAM HOGG.

: Debbie wears shirt PAM HOGG, jeans FRAME DENIM and shoes MANOLO BLAHNIK for BALENCIAGA. Pam wears shirt PAM HOGG and jeans, boots and jewellery PAM’S OWN.
(MIDDLE) Coat MIU MIU, t-shirt STYLIST’S OWN and tights SAINT LAURENT PARIS.
Jacket BALENCIAGA and shirt PAM HOGG.

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Photography
Pierre-Ange Carlotti
Styling
Nicco Torelli & Warren Leech
Hair
Angela Seminara at STREETERS using DAVINES YOUR HAIR ASSISTANT.
Make-up
Lisa Eldridge at PREMIER HAIR AND MAKE UP using LACOME.
Hair colour
Edoardo Paludo using DAVIES
Nails
Kate Cutler at PREMIER HAIR AND MAKE UP using DIOR VERNIS SPRING LOOK and CAPTURE TOTALE NURTURING HAND REPAIR CREAM
Styling Assistants
Abigail Hazard and Feral Bojangles
Hair Assistant
Yoko Kurokawa
Make up Assistant
Jessie Richardson
Thanks to
The King's Head London
Debbie Harry

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