Straight up now tell me where are you now, Paula Abdul oh oh oh?!
by Mark Keen
Paula Abdul might be best known as a judge on American Idol, but this belies to a steely determination to become a pop star at the end of the 80’s/early 90’s, albeit more successful in America than in the UK. She also provides a link between the start of Janet Jackson‘s career and Kylie‘s renaissance in 2000. Also, for some added trivia Paula was the choreographer of the famous foot tapping piano scene in Tom Hanks ‘Big’, appeared as a dancer in Eddie Murphy’s 1989 film ‘Coming To America’ and was in one of my favourite 80’s films ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ starring a very young and cute Patrick Dempsey.
Paula started as a cheerleader in the 1980’s for the LA Lakers, but within a few years she was a choreographer for The Jackson’s and notably Janet Jackson and can be spotted in the video for “What Have You Done For Me Lately?” as one of Janet’s friends.
However, she had clear ambitions to become a pop star releasing her debut album “Forever Your Girl” in 1988. This was a huge album selling 7 million copies in the USA and including 4 number one singles. Success was initially slow to come, especially in the UK with numerous singles released several times including the LA and Babyface (beginning to make an impact with Karyn White) produced “Knocked Out” released three times in the UK and only ever reaching number 21! I was a poor student at university in Hull and slightly irritated about buying the same single three times.
Success eventually came with the massive number one US hit “Straight Up” (UK No.3) which I think stands the test of time, in 1989 which was the first of a number of videos directed by David Fincher, later to direct Fight Club and Panic Room, to name but two.
Further hits followed including “Just The Way That You Love Me” hitting big in the USA and flopping several times in the UK. Other big hits followed especially in the USA where a further three releases hit the number one spot, although “Forever Your Girl” and “Cold Hearted” would make little impact in the UK. “Cold hearted” is worth checking out for the excellent Bob Fossee inspired choreography, and a video which has been imitated by Geri Halliwell’s “It’s Raining Men” and Jennifer Lopez in “I’m Glad”.
A massive hit would follow with the irritating “Opposites Attract” in the USA and the U.K., which ultimately was probably the result of the innovative video of Paula dancing with a cartoon cat (MC Skat Cat).
Fortunately, we had a couple of years to recover and Paula made a mature return with the classic 1991 ballad “Rush, Rush” featuring Keanu Reaves in the 50s ‘Rebel Without A Cause’ inspired video and a much more mature sound. This was the first of five top 20 US hits from the number one “Spellbound” album. In many ways Paula took some risks with this album recording the album with The Family Stand who had a big hit with “Ghetto Heaven”. “Rush Rush” would mark the last top 10 hit for Paula in the UK.
“The Promise Of A New Day” was a number one hit in the USA with further hits in “Blowing Kisses In The Wind” and “Will You Marry Me” (obviously a question to Emilio Estevez who she did marry), although only the great “Vibeology” would make any impact in the UK. What a shame this was not a much bigger hits as it is probably the funkiest and poppiest hit on the album. The Prince written and produced song “U” never saw a release.
Due to a number of alleged personal issues, which would plague her throughout her career, things would go very quiet for the next couple of years with Paula’s pop career losing momentum. However, there was one great single off the “Head Over Heals” album in 1995 which again should have garnered much more attention. “My Love Is For Real” featured the late Israeli singer Ofra Haza. Check out her 1988 hit “Im Nin’Alu“. The single would later be released by Strike who had originally remixed it.
A couple of other tracks would appear from the album with little impact, and after this Paula’s career would very much move over to television particularly American Idol, as well as returning to her first love as a choreographer in films such as ‘American Beauty’. A comeback was planned, but the comeback single which Paula had co-wrote on would relaunch Kylie in 2000 with “Spinning Around”. Whether the strength of the song or Kylie’s hotpants were more important is still to be decided, but Kylie started her second coming with aplomb.
Little would be heard from Paula in terms of her singing career, although two singles appeared in 2008 and 2009 with little impact “Dance Like There’s No Tomorrow” with Randy Jackson and “I’m Just Here For The Music”. The latter saw a return to working with Oliver Leiber who she worked with in the first album and was performed on American Idol. This was written by Danielle Briesbois, who had a hit in 1995 in the UK with the cover “Gimme Little Sign”, later covered by Peter Andre.
It has been suggested that this “I’m Just Here For The Music” was an unreleased cut from Kylie’s “Body Language” album. Paula also popped up in Neighbours in 2014 so perhaps there remains an intrinsic link between Kylie and Paula?! We await new music from Paula, but this seems unlikely…