University of Portsmouth Lecturers from the School of Art, Design and Performance have contributed to an exciting new study of Grease, the musical love-letter to ducktail haircuts, poodle skirts, high-school hijinks and all things “fifties”.
Grease Is the Word: Exploring a Cultural Phenomenon charts everything from the show’s first appearance on the Chicago stage in 1971 to the movie’s stars John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John and contemporary teen responses to the disco classic “Grease Megamix”.
“Whether or not you’ve seen the show or the film, it is hard to escape Grease’s impact and legacy. The classic songs, the iconic scenes, the memorable quotes – it’s become part of pop-cultural lore. Before starting this project, I knew little about the stage show’s underground beginnings in Chicago, its place in online fan debates, or its numerous merchandising spin-offs. It’s been great to work with an international group of scholars, and fellow Grease fans, with so much knowledge of these various topics.”
In 2018, Grease the movie joined an elite club of cinematic classics with a screening at the Cannes Film Festival. It is this “artistic” rehabilitation of a film once maligned as “Greasy Kid Stuff” that forms the basis of ADP Senior Lecturer in Visual Culture Simon Hobbs’ chapter.
Simon discusses the merchandising and DVD releases that maintain Grease’s presence in the 21st century. “Visually, Grease memorabilia imitates the style and sensibility of Pop-art”, explained Simon. “There’s definitely a tongue-in-cheek irreverence about it all, but I also think people are starting to see how significant it was in the 1970s and its status as an enduring cultural icon.”
Indeed, Simon reminds us that Grease has become the benchmark against which so many youth-themed musicals, films and popular culture is judged. Nearly fifty years after it’s debut, many of us are still “hopelessly devoted.”
Grease Is the Word: Exploring a Cultural Phenomenon, edited by Oliver Gruner and Peter Krämer, is out now and published by Anthem Press.