The world is still smitten with Debbie Harry’s face and she knows it.
The Blondie front woman’s iconic image—imperious cheekbones, wide-set eyes, white-blond hair; the perfect Andy Warhol muse—is as famous as the new wave singles she immortalized with the proto-punk band in the late ’70s and ’80s. Harry herself has always made sure her visage is positioned as the band’s most striking “visual interest,” a canny move in retrospect.
“I know that I’m pretty,” says Harry, 69, over the phone on a bleak Monday morning in New York. “I know that I’m attractive to people. I’m not attractive to every person. Sometimes I look at myself and I don’t really like the way that I look. I look in the mirror and go, ‘Oh my god. Oh, what do I do?’” She laughs—a warm, throaty sound—before continuing: “My mother always told me not to rely on my looks. Fortunately, I have some other talents that I can rely on—although some people might debate that.”
She snickers at that last bit, aware that she’s led one of the world’s most influential bands through 40 years of touring, No. 1 singles, break-ups, and make-ups, along with her bandmate (and former partner) Chris Stein. Alone, she’s released five studio albums and stolen scenes in dozens of films and TV shows. So why wouldn’t she laugh at the idea of someone calling her talentless?
“I’m sort of at a point where I feel that I don’t really have to prove anything except that I can still do it,” Harry says.
She’s certainly keeping busy. Blondie released its 10th studio album last year, Ghosts of Download, and Harry herself quickly sold out an upcoming 10-night solo residency at New York’s Cafe Carlyle—a string of performances she says will be “more feminine” and “a little bit more romantic” than her work with Blondie.
Then there’s Tibet House US’s 25th annual benefit concert, where Harry will play along with Patti Smith, The Flaming Lips, and Phillip Glass, among others. It’s her third time playing the benefit, out of a love for Tibetan music and “[Tibetans’] steadfastness and devotion to their culture and their religion.”
With so much going on, Harry is not keen on reliving the past; decades of Blondie exploits, along with her own rise from New Jersey brat to Playboy bunny to punk rock icon, is “too much to think about, really.” She got nostalgia out of her system while celebrating the band’s anniversary last year, though she does briefly lament how much New York City has changed since Blondie first played CBGB.
“For artists, I think it’s better when there’s not so much prosperity, as it were,” she says. “We were sort of left alone to do what we wanted to do [in the ’70s].”
These days, she exists “on an instant, kind of daily basis”: keeping up with the news, going to shows, recording new music, jamming with Miley Cyrus and Ariana Grande at Jimmy Fallon’s SNL 40th Anniversary afterparty—you know, “the usual kind of mundane life that I lead,” she says, without a trace of irony.
Harry is quick to gush about her greener colleagues, especially Cyrus, whom she says leaves her “in awe.” Both women do know a thing or two about being lambasted for being too overtly sexual onstage. “The kind of criticism that Miley’s been getting can only do her good in the long run. I really think that,” Harry says. “I think people realize that her talent is strong and she’s unstoppable. Anything else is only gonna work for her.”
Of course, women like Harry, Siouxsie Sioux, and Patti Smith were instrumental in what Harry calls the “opening up of sexual expression,” which generations of artists (like Cyrus) have carried on in their own ways. “We’re very fortunate that we’re living in this time, especially women,” Harry says. “That is a big, big book to write—the sociological implications of the power of religion and what’s going on in the Western world versus what’s going on in the Middle East. It’s all cracking, everything is sort of cracking over there.”
Saturday Night Live itself, meanwhile—which has now been around as long as Blondie has—also earns high marks from the singer for its “important” commitment to satire, especially “if you consider what happened in Paris with the satire magazine [Charlie Hebdo].”
“Plus, you know, you get a few laughs in,” she adds. Case in point: “That sketch that Bradley Cooper did called ‘The Californians’—that was so hysterical, oh my god.”